By: Jake Schwartz, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
Children who face homelessness often find themselves forced to work through numerous challenges in their lives. These challenges are readily apparent in many facets of their daily lives, particularly when thinking about the ways in which their living situation directly and indirectly impacts their ability to perform at school. As it relates to academic performance, homelessness simultaneously creates and exacerbates barriers to a child’s educational success by negatively affecting their physical and mental health while also weakening their underlying support system.
When thinking about the physical effects of homelessness in a given child, it can be argued that some underlying issues could take root even before the child is born: pregnant women who face homelessness are at higher risk of developing chronic health complications, often lack adequate prenatal care, and can inadvertently expose themselves and their fetuses to environmental hazards due to unsafe living conditions. As a result of these aforementioned issues, children born into homelessness display higher rates of premature birth, developmental delays, and physical disabilities (Hart-Shegos, 1999). While these adverse effects may not be impossible to manage, they become compounded when factoring in the tendency for those facing homelessness to also be food-insecure. The effects of malnutrition through underlying food insecurity manifest in a variety of ways, most notably through the lack of critically important micronutrients that support cognitive function (Fanjiang & Kleinman, 2007). Lacking adequate nutrition is never ideal, but it is especially damaging when these deficiencies are constantly present during critical stages of cognitive and physical development in children.
Mental health and physical health are often highly intertwined with each other, so it is equally important to spend time reflecting on the adverse effects of homelessness on mental health as well. As a natural consequence of lack of adequate and/or consistent shelter, children facing homelessness tend to find themselves exposed to more overall risk and adversity than their peers, and this lack of safety/security can have a direct negative impact on a child’s social and emotional wellbeing (Lafavor, 2018). There may not be concrete ways of measuring social and emotional wellbeing directly, but these aspects can be indirectly measured by observing behavioral patterns that could reflect such negative effects.
Instances of lessened social/emotional wellbeing can manifest in an academic setting as a variety of traditionally unacceptable behaviors, including excessive absence/tardiness, unregulated emotional outbursts, and general antisocial behavior (Manfra, 2019). As is too often the case, school staff tend to be less educated - often through no fault of their own, to be clear - on how to effectively understand and support students working through traumas linked to homelessness. Without that base of knowledge, school systems rely on more traditional, overly-punitive discipline to enforce rules and standards -- further alienating homeless students and contributing to lower social and emotional welfare (Chow et al., 2015).
With all this in mind, there are a few clear, concrete steps that must be taken in order to lessen the impact that homelessness has on a child’s academic success. As mentioned previously, there needs to be a more intentful and cohesive effort by schools and educators around the country to learn how to effectively support students that are facing homelessness. This learning process is multi-faceted and must include strong consideration for changes in discipline policy, increased sensibility and awareness towards students with atypical socialization and emotional regulation. In addition, more work must be done to ensure educators have strong foundational knowledge of the existing support systems for families facing homelessness (Havlik et al., 2014). Taken as a whole, processes like these will allow educators to best provide for students that face the countless pressures and stressors of homelessness.
National Center for Homeless Education | (800) 308-2145
Greater Chicago Food Depository | (773) 247-3663
Chicago Public Schools | (773) 553-1000
Chow, K. A., Mistry, R. S., & Melchor, V. L. (2015). Homelessness in the elementary school classroom: Social and emotional consequences. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 28(6), 641–662. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2015.1017855
Fanjiang, G., & Kleinman, R. E. (2007). Nutrition and performance in children. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 10(3), 342–347. https://doi.org/10.1097/MCO.0b013e3280523a9e
Hart-Shegos, E. (1999). Homelessness and Its Ef ects on Children. Family Housing Fund, Midwest Plaza West, Suite 1650, 801 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55402. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED453321
Havlik, S. A., Brady, J., & Gavin, K. (2014). Exploring the Needs of Students Experiencing Homelessness from School Counselors’ Perspectives. Journal of School Counseling, 12(20). https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1034769
Lafavor, T. (2018). Predictors of Academic Success in 9- to 11-Year-Old Homeless Children: The Role of Executive Function, Social Competence, and Emotional Control. The Journal of Early Adolescence, 38(9), 1236–1264. https://doi.org/10.1177/0272431616678989
Manfra, L. (2019). Impact of Homelessness on School Readiness Skills and Early Academic Achievement: A Systematic Review of the Literature. Early Childhood Education Journal, 47(2), 239 249. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10643-018-0918-6
By: Elizabeth Chun, Site Coordinator
It’s been about 200 years since free compulsory education was created in the United States. While some things look quite different in American education, others do not. It is not always necessary to update the way things are done just because time is passing, however a closer look into the roots of education in the United States reveals that it was not created for many of the people that now receive it.
