In January 2012, a small group of adults, whose childhoods were disastrously affected by homelessness, met to organize a new partnership with children and young people and their families who are currently or recently homeless. Our purpose is to mentor relationships and community with these children to nurture the spiritual, emotional, and material means to a fulfilling life. Teaching and reminding each other that through right relationships, and the strength of our community, we can not only achieve personal success, but help to build neighborhood in a world growing poorer indeed for the lack of it.
Neighborhood is the realization that we are all one. Ending poverty and homelessness is not accomplished simply by social activism, but in the building of relationships and in genuine human meeting — beyond and across barriers of race, social class, and religion. Neighborhood enriches ourselves, all others, and the lives of all our children; it lays the foundation for the kind of gentle and peaceable world we long for: one in which the violence of poverty and homelessness have no more place.
Ending homelessness for children is not just about meals and shelter. The fallout of this crippling experience for children results in a deprivation of the means to a successful and fulfilling life, and leads to continuing homelessness as adults, a spiral of homelessness across generations. One of the leading advocates for homeless youth is Kristine Cunningham, Executive Director of “Roots,” a shelter for minors in Seattle, one of the pioneering young adult shelters in the country. She describes homelessness as a self-perpetuating problem when it comes to children:
“Children born to homeless mothers, or who experience multiple episodes of housing instability – couch surfing, staying in motels, or shuttling between households when they are young – often mirror that in their own adulthoods. Homelessness begets homelessness. People who don’t grow up with stable homes don’t develop many of the coping strategies that let them transition into stable home lives as adults. Some lack practical life skills as well. Many don’t drive because the state restricts foster parents from teaching them. Many don’t have conflict-resolution skills that it takes to survive in a workplace.”
Further, in the United States, and especially in more rural areas such as Maryland’s Eastern Shore, homelessness among families with children is growing into a problem of epic proportions. According the a recent study by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty in Washington, D.C., children under the age of 18 account for 39% of the homeless population; 42% of these children are under the age of five. Moreover, this same study found that especially in rural areas, the numbers of children experiencing homelessness is much higher than in cities.
There is an indispensable need for a spiritual focus in empowering these children and young people. Such things as restoring confidence in themselves and in the world as a place in which they can be successful and fulfilled, identifying and addressing neglected educational and cultural skills, offering encouragement and a helping hand in completing high school and being able to move on to college, are just a few among many of the spiritually-based resources which Deep Roots seeks to offer as enrichment for their lives. Deep Roots is a project, not just of teaching others how to fish, but of making the pond itself accessible for them—opening the gates of possibility and potential.