I keep seeing him in my dreams. I see her too.
He is a boy of roughly ten. His eyes are downward as he twists his young, long fingers nervously. He is wearing sneakers a size too big. His feet are sloshing as he walks in them so he drags his feet to avoid the embarrassment of his shoes falling off. He has no socks and his heels are red as they bob up and down in his shoes. He is wearing shorts in the winter, a tee shirt and no coat. His brown hair has a ragged cut, hand done with home scissors.
He is thin and his eyes are pleading. He is lining up for after school programs which include a small snack. He will not have dinner and his stomach is growling. Lunch was small. He never gets breakfast. The other students are playing and chasing each other. They are not in a hurry for snack and a calm, quiet place to do homework, but he is. If he gets something to eat and can complete his homework he won’t fall behind and maybe, he thinks, if he can succeed in school his relentless life of no sleep, hunger and holding it until the bathroom opens will not last through his entire life. He has to maintain hope. It’s the one thread holding him together. If that thread breaks he knows he won’t hang on. He saw kids in shelters who lost hope. They’re either dead or in jail. He’s only in the fifth grade but he’s seen it enough to know.
Homeless kids commit suicide. They’re three times more likely than a kid in a house. Homeless kids who fail in school are the ones who do it. If he has just one thing to hold on to, he can make it.
He washes in the public bathroom sink. It used to embarrass him but now he works quickly. It’s better than going to school dirty. It’s hard enough to shift his shirts around the back seat of a car where he sleeps.
I have to be careful in speaking with him. He’s not wanting anyone to know his situation. “Kids are homeless. I’m not the only one. I know a sixth grader who sleeps under the bleachers. But none of us want regular kids to know. No one wants to be a loser, you know, someone who can’t even afford a house. We used to have one. I liked that place so much.” He shows me his old house key. “I keep it even though I know it doesn’t work anymore.”
Then I dream her. She is about five years old. She is wearing a white nightgown. I see her waking up and climbing out a window. She is looking for her mother. She hasn’t seen her mom in months. They used to live together in their car but then the car stopped working. They stayed at shelters for awhile but she had six brothers and sisters so the kids got divided and her mom spent all day everyday trying to get them back together. Eventually the social workers intervened. Now all the children stay in different homes and her mother spends her days going to court and riding buses trying to see her children. The mother is thin and threadbare. The little girl spends most days in a dream where a fairy grants her a wish and she is with her family in the big house they had before daddy went away. She cannot wait anymore so she climbs out the window.
These are my dreams and the realities of just two of the dozens of stories captured of children without homes. This is why I do what I do. This is why I need your help.