Homelessness is currently a hot topic in Miami-Dade as the city of Miami and the county’s Homeless Trust heatedly squabble over the best way to deal with hardcore cases downtown.
But there’s a segment of that population that often gets overlooked in the headlines: children — and they should not be.
The truth is that children are the fastest growing segment of the local homeless community, said Alec Rosen, spokesman for Chapman Partnership, the trust’s private sector partner that runs two large family-friendly homeless shelters in Miami-Dade.
On any given night, according to the nonprofit, there are about 250 children sleeping in their shelters in Miami and Homestead with their homeless parents.
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How they ended up in such a dire situation is often a family tragedy that starts with the parents falling on financial hard times due to low wages or a financial blow, like an illness or an expensive car repair, missing the rent payment a couple of months and then free-falling into homelessness. It can happen that fast.
A typical story has the family at first getting by in the streets or living inside a car. They don’t always seek help for fear of having the children taken away. Domestic violence, a parent’s mental illness or substance abuse can also land a family in the street. In any case, the children suffer the collateral damage of their parents’ misfortune.
And in recent months, there has been a spike in the number of children ending up in homeless shelters, Mr. Rosen told the Editorial Board. Currently, 44 percent of all clients at Chapman Partnership are families with children. “We are housing minors of all ages — from newborns to teenagers.”
For the children that have found refuge at Chapman Partnership a crucial time approaches. As the new public school year is about to begin, Chapman Partnership is aggressively trying to attract attention — via a new initiative and a public video campaign — to the plight of these faceless, homeless kids.
The center wants to make their return to school in August just like that of any other child — a noble effort the community should support.
The idea is to make any possible visible signs of homelessness invisible so the kids don’t have to deal with any stigma.
The center wants to create a level playing field in the classroom for these children. No one should be able to tell that the public school bus is picking them up and dropping them off at a homeless shelter. “We look like a large apartment complex for that very reason,” Mr. Rosen said of the Miami shelter.
Chapman, which has a $15 million annual budget and receives about 60 percent of it from the Homeless Trust — about $9 million — depends on fund-raising for the rest. And here’s where the community steps in to help.
“We are trying to send them to school with brand new uniforms, bookbags and shoes, and we need help,” Mr. Rosen said.
Joining the campaign in earnest this year is Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “These are often fragile children who need to be loved and taught, so education and support is the key to their success,” he said. Chapman and the superintendent have recorded a video plea asking the community to help finance the purchase of the uniforms, shoes and school supplies.
It’s a worthy cause. As a community, we should not look away from these homeless kids.
To help, go to http://chapmanpartnership.org/backtoschool