At its beginning, education in the United States was created to teach citizens how to become “good, productive members of their society” (A Brief History, 2016). Formal education was not created for the benefits of students, but rather was built by those in power for the benefit of those in power (A Brief History, 2016). In colonial times, only the wealthiest boys went to school (A Brief History, 2016). Eventually, textbooks were created in order to unify the nation in reaction to the Revolutionary War which began in 1775 (A Brief History, 2016). While the textbooks standardized pronunciation and spelling, they also were meant to “instill patriotism and religious beliefs in students” and included inaccurate stereotypes of Native Americans and certain immigrant groups (A Brief History, 2016). It was not until over 100 years later in the late 1800s that free compulsory education was developed allowing additional kids to go to school, though still not all kids, and a major purpose of this free compulsory education was to “prevent immigrants’ values from corrupting ‘American’ values” (A Brief History, 2016).
Fast forwarding to today, the American education system struggles to close the achievement gap that stands between the students the early education system valued and those it did not. Research proves that schools, overall, do an inadequate job of providing equal learning opportunities for all students and instead benefit white students to a greater extent (Flores, 2018). If educators “are not proactive about mitigating racial exclusion in social networks, curriculum, pedagogy, course participation and extracurricular activities,” this gap “will continue to permeate schools” (Flores, 2018).
There are many remedies educators can use to increase equity for their students in order to override the colonized past of American education. Using teaching strategies of decolonized pedagogies has the potential to create a large impact towards decreasing the present inequities. The pedagogies of bell hooks, Paulo Freire and the Raza Womyn de UCLA all lend themselves well to this. Though it should be noted that the following teaching strategies cannot be separated from the beliefs and worldviews of the people who created them. Moreover, understanding the overarching purpose of each pedagogy is vital for impactful implementation.
The pedagogy of bell hooks (2013) works to undo the way “white-supremacist thinking informs every aspect of our culture,” she writes. This includes “the way we learn, the content of what we learn, and the manner in which we are taught” (hooks, 2013, p. 25). To combat this, hooks suggests educators encourage and emphasize the process of learning for their students, the inquiry and questioning that comes with learning, and the feeling of uncertainty that comes with not knowing something (hooks, 2013). Focused on avoiding a learning environment in which students become “indoctrinated” with any type of ideology, hooks believes educators should work towards helping students learn to open their minds and think critically (hooks, 2013).
Brazilian educator Paulo Friere developed his pedagogy in order to seek “ways to offer an education to impoverished and illiterate adult students in his country that would help them improve their situation and thus transform their lives and the society in which they lived” (Wright, 2019). His teaching strategies aim to transform power dynamics present in education in order to liberate students from oppression (Wright, 2019). To do so, he recommends teachers explore new knowledge and open themselves to new ways of seeing the world. In addition, Friere believes teachers should avoid teaching in a way that merely “passes” information from teacher to student. Rather, teachers should create an environment in which teachers and students are both seen as learners who, together, engage in dialogue and collaboration.
The last pedagogy included here is the Mujerista Pedagogy used by the Raza Womyn de UCLA. Created in reaction to experiencing alienation and discrimination as Chicana and Latina students at their university, the pedagogy aims to destroy “the many ‘isms,’ such as sexism, racism, homophobia, and classism that attempt to dismantle [their] communities” (Revilla, 2014). Their pedagogy developed out of student group meetings, but quite naturally works for classrooms or other learning environments. The Mujerista Pedagogy includes beginning each meeting with time to “catch up” and freely talk (Revilla, 2014). Then, there is an “opening ‘icebreaker’” for the members to answer that ranges from funny to serious, changing by the day (Revilla, 2014). Additionally, the members sit in a circle for the whole meeting (Revilla, 2014). At the end, talking circles close the meetings (Revilla, 2014). Similar to how they started, this creates a second opportunity to share how they are feeling or something about their lives (Revilla, 2014). While talking circles seem like an easy aspect of the pedagogy to eliminate when things get busy, consistent inclusion of this practice prioritizes community and is said to be “the single most unifying strategy that Raza Womyn use to maintain a ‘safe space’” (Revilla, 2014).
The inequitable structures in education may not be going away as fast as we’d like due to their historical entwinement with colonization and exclusionary beginnings. However, educators can control their learning environment and the dynamics and practices that take place within them. With each individual teaching strategy comes an opportunity to create a learning environment that is increasingly inclusive of the students the early American education system tried to keep out.
