Kids ask the darndest things!

For most adults, seeing a homeless person holding a cardboard that asks for money is familiar. But what happens when your child is with you and asks, “Why is that person asking for money?’’

This question was posed to the readers of “Bucks”, a New York Times blog about making the most out of your money. The blog continues, “If that wasn’t hard enough, if you walk or drive past the person who is making the request, your child may ask you why you didn’t give any money.”

In response, change.org’s End Homelessness blog reminds its readers that how parents answer these difficult questions could impact their child’s views on homelessness for the rest of their life.

Those who commented to the challenging questions posed by The Times had mixed opinions. The first to respond, a reader from Florida, was very blunt. “I tell my kids that they are people who are not working because either they quit school did not finish their education or they are lazy bums who do not want to work. I tell them that is why they have to study hard and go to college so they won’t end up on the streets.”

A reader from New Jersey chimed in with the reality we see every day at the Coalition saying, “Ouch. I sure hope your kids don’t end up homeless (or even just plain poor) due to illness (mental or otherwise), natural disaster, or any of the other rotten-luck hardships that just happen to people. Boiling the situation down to ‘he’s a lazy bum who doesn’t want to work’ is, I suppose, a nice simplification for the kiddos (and perhaps an effective way of making them study harder), but it’s a really cruel way of looking at the world.”

Fortunately, the majority agreed that encountering people who are asking for money is a great “teachable moment.” It’s an opportunity to teach children responsibility, compassion, and the importance of appreciating what they have.

So…how do we at the Coalition answer these challenging questions from youngsters?

“Why is that person asking for money?’’ We use this as a time to educate children on the economic and other realities of homelessness, inform them about non-profit organizations that provide services to help the homeless, and talk about how they can make a difference by volunteering.

“Why didn’t you give any money?” Rather than encouraging handouts to people on the street, we talk about the benefits of donating time and money to a non-profit organization that can better utilize the funds to support programs for those in need.  

Can my child volunteer at the Coalition? How?

Yes! While we do have an age requirement of 18 for individual on-site volunteers, young people are very welcome as long as minors are accompanied by a parent and groups are supervised. The activity must be age-appropriate (the kitchen can be a dangerous place for small kids) and pre-arranged with our Volunteer Services Department. Teens who are fulfilling community service hours for school can have their parent sign a waiver to volunteer unsupervised.

Supply drives are a great way to help! Without ever leaving the neighborhood, kids can get together with their school or club and host a supply drive of needed items or collect items for hygiene bags and assemble them in gallon-sized zip lock bags. Or, they can sponsor an on-campus activity for our children, such as outdoor games, parties, etc.

To find out more about volunteering, please visit our website or contact marty.vevera@cflhomeless.org or 407.872.5784.

And finally…what would you say if your child asked you these questions?

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