Serving Homeless Youth Through Education: An Interview With Motivational Speaker, Author Michael Gaulden
I recently had the opportunity to speak with homelessness activist, motivational speaker, education enthusiast, musician, and author Michael Gaulden. We spoke about serving homeless youth in America and the need for more support. All questions are asked by me (Lyn Lomasi) and all responses are Mr. Gaulden's words.
What is one area you feel is lacking when it comes to serving homeless youth in America? Explain the area, how it's lacking, and how you think this could be changed.
I believe that homeless youth are lacking the proper education for an opportunity to liberate themselves. We are talking about individuals who have been traumatized at a very early age and we must take a trauma informed approach when educating these students. Traditional schools and methods of teaching do not work because they fail to acknowledge that a child cannot focus on school if their life is falling apart.
For example, picture an unaccompanied youth who roamed the streets all night and has no access to toiletries or a shower. How can you justifiably expect them to come to school with a sharp mind ready to take an exam for the final grade?
We must acknowledge first that homeless youth exist and are prevalent in our communities. Secondly, we must acknowledge their circumstance and do our best to help supplement the basic needs required to live.
The Monarch School, the K-12 institution for homeless youth where I work, has a parent resource center, showers for families and students, family dinners, bus passes and resources to help remedy some of the everyday struggles of homeless youth and their families.
Although we can’t house them, I believe a safe environment that is proactive about homeless necessities is required for the growth and development of homeless student learning. After their basic needs are met, give them opportunities to develop, such as internship programs (like the one I coordinate) and/or college preparatory programs to provide guidance and allow a homeless child the same liberties as any other student.
I can attest that all you need is an opportunity and a positive environment to learn and grow.
Are there enough organizations, individuals, and grassroots organizations reaching out to homeless youth? Why or why not?
Not at all. A major factor is that people believe that homeless youth are myths or consist of snobbish suburban kids in open rebellion. We need to understand that this is simply not the case. There are millions of homeless children, in families, unaccompanied, couch surfing, domestic violence victims and many more who are homeless because of unfortunate circumstances.
When the average person thinks of a homeless youth, their mind takes them to a mischievous sixteen year old. The average person cannot see the three and four-year-olds in tents or five-year-olds crying from shock in shelters. I have seen young children, seven and eight, break down from mental depression. Middle and high school children drop out because the system does not address the life skills they need.
People have a hard time digesting the thought of Foster Care kids who would probably be homeless if child protective services had not come. So the concept of homeless children is unthinkable. It is such a desolate situation but we must address it. If we acknowledge the problem with good intentions, I am positive many more organizations will bloom once we have fully understood the magnitude of youth homelessness. After all, I doubt any one wishes to see children homeless on the street.
Does the state of homelessness in America seem to be getting better or worse since you were affected years ago? Explain.
This is a hard question. Innately I would want to say worse because it is all I see. However, I ponder if it has indeed worsened or if this is how it has always been. More light has been shown on homelessness as a whole over the past years and the numbers are rising. It may be a direct correlation to the lack of jobs, resources, opportunity, unstable environments, natural disasters, and viral outbreaks that force good people into homelessness.
If you look at the metaphorical glass with this perception it is easy to say that homelessness has worsened and people are as desolate as ever. However, the light has barely begun to shine on homelessness and youth homelessness. It is not like you can take a census poll. Most data comes from shelters and third party organizations, maybe some live counts, but most homeless people are ghosts floating through society. There are millions of them. Good people who have vanished into that world. Good people who are ashamed to search for opportunities because of sheer humiliation, and those who do realize there are few to none.
When I was lost in homelessness, I saw homeless people everywhere from all places united under one demoralizing umbrella. If you look at the glass through this perception, you could say it has not worsened but has always been this way; endless transience as far as society can reach. But one thing is for certain, I believe it is not getting better.
I do not have an answer for the elderly homeless or the veterans harassed on the street. It is truly a tragedy outside of my personal realm of control. However, if we educators educate the homeless youth, if we equip them with tools to survive life, mentors, support, and opportunity, they can then go forth and graduate college or learn a trade, start a business, and liberate themselves. Thus, ending their homelessness themselves and hopefully their future offspring, materializing a new legacy.
I am a huge believer of “teach a man to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.” If we try and save kids, they will be rescued momentarily. If we assist them in saving themselves, they will forever be free. But, they cannot achieve success alone.
