I get it – housing is critically important. The impact of having a place where you can close the door and lock it, have some privacy, take a shower, eat a meal, read a story to your children, and so on, means more than we can imagine if your family has been without this. I get it and I’ll always be a strong advocate for housing as the one and only true answer to homelessness!
But when children are homeless, there are other critical things to consider: the child’s development (social and emotional as well as physical and cognitive), the child’s mental health and possible exposure to trauma or toxic stress, and the opportunity to connect that child to resources quickly to minimize what they have already experienced. Shelters are situated perfectly to provide this quick intervention during the family’s short stay.
In our work with family shelters across North Carolina and now beginning in Michigan, we are finding that there are many simple changes that shelters can make at very little cost or effort. These changes do not have to pull resources away from helping families to access housing as quickly as possible. Things like:
- Policies and signage about changing stations, hand washing, locking up medicines
- Providing safe and child friendly places for children to play inside and outside
- Child-proofing all common areas so that little children are welcome in any space
- Providing a place where home-visiting nurses, social workers, or other community support providers can meet privately with parents
Some things can be accomplished by connecting with other community partners, such as:
- Providing developmental screenings and appropriate referrals for each child that enters the shelter
- Forming a relationship with Head Start and the McKinney Vento liaison with the public schools to ensure that even young children are connected to educational resources
These are just to name a few.
As our three-year pilot project working with shelters to improve supports and environments for young children comes to a close this year, we will be sharing more information and a tool kit to help shelters and their funders to better support young children while also working from a Housing First model. Contact us if you want more information.