By Harold Dash, Board President Temple Beth Or | Originally Published in the TBO Newsletter
In October, there were 824 documented homeless children attending Everett public schools. At our Shabbat services on October 20th, we heard this statistic and a number of others from Mary Ellen Hardy who is the school district’s homeless education facilitator. Her entire job is to identify and work with many community organizations to support these kids, try to keep them in school and create a positive environment for them. One has to have incredible respect for this woman who likely experiences emotional highs and lows every day doing work that embodies Tikkun Olam.
Ms. Hardy was the second of a number of speakers coming to TBO through the Faith and Family Homelessness Project to help raise awareness and educate us about family homelessness. TBO received a grant from Seattle University School of Theology and Ministry to participate in the project, and the Social Action Committee has been busy putting together the program for us.
Most of us see homeless people at exit ramps on the freeway, but in Snohomish County, the vast majority of homeless are single mothers with children. They may be living with friends or relatives, in shelters, in campgrounds, or in their cars. Imagine what it must be like for a child to live in that situation and then have to function in school. Here are some of the challenges that the school district confronts with these children: arranging transportation to school ($600,000 cost this year), providing meals (breakfast and lunch), dealing with abusive situations on one hand yet gaining the trust of the parent(s) on the other hand, providing books and school materials, and providing clothes.
What are we doing to help? Through December, the donations from the TBO Tzedakah box will support Operation School Bell, a program of the Assistance League of Everett. Operation School Bell provides new clothing, hygiene kits, and vouchers to purchase shoes to homeless kids in the Snohomish County school districts. Eligible children meet with a volunteer who helps them pick out three outfits, a winter jacket, and a week’s supply of underwear. Children want to fit in with their classmates. Put yourself in the shoes of a homeless child who wears the same clothes every day to school and then visualize the change in that child’s self esteem when he or she has a varied wardrobe to wear. Please give generously -you will make a difference in the lives of these families.
By the time you read this article, we will have had a speaker from Housing Hope, another non-profit organization making a dent in family homelessness in Snohomish County. Take advantage of future programs that the Faith and Family Homelessness Project sponsors, learn more about the problem, and become an advocate for organizations working to reduce homelessness in our community.