Questions for Author Michael Gaulden? Would you like to add anything to this discussion? Agree? Disagree? Have a story to tell? Please feel welcomed to comment below.
Every day, homeless children wander the streets or lie in shelters. They wonder if they'll get to use soap in the shower. They wonder where their next meal is coming from - if there is one. They also wonder if people like you and me even care. Show them you care by taking the time to donate low-cost items. Most areas have programs that serve homeless youth. It only takes a small amount of time and money to give something that could mean a great deal to a child.
Do you have soap for your shower every day? Unfortunately, some people do not - even children. A simple bar of soap can mean everything to someone who doesn't have this luxury. Dollar stores often sell multi-packs of soap, so stock up and deliver them to your local shelter or homeless aid program.
Shoes and Clothing
Try donating your family's used shoes and clothing. If you don;t have anything that would benefit kids, stop at a local thrift store. They often have sales or prices that will allow you to purchase a large amount for a reasonable price.
Tissue and Baby Wipes
Here again, tissue can be a precious commodity. When donating to shelters, remember that some of the people may need to carry items around all day. Try purchasing small packs of tissues that are easy to carry. Baby wipes are also great, as they are multipurpose. Homeless mothers can use them for their children and homeless youth can use them to keep clean.
Shampoo and Conditioner
Just like soap, shampoo is very important and hard to come by when your income is low. You can find low-cost shampoo at your local dollar store or other discount retailer. It would seem nice to treat the kids to some expensive shampoo. But the lower the cost, the more people you can help. So it's best to keep the price tag low.
Just like anyone else, homeless kids can use lip balm. This is especially true in winter and summer months. In the winter, the icy air dries the lips. In the summer, the harsh sunlight does the same. Choose the lowest cost lip balm with the highest SPF properties.
Hydration Drink Packets
Some hydration drinks now come in powdered form. These need to be mixed with water. These packets are great for homeless children and families. Not only do they help keep them hydrated, but they are very portable. People can carry around a large amount of these without having to lug too much weight. These can be found at many grocers.
Trail mix can be found everywhere now, including the dollar store. It's packed with protein and other nutrients that homeless kids may be lacking. Plus, it's lightweight and very portable. If you choose the right trail mix, some are actually balanced enough to take the place of a meal, if need be. Buy single-serving packets when buying these for homeless kids, as they will be easier to hand out at the shelter.
Now, since homeless kids will be carrying around all their items, they probably don;t want a big pile of books each. However, one or two books each would be extremely beneficial., Sometimes libraries have sales where you can fill a whole bag for a small amount of money. Also, if you have used children's books, consider donating those. Go for lightweight books of varied reading levels.
Bus Tickets or Tokens
Public transportation is likely what a homeless kid is using if they are using any at all. Tokens or tickets can help them get to school, work, or to a shelter. Consider donating bus fare to homeless children. This may cost slightly more than other items on the list. But it will be very valuable.
Reusable Grocery Bags
Sturdy reusable grocery bags can hold a large amount of items and are easy to carry around, This is very helpful to homeless kids, They may need to walk around quite a bit. So their bag needs to be something that holds all their belongings, but is not too hard to carry. Reusable grocery bags can be as little as fifty cents each. The insulated ones are especially nice because they can keep foods fresh and at their temperatures longer. I only paid three dollars each for my insulated ones.
Sometimes people get overwhelmed with trying to help their favorite causes by making things more difficult than they need to be. Advocating for the homeless is no different.
You don't need to be the leader of a huge organization or a millionaire to help the homeless. Advocating for those faced with homelessness can be achieved with ordinary acts.
Bake pies for the local shelter program
While people living on the streets could use more wholesome meals, maybe pie baking is your gift. Your pies could be a welcome addition after a balanced meal at the local soup kitchen. Pies may not be an absolute necessity. But comfort foods can help bring back good memories. Plus, even when you're homeless, you deserve a nice treat now and then too.
Give blankets to homeless kids
Are you good at sewing? Maybe you're just good at shopping. Either way, try donating blankets that homeless kids can use. A blanket may seem like a simple thing to you or me. But many homeless people go without blankets every day and children are our most vulnerable citizens.
