Where do you live? That’s an easy question for most of us to answer. “I live in Roswell.” But it’s not a question that we’re comfortable asking when it comes to someone who is homeless. Of course, we grown ups usually have a social filter that falls into place in such conversations, so we know not to ask such things, or to allow them to come up in conversations naturally. But our kids have to be taught such conversational nuances, because most children don’t think about such things when they’re talking with a new friend. They just blurt it out.
“Where do you live?”
When we think about the people behind the word “homeless”, we don’t generally think about school aged children being part of that conversation, but the very sad truth is it happens all the time. It’s awkward enough to start school at a new school and new friends, new teachers, new classes, and new everything. How much harder it must be to have the label of “homeless” on top of all that in the heart of a child.
The first four stories from behind the scenes at Atlanta Mission focused on the men’s programs and some of the men personally who have had their lives restored through the generosity of donors who support Atlanta Mission, but this article is about the homeless children of homeless moms that Atlanta Mission serves each and every day. Just like the kitchen at The Shepherd’s Inn made some seemingly small adjustments to how they serve the men there, Atlanta Mission’s women’s programs also uses some very intelligent and sensitive methodologies to help these children adjust and grow in this complicated world.
The kids at the women’s shelter go to school at Atlanta Public Schools. One adjustment Atlanta Mission made is that the bus picks these kids up first and drops them off last, so there’s never a conversation about his or her house. That topic is simply, and mercifully, removed. The kids have to live the answer to the question, “where do you live”, but they don’t have to face it every single day on the school bus.
The APS school they attend requires uniforms, so every child dresses exactly alike. The playing field is leveled at “fashion”, so the envy, teasing, questioning, whispering is stifled at its source. All the children arrive at school on equal footing.
The staff and volunteers at Atlanta Mission drive the moms to PTA meetings, open houses, and parent teacher meetings. Many times, these moms did not have such parental involvement modeled for them, so attending a PTA meeting is a foreign concept that they have to learn. Now they can, without worry about what’s to be done with the kids while she’s at the meeting, giving each mom the opportunity to further engage in their children’s lives and provide a new example of motherhood, even in tough situations.
Finally, the name of the shelter itself helps the kids and the moms very easily answer the original question, “where do you live?” When someone asks them where they live or where they’re staying, the answer is simple:
“We’re staying at My Sister’s House.“
These are just some of the seemingly small details that can make a huge difference in the lives of women and children who face harsh, cruel realities if they are homeless. Also, just like the men at The Shepherd’s Inn often times need a friend more than a meal, these women are just like any lady you and I know: they need girl time, social time, light-hearted interaction with other women. One of the ways Atlanta Mission answers that need is by offering art classes every week. These ladies have filled nearly 4 entire walls in the midtown facility of The Atlanta Day Shelter with their works of art. I’ll be attending the art class on this week, and I cannot wait to see the artistic expressions from the hearts of these women.
What they really need now is some canvas to paint on. Do you know a source for canvas to be used for painting? It’s a simple way to give, and a very specific need that brings joy to the hearts of these women.