second challenge in bringing social justice to our families and kids! The theme for the month is, “Meet everyone’s basic needs in a dignified way: Housing Justice.” Here are some ideas for reading with, talking to, and taking action with your youngsters. In the upcoming weeks we will be sharing our stories of what we have tried with our kids and how it has gone. Please share books, ideas, and resources that you have found helpful.
Where can we start?
Talk about it! Talk about housing as a right for all people.
When we think of housing justice, or reflect on the ‘housing as a basic right’ theme, we might think of homelessness as the primary issue to confront. But housing as a basic right comprises more than just homelessness. Other things to consider: Who gets to own their own home? Why are some people homeowners and some renters, and is owning a home a possibility for everyone? There is a legacy of privilege informing who is able to own a house, as well as a complicated history of policies and financial systems. Housing justice is also about whether your home is safe, if the landlord who owns your home is fair and just, and policies that govern property management and landlord/lessee relations.
Things to think about with your kids: What are everyone’s basic needs? What do we need to live? How do we meet those needs in our family?
What kinds of housing do people have? Why do some people have big houses and some have small houses, or live in an apartment? Is one better than the other? Why do some people have more than one house? Why don’t some people have any house to live in at all? Do we own or rent our house or apartment? What does that mean for our family?
In our community, are everyone’s basic needs met? How about the kids in your class? In your school? How about in the world?
What can WE do to work for a world where everyone’s basic needs are met?
We can ask these questions even when we don’t have answers ourselves.
“The Can Man”, by Laura Williams. (Grades 1-5).
A young boy wants to earn the money to buy a skateboard, and is inspired by a local homeless man, Mr. Peters, to collect and redeem empty soft drink cans as a way to reach his goal. In the end he realizes that Mr. Peters needs the money more than he does and the story takes a “Gift of the Magi” twist. I loved this book as a read-aloud with my 7 year old. Beautiful pictures and a simple story with a few different themes worth talking about with your kiddos. Homelessness, compassion, who has the right to the trash?, needing vs. wanting, class. When we read this together my 7-year-old son decided he wanted to start collecting cans to buy a drone. I pointed out that there are some ‘can men’ in our town, too—people that collect the cans and bottles because that’s how they make their money. He was unmoved and still wants to earn a drone. Oh well. You win some, you lose some.
“I Can Hear the Sun”, by Patricia Polacco. (Older elementary).
A boy comes to the park every day and helps the park’s caretaker, Stephanie Michele, care for the geese. He is from a home for homeless children, and when he finds out that he is to be moved to a permanent placement, away from the geese he loves, he taps into some incredible magic and flies away with the geese. A tear-jerking combination of magic and realism. I have a hard time reading any of Patricia Polacco’s books without crying, and this one is no different.
“The Teddy Bear”, by David McPhail. (PreK-younger elementary).
A young boy loses a loved teddy bear, which is then found by a homeless man. As time passes, the boy forgets about his bear, and the bear is as treasured by the man as he was by the boy. Circumstances bring them all back together and the little boy is able to react to the situation with a clear and loving compassion.
Gracie’s Girl, by Ellen Witlinger. (Middle school).
Now that Bess Cunningham is in middle school, she’s determined to get noticed. With her new glasses, her wild thrift-store clothes, and her job as stage manager for the school play, she’s sure her days of being invisible are over. Being forced to volunteer with her parents at the local soup kitchen doesn’t exactly fit into Bess’s popularity plans, especially since she finds the place so creepy. But when she meets Gracie Jarvis Battle, an elderly homeless woman, Bess can’t help but feel compassion for her. Bess grows more involved with trying to feed and shelter the older woman, but as the weather turns colder and Gracie grows thinner, Bess begins to wonder — will her help be enough? (Synopsis by Goodreads).
Are there other great books you’d like to share?
Questions to Ask Before and After Reading
Questions you ask your kids while reading books should be open-ended. Here are some ideas, adapted in part from the Lexile Framework for Reading. Don’t try to ask all these questions! Reading should be enjoyable and the stories have their own lessons to teach, whether or not we ask these follow-up questions. But there are big lessons to be learned from books, and asking the right questions can help your kids (and you) go deeper in your conversation about important social justice issues. As Edmund Burke is quoted as saying, “Reading without reflecting is like eating without digesting.”
Before your child reads a book, you can ask:
What makes you think this book is going to be interesting?
What do you think the book is going to be about?
Does this book remind you of anything you’ve already read or seen?
After your child has finished a book, ask questions like:
If you were _________, what would you do? What would you feel?
What do you wish was different in this book?
What is one big lesson learned from this book?
How would the world be different if all people acted like ________?
Ask why with your kids. Why are people homeless? Why can’t some people afford to buy a house?
Do you have any relationships with people in your community who are housing insecure?
Do you know the names of any folks experiencing homelessness in your town? What is their experience really like?
Get involved locally! Do you have initiatives in your town to support the homeless population or to work towards housing justice? Kids can join you in volunteer activities that support these organizations.
Here in Brattleboro: Bring your kids out for Hike for the Homeless (September) or Camp for a Common Cause (May), hosted by Groundworks Collaborative. Both of these are super fun events to do with kids.
Mental health support organizations, veterans’ support groups and LBGTQ support groups are all connected to housing justice work. Veterans, LBGTQ folks (especially youth) and those with mental health problems are at a much greater risk of homelessness. Be an ally, and bring your kids with you!
Economic justice for all.
We can’t have a stably housed population when we have jobs that pay less than a living wage. People can’t support their families on minimum-wage jobs. The Fight For 15 campaign is a good place to start nationally. In Vermont, the Vermont Worker’s Center is creating opportunities for economic justice.
What are ways that you are working on housing justice in your community? What ideas do you have for working with your kids on understanding housing as a human right? This feels like a hard one to make personal for my children. I’d love to hear your ideas & suggestions.