Volunteer for uncommon activities
Do you know of a local shelter or other organization for the homeless? Try volunteering to read to kids, teach kids to read, do a magic show, take a family on a fun outing, and more. There are many possibilities. Volunteering to do the uncommon things can make a big difference, even when the act seems small.
by Mike Thompson, Contributing Writer
The cost of preventing homelessness, or at least making a major dent, is small compared to many other national priorities.
Evidence is provided through initial results of federal spending through the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as President Obama's economic stimulus.
Stimulus critics have abounded, describing the stimulus as everything from wasteful to budget-busting to socialist, but the book "The New New Deal" by Time magazine contributor Michael Grunwald details the Recovery Act's widespread and under-publicized results.
Consider homelessness prevention, which received a comparatively scant $1.5 billion of the $787 billion two-year stimulus package. Grunwald reports that the funds helped provide shelter for more than 1.2 million Americans in hardship and held the homeless count in check during the worst economy since the 1930.
"It works," said Ron Book, who chairs the Miami-Dad County Homeless Trust. "It keeps people off the streets and saves an astronomical amount of money. I'm not a fan of the stimulus, but this is a huge bright spot." And Book is not a bleeding heart Obama liberal. In everyday life he's a Republican lobbyist.
Consider that a National Priorities Project website, costofwar.com, through mid-November 2012 calculated the post-millennium cost of the U.S. Middle East wars at $1.4 trillion, nearly 1,000 times higher than the Recovery Act's $1.5 billion homelessness prevention effort. Plus, according to Gunwald, that $1.5 billion investment was 60 times the previous norm.
It could be said that we should think of people rather than dollars, but dollars do make all the difference in the world. When we think of our tax dollars and our federal government budget, we should give more priority to homelessness prevention and other anti-poverty programs. Some people, especially political conservatives, has a false impression that these priorities cost tons of money, whereas the main tax burdens are the military and the costs of war, along with overpriced health care.
By Mike Thompson, Contributing Writer
Haven't been panhandled lately, but have been thinking of the questions. Give or don't give directly? Cash, coins or food? Acknowledge or ignore?
This is on my mind because in my Michigan hometown of Saginaw, six police officers shot and killed a mentally ill homeless man during the summer, and there has been all sorts of controversy. To know more, there is the option of Googling for "Milton Hall Saginaw." My own feeling, shared by many others, is that the cops could have restrained Milton instead of gunning him down, although he was brandishing a knife. But back to panhandling.
One person who commented on a blog said they had encountered Milton, and that he was aggressive and had scared them. Many of the pro-cops opinions have been biased, but this is one I can understand even though is didn't justify shooting Milton. Being older in age and not having been in an altercation since I was a kid, I don't want to get hooked up in a street-side hockey fight. Indeed, a homeless panhandler can be scary in some rare instances.
I suppose the best reaction is to say, "Look, I don't have anything either." There have been a few times when a panhandler looked at me with sort of screwy surprise after I said, "Dang, what a coincidence, I was just about to ask YOU for a dollar." (It reflects on my near-senior citizen status to recall back when a mere quarter was worth what a dollar's worth nowadays.)
I did some web-searching, and there were suggestions such as, if near a food service place, offer to get the panhandler some food, which makes sense. There are other considerations, though. Whether money or food, encouraging the panhandler may lead to more panhandling, harmful to nearby business establishments in their everyday quests to attract customers.
One thing I learned from the web search, from a writeup by a former panhandler doing better now, is to not ignore the solicitor. At least offer some human acknowledgement, being a glance and a few words, even if you have nothing to offer or you choose not to offer anything. Don't just walk by with a stiff neck.
We can always soothe our consciences, of course, by donating to shelters and soup kitchens and food banks, but when encountering a panhandler directly, this seems like sort of a cop-out.
Usually, I just sort of say to myself what-the-hang, reach in my pocket, and give some coins.
Also, was surprised to see that the municipal website for what would seem to be a prosperous university town -- Bloomington, Indiana -- devotes an entire entry to advice in regards to panhandling.
By Michael Thompson, Contributing Writer
The school year is beginning after a long and too-hot summer, and many teachers and students will consider community service projects, including outreach to the homeless.
Intentions may be honorable but care and advance planning are crucial. For example, I once encountered a high school class that volunteered to serve a Christmas lunch at a shelter. Two key mistakes occurred.
