“I didn’t have a lot of things the other kids had at school. For example, I came to school, and was given a journal, and I was ecstatic. I didn’t get those things…having nice new things wasn’t something I had before.”
Caleb’s reality as a 5-year-old was living in unstable housing situations with his parents. Today, he works at Portland Rescue Mission as the Graphic Designer. When sharing about his experience being homeless as a child attending school, he said,
“I loved school. I loved going there. Home, whether it be a hotel room, an apartment for a month or, you know, down by the railroad tracks, whatever it is, I always felt really bored, and very lonely at home too. And I always felt like I wanted to do something more. At school, I felt that feeling of, ‘Oh, I’m doing it, I’m here. I’m doing what I want to do. I’m learning.’ I felt good.” School provided Caleb with dignity and purpose.
Caleb remembers feeling scared, unstable, confused, and didn’t know who to trust. In contrast, school was a safe haven for him; it was stable, he received warm meals, and positive attention. Caleb wasn’t ignored or alone like he felt at home.
According to the 2020 Annual Report from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Oregon is the only state where more than half of families with children in homelessness were unsheltered (52.8%). Families who come into our care at Shepherd’s Door have often previously been sleeping in cars, tents, isolated areas, or other places not suitable for human habitation.
Portland Public Schools open their doors to students this last week, students have waited a very long time to see their teachers in person and to hold a new, clean notebook in their hands. As we walk our own kids to school, or we wait behind a school bus, (often inconveniently), let’s remember the children inside. Many are experiencing instability at home, and they may be on a short journey to find belonging and dignity inside their local school.
Research shows childhood exposure to homelessness and addiction has devastating consequences such as behavioral problems, poor educational outcomes, and mental health issues.
At Shepherd’s Door, children are cared for in the Family Life Center (FLC), while their mother’s complete recovery programing. In the FLC, we seek to stop generational cycles of poverty and addiction and restore each child to health: emotionally, physically, and educationally.
Due to past trauma and unstable environments, the majority of children who enter the program are delayed in the areas of speech and academic learning. Michelle, our FLC Program Director, coach’s mothers in effective parenting techniques and walks along-side them as they learn to advocate for their child through the school system, making sure every child receives the support they need to thrive. Through our work with children recovering from homelessness we have developed an outstanding relationship with our local Portland Public School. In addition to our focus on education, the FLC strives to cultivate a stable, nurturing environment and joyful experiences to help the kids reclaim their childhood and heal from trauma.
Caleb in explaining his feelings about going to school said, “I felt a lot of relief. As a creative person, I felt like school was an outlet to be able to explore new things and be safe. I learned my love of reading there at school. Like I loved reading at school…and I think maybe I liked reading at school cause it was kind of an escape, which felt good to have.”
Soon after, Caleb started to live with his aunt and uncle in California. He then had accessibility to a consistent school to further his education, which helped him eventually gain a degree in Graphic Design. He is currently giving back through his creativity by telling the stories of those who also experience homelessness. Portland Rescue Mission has empowered him with purpose to share his story to connect with others.
We asked Caleb if he had anything more to share with our community. He paused, reflected and said, “If you see a child walking to school, pray for them. I remember feeling so alone, and wanting to be somewhere where I could belong, where I felt safe and loved.”
The Family Life Center is a ministry of Portland Rescue Mission, where we seek to give hope and restore life to people struggling with homelessness. If you would like to support this work, please visit us at www.portlandrescuemission.org