Habitot Children's Museum
September 2017

Talking About Homelessness

With the dramatic increase of housing prices in the Bay Area, all of us are seeing more homelessness, people living on the streets and in parked cars.


Our children see it too, and it may bring up a lot of questions. In age-appropriate ways, helping our children know about homelessness can greatly impact their understanding of the world and validate their impulses to help make it better.


Remember that your own thoughts and attitudes will influence how you speak to your child about challenging issues like homelessness. Deeper knowledge and understanding about the varied circumstances people find themselves in will help you answer your child’s questions from a place of love and compassion. It’s possible you may have to challenge your assumptions, attitudes and ideas to understand who becomes homeless and why. Homeless people come from all demographics and all walks of life. Many are families with children.


Here are some more tips on talking to your children about homelessness:

  • Speak to your child(ren) about homelessness in age appropriate ways. For young children, this means keeping explanations short, straightforward and compassionate. A simple answer such as, "Some people don't have enough money to rent a house or apartment" is enough information at first. Respond to follow up questions as needed.

  • Be mindful that information about mental illness, drug use or disability will not be particularly helpful to young children. Homelessness is a complex problem and young children simply do not have the capacity to understand it in all its complexity. Unless your child has specifically asked, adding in this layer will only confuse a young child. Focusing on the money needed to have a home will make sense.

  • Help them develop empathy for the homeless. Talk to your child about they might feel if they didn’t have a home. Would they have friends or family who could help them? How would it feel if they didn’t?

  • Model compassion. Remind your children that homeless people have feelings, too. They are often lonely, sad, afraid and sometimes happy. They need friends just like everyone. Even offering a smile and ‘hello’ to a homeless person will speak volumes to your children about respecting other people regardless of their circumstances.

  • Reassure your child that grownups are working hard to figure out how to help homeless. There are shelters and programs where people can go to sleep and get help finding homes, jobs and other things they need to get back on their feet. Young children may be sad or worry about children who don’t have a place to live. Let them know families receive priority in many communities. Reassure them of their own safety and security.

  • Show them they can help make a difference. Children have an innate desire to help others and are interested in what’s happening in their neighborhoods and communities. Together, find ways to help the homeless as a family. This may be saving up to buy a toy for a homeless child’s birthday or collecting change for a homeless agency or food bank. Churches, schools and many organizations have ways to plug in. When children are older, your family could volunteer at a soup kitchen or help put together bags of essentials for people on the streets. There are so many ways to show your children that they can help change lives for homeless people.

2065 Kittredge St., Berkeley   |   Habitot.org   |   510. 647.1111
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