Nonfiction I WAS ” HOMELESS “ At least 1.3 million homeless children live in the United States. Kevin Liu was one of them. By Kristin Lewis | Research contributed by Jane Bianchi 4 Scholastic Scope • NOVEMBER 2013
Nonfiction  I WAS     HOMELESS       At least 1.3 million homeless children live in the United States. Kevin Liu was one o...
“ NARR ATiVE NONFICTIO Reads N like but it’s fiction— all tru e W here do you live?” What challenges do the This is the homeless face? question that filled 11-year-old Kevin Liu with dread. How could he answer? Sometimes he would change the subject. Other times he would give a vague reply. A few times he flat-out lied. But he never, ever told his friends the full truth: He didn’t have a home. AS YOU READ, THINK ABOUT: the way you imagine. They are not unwashed or wearing worn-out clothing or standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign. In fact, you may see a homeless person every day and have no idea. The majority of homeless people look just like you. Many paths can lead to homelessness: unemployment, mental illness, an unexpected sickness. These are problems almost anyone can relate to. Do Until fifth grade, Kevin lived with his parents and his younger the family’s belongings still inside. Legally, landlords can’t just kick How about someone who got sick brother, Ka-ren, in Chinatown, a people out of their homes. A and had an expensive hospital bustling neighborhood in landlord must first go to court, stay? Hopefully, the people you downtown New York City famous where a judge decides if eviction is know had someone they could turn for its vibrant Chinese culture, allowed. What’s more, landlords to when they needed help, such as hopping markets, and delicious are required to give renters a a friend or relative. restaurants. Kevin’s parents ran a reasonable amount of time to successful shop that sold groceries move. But Kevin’s parents spoke does not have that support and candies and had arcade games little English, and they did not structure? One crisis can quickly for kids. Kevin and Ka-ren helped know their rights. The idea of spiral out of control, causing that out, working the cash register and taking their landlord to court person to fall behind on housing making change for customers. The seemed daunting and expensive. payments or become unable to pay family rented a modest studio And so in one devastating day, they at all. For Kevin’s parents, the crisis apartment above the store. lost their home and their business. was getting unfairly evicted. They They had no money, no jobs, didn’t have enough money to rent At the time, Kevin didn’t think of himself as happy or comfortable. But what happens if someone and nowhere to go. a new apartment in New York City, where renters are generally Life just seemed normal. Then, just before Kevin started sixth grade, everything changed. One day, the landlord told Tim Soter Photography you know someone who lost a job? Homelessness in America In the United States, more than 630,000 people are homeless on required to make a large payment—usually thousands of dollars—before they can move in. Kevin’s family they had to leave— any given day—and those are just Experiencing a crisis is just one immediately. The building was the ones we know about. Experts part of the picture of homelessness. being renovated, and they had to say that there are likely millions Ultimately, the number one cause go. Locks were placed on the more. Most of these men, women, of homelessness is a lack of family’s shop and apartment, with and children probably don’t look affordable housing—that is,  www.Scholastic.com/Scope • NOVEMBER 2013 5
     NARR ATiVE NONFICTIO Reads N like  but it   s fiction    all tru e  W  here do you live     What challenges do the Th...
