Race To Help Homeless Kids Must Be Won

Effort in Naperville, IL to Lead the Way

Naperville’s Riverwalk fountain provides plenty of fun for kids. Photo by Diane Nilan

As the inevitable (for some) holiday hustle hits high gear, and thousand of runners psych up for the upcoming 20th Annual Naperville Noon Lions Turkey Trot, it’s worth it to take a moment to consider one reality that might be missed in this time of national tradition. Here in Naperville and surrounding environs — thousands of babies, children and youth, with parents or without — struggle to survive day to day, much less enjoy a holiday meal.

This year’s Turkey Trot directs attention to this overlooked problem by calling on the Naperville community to respond compassionately to “Charlie’s Compassion Challenge.” The Lions have teamed up with 2 Naperville-based nonprofits, 360 Youth Services and HEAR US, to raise awareness of this often invisible issue. Representatives will be at the race packet pick-up next week to share information on ways to help local homeless families and youth.

Naperville Homeless Kids Month Proclamation

The Naperville City Council agreed to the request by 360 Youth Services and HEAR US to declare November as “Homeless Kids Month,” to generate more awareness of and support for families and youth experiencing homelessness. They also agreed to completing at least one challenge from the Charlie Book.

Area schools serve an estimated 500 or so identified students who qualify as homeless under the Naperville-born federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act. This law guarantees that students without a permanent address can attend school, the one they attended before becoming homeless or the one nearest their current place of abode.

Nestled into warm, comfortable homes, surrounded by loved ones and secure in basic needs, it’s easy to overlook this mostly invisible population — families and youth on their own who lack a place to call home.

The average Naperville resident would likely be disturbed knowing that the number of kids identified by schools is probably half of how many really exist. Not included in these estimates — youth on their own, babies and toddlers, or parents. Think thousands. An appalling, and growing, situation.

HEAR US Inc., the nonprofit I founded in 2005 to continue my work on this issue of homeless families and youth, not long ago became involved with a family staying in a local motel because they lost housing. The mom worked. Her children attended school. A relatively minor car accident imperiled their tenuous existence because of damage to the car. Fortunately, a team of helpers arose and averted disaster. I’d expect no less in Naperville, one of the top ranked family-friendly communities in the country.

I’ve traveled in 49 states, most recently in Hawaii, chronicling family and youth homelessness (videos available at www.hearus.us). I continue to be “dismazed” at the extent of, and seeming acceptance of a growing number of people being pushed to the streets by unaddressed systemic issues.

A young “camper” in a family that has been living in a camper for months near Vancouver, WA. Photo by Diane Nilan

Unfortunately, many families and youth fall through the cracks of the frayed safety net. We’d like to think all who need help get help. I will presume to speak on behalf of all agencies serving those who’ve hit a rough patch — no matter how they try, the resources cannot meet the needs.

That’s one reason HEAR US published “The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids.” This 24-page booklet gives practical suggestions doable by individuals, service clubs, faith communities, scout troops, and PTOs.

Never did I envision, peering at Naperville in my RV’s rearview mirrors back in November 2005, that HEAR US would be teamed up with such community powerhouses — Naperville Noon Lions and 360 Youth Services — with a City Council proclamation calling for compassion for families and youth experiencing homelessness.

It’s time. Naperville, of all communities across the land, possesses the ability, resources, and stature to demonstrate how to turn the Charlie’s Compassion Challenge into action to improve lives of families and youth without homes. It’s a race we must win.

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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