Homeless Children Face Uncertain Future
LITTLE ROCK, AR – Across Arkansas, shelters and schools are seeing more and more homeless children. The reasons vary. Often, the economy has forced their parents out of a job. Sometime their parents have made mistakes leaving the family without a home.
Six-year-old KK and her family are just one of the thousands without a home in Arkansas. In January, her mother, Teshia James, arrived at Our House Shelter in Little Rock with KK and her younger siblings, Jeremiah and Naomi.
“This was basically my last resort or going back,” Teshia explains.
They now live in the Family House at Our House, where they have one room and one bathroom to themselves. The move from the main shelter at Our House is considered a reward for working hard.
The main shelter houses dozens of families all in one large room. KK still remembers living there.
“A lot of people,” she explains.
Children can be perceptive. The number of homeless children in Arkansas is the third highest in the nation.
Our House has felt the impact over the last two years.
“We’ve seen over 50% growth in the number of homeless children just coming into our homeless shelter,” say Our House executive director, Georgia Mjartan.
At every turn, homeless children face additional challenges in addition to the normal ones associated with growing up.
Some rise as early as 5:00am to catch the school bus. They return back to the shelter as late as 4:15pm
“The older kids a lot of times are just really shy and feel a lot of anxiety that they have had to be adults,” says Mjartan. “In their family, they’ve had to be dad, they’ve had to take care of younger siblings. ”
Teshia James knows her family’s homelessness could be tough on the kids.
“You just have to channel your, I won’t say unhappiness, but channel your sadness to say my kids are still gonna be them and try to give them the best,” James says, cradling baby Naomi in her arms.
Every morning, the four of them rise just before 7:00am. Teeth are brushed. Shoes are tied.
The youngest two go to the Our House childcare program. KK heads to kindergarten where she is just one of thousands in Arkansas who go to school with no home to return to in the afternoon.
“This has an effect on how well kids do at school. What they are doing in class, if they’re hungry,” says Leon Adams, Title I coordinator at the Little Rock School District.
The program ensures all kids have a fair and equal opportunity to get a good education. Homelessness has become such an issue, the district recently hired two people to assist the families with everything from school supplies to dental work.
“People had been more reluctant to ask for help but now we’re finding they are coming forward saying, yes, we do need assistance,” Adams explains.
According to the Little Rock School District, the 2010 Census showed 13,798 children are homeless in Arkansas. There are close to 1,100 in Little Rock schools alone.
And it’s not just a problem for the state’s largest city. The Bryant School District reported 94 homeless children in its schools. There are 52 homeless children in the Conway School District.
The City of Little Rock is also trying to help its homeless children. According to Mjartan, Our House and the City of Little Rock are working on a plan to care for kids who do not have a place to go before and after school.
Ultimately, Mjartan says it’s time and attention these children could use the most during their time without a home. She says volunteers can make a impact by helping with homework after school or stopping by with an art project on the weekend.
“Kids who’ve never gotten to just be kids come in…” Mjartan says, “and we take the burden off.”