[Author removed at request of original publisher]. (2016, April 08). 16.1 a brief history of
education in the United States. Retrieved March 21, 2022, from
Flores. (2018). (Re)constructing the Language of the Achievement Gap to an Opportunity Gap:
The Counternarratives of Three African American Women School Leaders. Journal of
School Leadership, 28(3), 344–373. https://doi.org/10.1177/105268461802800304
hooks, b. (2013). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis.
Revilla, A. T. (2004). Muxerista pedagogy: Raza Womyn Teaching Social Justice Through
Student activism. The High School Journal, 87(4), 80–94.
Wright, W. E. (2019). Foundations for teaching English Language Learners: Research, theory,
policy, and practice (3rd ed.). Caslon.
By: Jake Schwartz, AmeriCorps VISTA Member
For many students, breakfast is typically an afterthought due to either how busy the average student is or the typical morning rush. Regardless of the reason, it seems that breakfast is seen as more of a burden instead of an important part of the day. For many other students however, breakfast plays a much more important role in their daily lives. Due to socioeconomic barriers, many students often go to school hungry, due to not having access to reliable food sources and, as a result, often have to skip breakfast entirely. The scope of this issue is well-known in this country, evidenced by the existence of a USDA initiative known as the School Breakfast Program that aims to combat this issue by working with schools to institute free breakfast programs. While this program is beneficial, and exists in around 78,000 schools serving 7.8 million children per day (USDA, 2019), there is still more that can be done for school children. Due to the effects that malnutrition can have on a student’s physical, mental, and emotional well-being - especially during the formative years for neurological development - free breakfast programs that are open to any and all students should be implemented in every primary and secondary school in the United States.
To better understand how free breakfast programs can help children in school, it is important to review the effects that poor nutrition can have on a developing student. General malnutrition has been linked to deficiencies in vitamin B12, thiamin, niacin, zinc, and iron - all of which are micronutrients that greatly influence cognitive function (Fanjiang and Kleinman, 2007). Students who are forced to skip breakfast are more likely to be lacking in some or all of these essential nutrients, and the results of these deficiencies are clear: children with defined food insufficiency between the ages of 6 and 11 years old consistently had lower arithmetic abilities and were more likely to repeat grades (Alaimo, 2001). These results are seen in older adolescence as well, with food-secure participants from 13 - 20 years of age consistently scoring higher on tests of attention, concentration, and verbal/spatial memory than their food-insecure classmates (Widenhorn-Muller, 2008). In addition to cognitive function, malnutrition also has wide-ranging effects on the mental health of students. Students with food insecurity display antisocial behavior at far higher rates than their well-fed counterparts (Alaimo, 2001) and tend to develop anxiety and depression at similarly higher rates compared to average students (Basch, 2011). The combination of these cognitive and mental/emotional effects manifest in many ways, including increased referrals to psychologists, higher instances of tardiness and truancy, and higher cases of disciplinary actions (detentions, suspensions, etc.) reported in food-insecure students (Basch, 2011). From a biological standpoint, when children are deprived of nutrition as a result of skipping breakfast, they are immediately and immensely hindered in their ability to perform well in a school setting relative to their peers.
As mentioned earlier, free breakfast programs are currently being implemented across the United States. In order to better understand why these programs are essential to the opportunities for students to succeed, the impacts of the program as it currently exists needs to be evaluated. Since its inception in 1966 and its permanent status since 1975, the USDA School Breakfast Program has served millions of children across thousands of schools (USDA, 2019). The effects of this program have been measured in a variety of ways, and the overall consensus is a cause for celebration: the implementation of the School Breakfast Program - referred to as “SBP” from here on - resulted in higher nutrient intake among inner-city students (Kleinman et al., 2002). SBP implementation also contributed to lower rates of tardiness and truancy in participating schools (Cook et al., 1996) as well as improved scores on standardized testing (Meyers et al, 1989) compared to the student population prior to the inclusion of SBP. Finally, schools with SBP saw lower rates of depression, anxiety, and behavioral issues among participating students (Basch, 2011).
While the SBP has shown promise in its implementation so far, and the underlying biology strengthens the argument for its importance, there is still more that can be done to ensure that all students have the opportunity to succeed in a school setting. Current guidelines allow for students at SBP-participating schools to purchase breakfast through their school. Financial assistance is built into the SBP, where students in families that make at or below 130% of the federal poverty level receive free meals, families between 130 - 185% are eligible for reduced-price meals, and families at 185% and above pay full price (USDA, 2019). Considering that the federal poverty level is between $21,330 and $34,590 for families of three and six, respectively (Amadeo, 2019), the cutoffs for the ability to receive free breakfast exist at an income that still may not be comfortable for families to be able to participate in the program. Due to the importance of proper nutrition on a student’s ability to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally, the SBP should (1) be implemented universally across every primary and secondary school in the United States and (2) should be subsidized by the federal government so that participation in the SBP is completely free to all students who wish to take part in the program. Making those adjustments to the current program will help further support future generations of students in numerous crucial ways without causing any extra financial strain on the families and the students affected by food insecurity - empowering students to be the best that they can be.