First, the kids simmered the chicken soup noodles for two hours. Normally that might be okay, but these were ramen noodles. Yuck! One may be homeless and hungry, but even then, the appetite has limits.
Second, the students (or their parents) made some high-quality afghans as gifts. This was a wonderful and thoughtful idea, but alas, there weren't enough afghans to go around. Not wanting to exclude anyone, the kids wrapped some alternative gifts. Unfortunately, these were mere canned food items. One shaggy fellow opened his can of beans, somewhat understandably took offense, and started cussing.
The whole deal was a disaster. The class adviser should have known better, and the high schoolers were old enough to know better, too.
Therefore my first tip for school projects to support the homeless is to always put oneself in the other's shoes, making sure dignity and personal respect are the top priority. Don't look down on homeless people, either intentionally or unconsciously.
Consider projects other than feeding. Homeless shelters and rescue missions by and large have that covered. A class might consider providing entertainment at the shelter, bringing along school musicians or performing a skit. Caroling works good during the holiday season.
Think of interactive things to do, as simple as breaking into groups for card games or board games. (A lot of older guys, homeless included, know dominoes. They might get a charge -- and some self-worth -- from teaching the kids to play.) Story telling is another idea; a student tells a story, then a resident, taking turns.
Above all, aim to schedule several visits rather than just one, which can seem sort of like a hit-and-run. Establish a relationship. What the heck, maybe the school system could bus the shelter residents out to the school for a visit.
by Michael Thompson, Contributing Writer
Parishioners may wonder what their churches can do to help the homeless, other than to raise funds or to donate food to a shelter.
Bridge of Hope, organized through Evangelicals for Social Action, offers another option -- adopt one homeless family, and personally help pave the way toward permanent solutions through stable housing, gainful employment, personal growth and positive friendships. "It can be daunting to consider the needs of all homeless families in the United States," acknowledges Edith Yoder, Bridge of Hope national director.
But then, notes Yoder, the number of churches also is large. "If each church reaches out to one homeless family, one by one we can make a difference," Yoder says. Bridge of Hope provides professional training for churches, or combinations of churches, to operate their own support projects.
So far, Bridge of Hope supports 17 local affiliates in seven states through Evangelicals for Social Acton, which also publishes PRISM magazine in the spirit of the Bible's Numbers 13: 19, 20; What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? ... How is the soul? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not? Do your best to bring back some of the fruit of the land."
Imagine being a child and having nowhere to go at night, no blanket to sleep with, no basic necessities to take care of yourself, and only the streets for shelter. This is the life of some.
But you can help.
With minimal cost and some creativity, you can give one or more homeless kids a backpack full of items that will help them get through it. Most shelters will appreciate a drop-off of such a package.
An alternative is to donate to a charity that already provides this servoce.
Project Night Night explains to people how they can help a homeless child with essential comfort items.
Each Project Night Night package includes a security blanket, an age-
appropriate children's book, and a stuffed animal. They come in portable canvas tote bag that can easily be tossed over a child's shoulder for convenience.
No child should have to go without warmth. They may also need simple comfort items, such as a stuffed animal and a book. Security, comfort, and warmth are especially important fpr a child without a place to call home.
These bags cost less each than a cup of coffee. I am a long-time supporter of this charity.
I encourage all who can to consider donating through the Project Night Night site.
*Hugs and Love!* ~ Lyn
“The most called-upon prerequisite of a friend is an accessible ear.” ~ Maya Angelou
Are you accessible to those around you? Be it business or personal, you should always lend an ear.
Not only can being accessible strengthen trust and relationships. But it is also vital to solving important issues.
What does this have to do with poverty or homelessness?
Think about it.
In order to be successful in getting the most help out to those who really need it, a program needs to be very accessible. Also think in terms of support and encouragement. Like Ms. Angelou says, lend an ear. Listen to your client, friend, or family member in need. I mean really listen hard and be there for them. That is the first step to helping someone succeed in life. Without the inspiration and desire to do so, all the assistance in the world is not going to matter. If someone is not encouraged, it will be a wasted effort. If you offer help that is not easily accessed, it is a wasted effort. But when you are accessible in times of need, this can make all the difference in someone's life.
So, the next time a client, acquaintance, or friend comes to you for help, be accessible.
Centennial Hall will become a one-stop event for service providers to lend a hand through Project Homeless Connect on Monday. This will be the second time Juneau has hosted the event, which will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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