By Lauren Blundin
Not a Break for Homeless Families
Every June, kids across the United States are counting down to summer vacation. They cannot wait for the break—a time for family outings to beaches, parks, and museums, for riding bikes and going swimming.
Summer also brings a less welcome phenomenon—often called the “summer surge”—of increasing numbers of people, including families, needing shelter. There are many reasons for this increase, but at least one cause can be linked to the summer break itself; relatives and friends who have allowed homeless families to live with them during the school year are less patient with the situation once summer break has started and children are home all day.
For children experiencing homelessness, a break from school can mean a break from the one stable place in their lives. “School is a critical, normalizing part of life,” says Nan Roman, president and CEO of the National Alliance to End Homelessness. “School is a time for being with peers, pursuing interests, and being out of the stressful situation of being homeless.”
Having a GREAT Time While Learning
Housing Families, a family-focused shelter in the Boston area, provides a year-round after-school program for children as well as a series of two-week summer camps to reach as many students and age groups as possible. The camps are designed to help reduce summer learning loss through fun, hands-on activities. The camps also give kids the chance to try things like horseback riding, which they otherwise would never have the chance to do.
The camp’s full name is the GREAT Youth and Families summer camps. The GREAT in the program’s name is an acronym that staff created to describe the qualities that the program nurtures in children: Growth, Resilience, Empowerment, Acceptance, and Trust. Of course, the kids just think they are having a great time while doing experiments and taking field trips.
“The program provides a lot of learning, but within activities, so the kids do not realize they are learning,” says Siobhan Malady, program manager for the shelter’s GREAT Youth and Families summer camps. “We do a lot of science activities here. Last summer, we made ‘poop’ by mixing food with vinegar and squeezing it through nylon. The children were able to explain the process of how food moves through the body. And a year later they are remembering this.”
In addition to combatting summer learning loss, Barbara Schwartz, director of the GREAT Youth and Families program, believes the camp provides parents a much-needed respite from supervising children. “Most of the parents I know are inordinately stressed because they feel like their kids are with them 24/7 in the summer, and they do not get a break.” Summer camp gives parents that break.