Greater Chicago Food Depository | (773) 247-3663
Chicago Public Schools | (773) 553-1000
USDA Food & Nutrition Services | (312) 353-1044
Alaimo, K., Olson, C. M., & Frongillo, E. A. (2001, July 1). Food Insufficiency and
American School-Aged Children's Cognitive, Academic, and Psychosocial
Development. Retrieved from
Amadeo, K. (2019, November 16). Are You Eligible for Federal Benefits in 2019?
Retrieved from https://www.thebalance.com/federal-poverty-level-definition-
Basch, C. E. (2011). Breakfast and the Achievement Gap Among Urban Minority Youth.
Journal of School Health, 81(10), 635–640. doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2011.00638.x
Cook, T.|Ohri-Vachaspati, J., Punam|Kelly, & Leitch, G. (1995, December 31). Evaluation
of a Universally-Free School Breakfast Program Demonstration Project: Central Falls,
Rhode Island. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED432375.
Fanjiang, G., & Kleinman, R. E. (2007). Nutrition and performance in children. Current
Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, 10(3), 342–347. doi:
Meyers, A. F. (1989). School Breakfast Program and School Performance. Archives of
Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 143(10), 1234. doi:
Pollitt, E. (1995). Does Breakfast Make a Difference in School? Journal of the American
Dietetic Association, 95(10), 1134–1139. doi: 10.1016/s0002-8223(95)00306-1
School Breakfast Program (SBP) Fact Sheet. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Widenhorn-Muller, K., Hille, K., Klenk, J., & Weiland, U. (2008). Influence of Having
Breakfast on Cognitive Performance and Mood in 13- to 20-Year-Old High School
Students: Results of a Crossover Trial. Pediatrics, 122(2), 279–284. doi:
By: Stephanie Salgado, AmeriCorps State & National Member
Chicago's public image is that of a powerhouse in the global economy, with explosive food, culture, and captivating skyscrapers. However, much like other mega-cities, this ideal characterization of Chicago fails to capture the lives of over 58,000 Chicagoans experiencing homelessness as of 2019. For many, there are no other options but to stay at a shelter or double up in someone else’s residence. Others are pushed to the city streets, forced to camp out and sleep on the hard concrete, smothered by the polluted smoke left by passerby cars. On top of having difficult access to housing, the challenges that people experiencing homelessness face worsen their overall health. While the experience of homelessness varies across individuals, one of the modern driving forces of homelessness is tied to gentrification.
In the history of settlement in Chicago gentrification, the incoming of wealthy residents and the introduction of neighborhood renovation into low-income communities have disrupted and displaced many of its own community members. This shift can be explained by a number of factors. New job opportunities are offered in these gentrified areas by high-paying professional jobs, which may require individuals to move in order to network and advance their careers. Low crime rates brought on by investment in the community can bring ease to some families who are looking to relocate to a safer neighborhood. Amenities like hip restaurants, theaters, transit, and other unique establishments attract people of higher socioeconomic status. These factors create an influx of affluent residents into low-income communities, consequently raising the cost of housing. The price of units increases and are no longer affordable to long-term residents, pushing them out of their neighborhoods and, often enough, into homelessness and rampant poverty. Gentrification further perpetuates the worsening racial and economic segregation present in Chicago’s communities. Terms such as North Side, West Side, and South Side encompass subtle meanings that relate to the division of Chicago. These terms are characterized by their descriptions of neighborhoods that vary from affluent White Chicagoans, North Side, to impoverished predominantly people of color, West Side and South Side.
This narrative remains true for Chicago’s very own Pilsen neighborhood on the Lower West Side, with its rich history, culture, community, and families. Long-term Pilsen resident, Lucy Gutierrez, has steadily witnessed the loss of her very own community members as the price of housing forced her neighbors to sell their homes. This wave of gentrification replaced small family-owned businesses with new trendy restaurants and luxury developments. Existing residents are prevented from benefiting from the economic growth as they become unemployed and suffer from the dramatic increase in housing prices. Furthermore, as the population of minorities continues to decline, and are replaced by wealthy white incomers, this makes way for culture displacement. As there is less appreciation of the art, language, and history ingrained in the neighborhood, its residents endure a loss of social and personal identity.
To combat the effects of gentrification in Pilsen, local residents came together to form The Resurrection Project in 1990. Their work includes finding affordable housing and quality education for its community members. The Resurrection Project has around 800 affordable units in Chicago’s West and South Side neighborhoods, as well as five housing projects. Raul Raymundo, CEO of the Resurrection Project, expressed that the Resurrection Project “‘is part of a bigger effort to further create balanced development,’” and “‘[a]s [they] welcome newcomers, [they] want families from the neighborhood to benefit from the prosperity of the neighborhood.’”
However, Pilsen is not the only neighborhood in Chicago that has experienced a stark transformation brought upon by gentrification. Humboldt Park, located on Chicago’s West side, has seen a tremendous spike in the cost of living. In 2020, DePaul University conducted a study looking at trends in the cost of living near the 606, which includes Wicker Park, Bucktown, Humboldt Park, and Logan Square. This study found that from 2012 to 2022, the price for one-to-four unit buildings dramatically increased by 344 percent. Patricia Prado, another community member, shares that she lived in Humboldt Park for twenty-two years, until 2019 when she and her family had to relocate due to the increase in property taxes. “‘I didn’t have the financial means to do what I needed to do so because the area was so hot and gentrification was still going on, people want the land,’” Patricia expressed. “‘They didn’t care about my house. It’s all about location.’” Gentrification continues to adversely affect people like Patricia Prado and Lucy Gutierrez - those with the least voice and power in society.
Housing goes beyond having a roof over your head. Health outcomes and individual well-being are not only influenced by biological factors but also by housing, food access, and education. Individuals that endure long-term homelessness are put at a higher risk for chronic conditions, substance abuse, mental illness, and other large problems. As homelessness is a life-altering experience, it is common for people who are experiencing homelessness to be exposed to trauma or relive past trauma as a result. As mainly working-class minorities who are at a higher risk of becoming homeless are continually met with excessive heights in the cost of living, it is important to consider the loss of identity, opportunities, and culture that quickly follows.
The Resurrection Project | (312) 666-1323
Logan Square Association Neighborhood | (773) 384-4370
The Chicago Urban League | (773) 285-5800
Latino Policy Reform | (312) 376-1766
... (n.d.). Gentrification Near the 606: Logan Square, Humboldt Park. Retrieved from http://redlineproject.org/humboldt_gentrification.php
Daniels, C. M. (2021, September 19). 'No family left behind' - Pilsen's latest affordable housing project takes stand against gentrification. Retrieved from https://chicago.suntimes.com/2021/9/16/22678124/pilsen-affordable-housing-resurrection-project-casa-durango-racine-ashland-gentrification
FAQs/Studies. (2021, September 08). Retrieved from https://www.chicagohomeless.org/faq-studies/
Institute for Housing Studies - DePaul University. (n.d.). Displacement Pressure in Context: Examining Recent Housing Market Changes Near The 606. Retrieved from https://www.housingstudies.org/releases/Displacement-Pressure-in-Context-606/?utm_source=Institute+for+Housing+Studies+Updates+and+News
Kang, E. Y. (2022, March 18). New census data confirms the continuation of Chicago neighborhoods' gentrification. Retrieved from https://www.wbez.org/stories/census-data-shows-continuing-gentrification-in-chicago/c1663c00-c3a2-41c4-845a-a76b717d8499
Meltzer, R., & Ghorbani, P. (2017, June 15). Does gentrification increase employment opportunities in low-income neighborhoods? Retrieved from http://sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0166046217302193#:~:text=Employment effects from gentrification are very localized.&text=In gentrifying neighborhoods, incumbent residents lose jobs while total jobs increase.&text=Local jobs decline in service,producing and lower wage positions.&text=Incumbent residents also gain goods,wage jobs a farther distances.
Puente, T., & Writer, T. S. (2021, August 11). PILSEN FEARS UPSCALE PUSH MAY SHOVE MANY OUT. Retrieved from https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-1997-11-04-9711040475-story.html
Stephanie. (2020, November 10). Chicago's Homeless Population Was Already On The Rise Before The Pandemic. Now, City Scrambles To Plan For Next Wave. Retrieved from https://blockclubchicago.org/2020/11/10/chicagos-homeless-population-was-already-on-the-rise-before-the-pandemic-now-city-scrambles-to-plan-for-next-wave/
Bullying is an epidemic. Millions of Americans are subjected to bullying every day whether it be at home, online, in school, or on the streets. Victims of bullying vary in age, but it’s kids that seem to struggle most with it. Teenage depression and suicide rates are at an all time high. Even as schools continue to implement stricter anti-bullying rules, the hatred, teasing, and abuse persists. Many students who have experienced bullying feel like they are alone despite countless resources that are supposed to support them.
No child should ever experience bullying–it can be debilitating, dehumanizing, and even the slightest sense of social pressure can be paralyzing. Thankfully, discussions surrounding mental health and bullying are continuing to be destigmatized, and there are more safe spaces for students who are suffering to turn to. But what about students whose family lives are completely unstable? What about kids who don’t know where their next meal will come from? What about children who have no place to call home?
According to the National Conference of State Legislators, 4.2 million children and young adults are currently homeless, with nearly 700,000 of them being unaccompanied transient minors. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2008; HRSA, 2001). Many of these children have very limited, if any, access to health care, and many lack adult figures that they feel comfortable confiding in. On average, 42% of homeless students report being bullied compared to 23% percent of housed peers, and suicide rates amounst humless children are nearly 3 times higher than those who are housed (The Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness). Studies have found that children who have left home due to abuse are at a frighteningly high risk of revictimization at school, which in effect leads to a higher risk of suffering from mental illness.
Homeless youth are disproportionately subjected to bullying at school and on the streets, yet it is nearly impossible for them to seek help for the damage that bullying causes. Many states allocate zero tax revenue to mental health services for the homeless, and schools alone are not capable of solving the bullying crisis. Until something is done to protect these highly vulnerable kids from bullying, mental illness amongst homeless youth will continue to rise.
This month's advocacy article is a little different! We decided, with it being social work awareness month, that HOPES would shed some light on our amazing social workers and what their experiences have been working in this particular field. This past month, we interviewed our University of Chicago Social Work Interns, Shamrim Yousef, Erica Ramos, along with our program director Erica Walker, LCSW, to share with us their thoughts related to the field of social work and the work they do here at HOPES.
By car, train, bike, bus, or simply on foot, the ways in which we choose to travel grants us the freedom to go where we want or need. Unfortunately, mode of transportation is not a choice for many. The expenses of purchasing and insuring a car, maintaining a bike, or the price of a bus or train ticket all limit the number of places and resources in which those experiencing poverty or homelessness can access. Low-income neighborhoods often lack fresh food grocery stores and jobs, meaning residents often have to travel further than those in wealthier areas to access food and work. Low nutrition, longer commutes, and a focus on physically inactive transportation increases stress and decreases health, making it harder to learn or work. The basic forms of transportation that people have access to make a huge difference in our cities and suburbs, where sprawling neighborhoods can invalidate walking, the only free form of transportation, as a viable means of accessing food, work, entertainment, or expanded social interaction.
While the simple existence of these modes of transportation creates barriers to those facing homelessness and poverty, the streets, bike lanes, and sidewalks used to facilitate transportation have historically facilitated homelessness, both intentionally and incidentally. Most notably, in the name of faster commutes and drivability, predominantly African American neighborhoods in most of our U.S cities have been dissected by highways, increasing access to city jobs and resources to suburbanites, but demolishing housing and cutting off interconnected roads for those in the city. In neighborhoods where wealth is more abundant and residents have more time to be involved in community projects, trails and sidewalks are more easily built and maintained, creating more space to be active and inviting businesses to the surrounding area. In low-income neighborhoods, sidewalks, if there are any at all, are often along busy streets with few barriers from cars, few traffic lights, and overall provide less protection for pedestrians. This, along with less greenery and chipped or cracked sidewalks, can discourage residents from relying on walking as a form of transportation, again, reducing access to public transportation, jobs, food, and physical activity, all of which perpetuate homelessness.
In recent years in Chicago, a large focus has been placed on bike trails, in many initiatives to make the city’s transportation more eco-friendly. Bike trails can benefit communities both in health and economy, by providing safer spaces for physical activity and better access to more of the city. However, when bike trails are not interconnected throughout a whole city and have limited access points, typically just connecting high-income neighborhoods to other high-income neighborhoods, bike trails can have adverse effects on communities. Famously, the 606 trail, built mostly through private developers, gentrified the neighborhoods it was built through, forcing many to sell their homes to larger housing corporations with higher rents, pushing residents out of their homes. Today, the city of Chicago has started a new initiative, in which they plan to convert abandoned railroad tracks in Englewood into bike trails. Alongside this initiative, the city plans to give out 5000 free bikes, helmets and locks to residents. This project promises to be community led, aiming to avoid the pitfalls of the 606 Trail. The details of how this will be accomplished are still unknown, so it will be important for community members to stay up to date and involved with the process to make sure the promised resources go to those who need them.
By: Sarah Kelley, AmeriCorps Program Coordinator
For many of us, pets are like family. During the pandemic, we turned to our pets as a way to cope with loneliness, boredom, mental health challenges, and stress. For individuals who have experienced past traumas like domestic violence and homelessness, pets can play an especially important support role. When thinking about domestic violence, you might not immediately consider the impact violence has on pets in the home or what role animals play in the abuse. However, domestic violence advocates are increasingly aware of the strong link between animal abuse and domestic violence. Given that approximately 85 million American households have pets, and over 10 million people are survivors of intimate partner violence every year, the number of domestic violence incidents that involve pets is significant (The Safe Haven Network).
The unconditional love and support from a pet can have many benefits, including reducing our stress, social isolation, depression, and blood pressure. Animals can also increase our quality of life, happiness, prosocial behaviors, and allow us to feel needed as caregivers and nurturers. Many pets, especially dogs, can be extremely loyal and protective of us. This strong bond between pets and their owners can be used manipulatively, especially in cases of domestic violence. Animals can be used by abusers to reinforce power and control over someone, to terrorize or frighten them, eliminate a source of comfort and support, or coerce someone into staying in an abusive relationship longer. In fact, 65% of domestic violence survivors report feeling unable to leave their abusers because of concern for what will happen to their pet when they leave (Partners for Peace).
So, what can we do about this? One important step we can take to help individuals trying to leave abusive situations, is advocating for shelters that allow people to bring their pets. Many of us aren’t aware of how few homeless and domestic violence (DV) shelters actually allow animals. The SAF-T Program is a global initiative helping domestic violence shelters to create on-site pet housing for families fleeing violence. Their website tracks a growing list of pet friendly DV shelters throughout the world. Currently the site has 236 shelters listed for the United States, which means that on average each state has less than 5 Pet-Friendly DV shelters available. Despite the fact that Chicago is the 3rd largest city in the country, and that domestic violence calls surged during COVID-19, there are currently no pet-friendly DV shelters in the city. The closest pet-friendly DV shelter is in Quincy, IL, which is about a 5 hour drive from Chicago.
Having shelters available that recognize the power of the human-animal bond can help survivors heal faster and avoid homelessness. Many survivors will choose homelessness over separation from their pet, even if that means living in their car for multiple months at a time. It might be easy to walk down the street and pass judgment on a homeless person with their dog or think, “Can this person really take care of their pet?”. It is a common misconception that people experiencing homelessness can’t take care of their pets. Organizations like The Safe Haven Network are trying to combat stereotypes against homelessness and animal companionship, and help people understand that pet-owners experiencing homelessness are not much different than pet-owners who are housed. They love their pets, treat them like family, and will do whatever it takes to take good care of them.
For people experiencing domestic violence and homelessness, a pet can be the one thing that gives them the love, courage, and strength to face the day. A dog or cat can be a lifeline for their owner and a reason to survive and get out of a harmful situation. As a community, we can spread awareness about the link between animal abuse, domestic violence, and homelessness. We can also advocate and empower shelters to start making pet-accommodations and help them see the immense value of allowing individuals to remain with their pet.
If you are interested in advocating for this cause, please consider donating or volunteering your time with The Safe Haven Network.
By: Tanisha Shelton
Imagine this: you are sitting at your desk at work when your stomach starts growling. You didn’t have time to eat breakfast. Because of this, your blood sugar has dropped, and you are having a hard time focusing and staying awake at work. However, you do have access to nutritious food and stable housing. Many people have experienced nutritional deficits at one time or another during their day to day lives, but people who experience nutritional deficits on a more continuous basis are those experiencing homelessness. There is a strong connection between experiencing homelessness and suffering from poor nutrition. This article will focus on how malnutrition is related to experiencing homelessness and what can be done to help mitigate this problem.
For those who experience homelessness, they prioritize finding a safe place to sleep at night, which is more important than finding food. People experiencing homelessness have to eat whatever food that they can without thinking about how beneficial that food is to their health. For many people experiencing homelessness, they also have little to no money, so they have to find foods that they can afford. If the financial circumstances of homeless individuals were to change, the “nutritional quality of the food is usually lacking. Most cheap meals are highly processed, so while they’re filling, that’s all they are, all filler [with] no substance” (Support Cause Inspired Media 2019). People experiencing homelessness inadvertently prioritize feeling full over feeling healthful, which leads to them being malnourished.
Another way that people experiencing homelessness have different priorities is that when they buy food, they focus on getting food that is easy to tote around and eat since they frequently move from place to place. Eating and buying “raw or canned foods might be easier to carry, but a homeless individual would have to carry around the necessary materials to cook and eat them including a saucepan, utensils, dishes, and a can opener” (Support Cause Inspired Media 2019). There are more things involved with having nutritious food to eat than just finding food itself; people experiencing homelessness also need to find practical ways to open, store, and warm up things that they find. As a result, people experiencing homelessness are malnourished since they also need to focus on ways to be practical because they usually move around a lot.
To conclude, people who experience homelessness don’t have easy access to foods that are good for their bodies because of different priorities, which are caused by how the system is set up; healthier foods tend to cost more than foods that are detrimental to health. Not having access to nutritious foods can, later on, cause health problems for those experiencing homelessness. However, there are steps that can be taken to help alleviate some of these risks. Different places can leave out healthy and nutritious snacks for the public to take, and more community kitchens can open up to provide healthy, free meals to those who are experiencing homelessness. Both of these aspects are some of the essential ways of mitigating the experience of hunger and malnourishment amongst the community that experiences homelessness.
Support Cause Inspired Media. “Challenges of Proper Nutrition While Homeless.” Hearts for the Homeless, 23 Jul. 2019, https://heartsforthehomeless.org/challenges-of-proper-nutrition/. Accessed 1 Feb. 2022.
Challenges of Proper Nutrition While Homeless - Hearts for the Homeless
Foster Care and Homelessness
by: Tess Pickering
AmeriCorps Vista Communication Coordinator
You turn 18 and the world says “Ok you’re an adult now.” For more privileged individuals this can be an inspiring time where they go to college, live independently from their immediate families, or simply follow their dreams; However, for children who have grown up in the foster care system, it indicates the maximum age that a state will support them. In some cases, these individuals are given paperwork for their birthday and are brought straight from their foster homes to homeless shelters. According to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health (respondents ages 18–26) approximately 23% of young people who age out of foster care will experience homelessness by the age of 21.
Homelessness also costs taxpayers millions annually. Due to the many needs and services the government provides for alleviating homelessness, (including housing, mental health services, physical health services) it is difficult to estimate the total amount of funding that goes into these programs; However, based on a study conducted by the government research program Datalab, the city of New York alone spent $3.2 billion on homelessness programs in 2019. Therefore, preventing homelessness and providing long term solutions for this population would be fiscally beneficial.
The relationships and connections the recently “aged-out” youths hold is essential to their success in post-foster care life. Policies meant to address this issue should facilitate permanent connections with families and cultivate a network of positive and supportive relationships with mentors, coaches, employers and any other permanent figures. Making foster parents or supportive figures aware of the trauma and life the youth has experienced is an important factor in creating emotional bonds and securing permanency. A further way to remove the disincentive of permanency in families is to provide families with more financial support if they decide to adopt this person into their lives permanently, rather than providing more benefits for less permanent fostering programs. (Aime E casey, 2019). Currently, our system does not reflect this logic and actually incentivizes the opposite.
Furthermore, a child's opportunity to meet age-appropriate goals and opportunities are essential to enable growth emotionally, mentally, physically, socially and academically. People in foster care often don’t have the opportunity to enjoy learning in a regulated environment, build a savings account, plan for college, or enjoy the mundane activities experienced by people who are not in foster care. This creates a significant barrier that makes it more important that a child meets age appropriate expectations, milestones and goals so that they do not fall behind in any aspect of life. A youth in foster care should have the ability to get tutoring in certain subjects, join a sports league, or pursue their creative interests that could eventually inspire a career and lead to a stable future.
Additionally, making sure families, programs, and caregivers are made aware of the Family First Prevention Act and trained properly on how to timely implement it. This program provides tuition waivers to youths aging out of the system, fighting debt through loan forgiveness programs, and aiding in the enrollment to higher education programs. Helping these youths to develop in their careers, teaching financial literacy, and assisting in tasks such as opening a bank account prepares them for a successful future where they are able to function as non-homeless experiencing individuals.
In conclusion, the transition to adulthood is commonly understood to be a gradual process that spans ages 18 through 25, but for youths who aged out of foster care it can be an abrupt process that they are unprepared for. Ways to combat this experience include fostering permanent and supportive relationships, giving a child the opportunity to reach milestones and explore their interests, and finally, encouraging a post secondary education by aiding in the application and enrollment process, including financially. These factors are important building blocks of creating equal opportunities for youths and have them reach their full potential.