apartments that middle- and lower- ESSAY Are We Doing Enough? T he Indian civil-rights leader Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The measure of a civilization is how it treats its comfortably afford. weakest members.” Over the past decade, How do we in the United States measure up? the cost of homes in Back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was widely major American cities believed that the poor had brought their misfortune upon has skyrocketed. As a themselves. When people lost their jobs or got sick, they had result, the number of to rely on their families to help them. If their families couldn’t—or wouldn’t— homeless families in assist, these people often wound up on the streets. big cities has risen Attitudes and policies began to change after the Great Depression in the drastically. Since 2002, 1930s. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” the number of and the government created dozens of programs for Americans in need. These homeless families in programs, which are still in place today, range from school meals, which feed New York has millions of kids, to Medicare, which provides health care to senior citizens. increased by 73 There are also hundreds of private organizations that rely on donations to help percent, according to the poor. the Coalition for the America has a far stronger safety net than many nations. But are we doing Homeless. In enough? Consider this: Of the richest 35 nations in the world, the U.S. has the Washington, D.C., the second-highest rate of child poverty (after Romania), and one in six Americans number of homeless lives in poverty. At the same time, there is growing debate about whether we families has doubled should cut back on in the past five Today, one in six government programs years. Americans lives for the poor. Some say in poverty. too many Americans The Ordeal rely on the government Kevin’s family for help. A lot of eventually moved assistance programs into a shelter in have already been downtown cut back. Manhattan (and What would Gandhi were able to say to this? And what retrieve their do you think? income families can belongings). They received a tiny room with bunk beds; the and dehumanizing experience, in shelters. Being homeless is bathroom was shared with the characterized by uncertainty and particularly hard on kids. Studies other families on their floor. trauma. Homeless people must show that homeless children are struggle to survive with almost under constant stress. They get sick place to stay and free food to eat. nothing. They tend to be frequently, have a hard time in But their ordeal was just beginning. undernourished. And they are school, and, like Kevin, tend to feel frequent victims of robbery, even a deep sense of shame and isolation They were relieved to have a Being homeless is a frightening 6 Scholastic Scope • NOVEMBER 2013 Dinodia Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images (Top); © I Love Images/Corbis (Bottom) houses and
apartments that middle- and lower-  ESSAY  Are We Doing Enough   T  he Indian civil-rights leader Mahatma Gandhi once said...
from their classmates. Life can be for residents to cook their own Kevin says. “He’d say, ‘Hey, Jackie very lonely for kids in shelters. meals. Food poisoning was a Chan,’ or ‘Hey, Jet Li.’” Wisely, They can’t simply invite their constant worry. Kevin’s mom Kevin chose to ignore him as best friends over after school to play would order inexpensive takeout he could, focusing instead on the video games or do homework. whenever she could—until she got day his family would get to leave. Homelessness was certainly a crockpot, which was technically stressful for Kevin. His grades Every time Kevin came to the fear that his family would never noisy, hot, and dirty. (With so shelter after school, he had to go again have a home of their own. many people passing through, past security guards. Even going to even the most well-maintained the bathroom was a horrifying Many families in the shelter shelters are difficult to keep clean.) experience. There was no privacy. system end up staying much The food, Kevin says, was The showers and toilet stalls were longer than they intend. “It’s very “disgusting”; there was no place all in the same room. Often, Kevin hard to get out of homelessness,” Homelessness in America A Snapshot 20 out of every 10,000 people in the U.S. are homeless. 243,627 homeless persons are reported to be living on the streets, in cars, or in abandoned buildings. www.istockphoto.com turning to years, Kevin began to against the rules. began to drop. The shelter was But as the months dragged on, (The true number is impossible to count; there are likely many, many more.) 133 out of every 10,000 people in Washington, D.C., are homeless. That’s the highest rate of homelessness in the U.S. 29 states reported an increase in homelessness from 2011 to 2012. Source: “The State of Homelessness in America 2013” by The National Alliance to End Homelessness Kevin’s family wasn’t alone. found excrement in says Megan Hustings, a the showers or spokesperson for the National smeared on the Coalition for the Homeless. walls. “Especially in the bigger cities, Then some of trying to save up for rent when the kids began you’re working in a minimum picking on him. wage job is very difficult.” While he was in the shower, they would turn off the lights Homeless, Not Hopeless Across the U.S., many or open the curtain. communities do reach out to help “I can still hear their most needy. Food drives and them laughing in clothing donations can make a big my head,” Kevin difference. Several nonprofit remembers. One groups, like the international boy in particular charity Habitat for Humanity, build tried to make affordable housing, while other Kevin’s life groups, like the HOPE program in miserable, New York, help those in poverty belittling Kevin find better-paying jobs. and even going so It was through one of these far as to demand groups that Kevin found a glimmer money from of hope. In seventh grade, after he Kevin’s mom. had been living in the shelter for “He’d make fun more than a year, Kevin started of me because going to an after-school program there were only two called Bound for Success. The Asian families in program was run by the the whole shelter,” Coalition for the Homeless.  www.Scholastic.com/Scope • NOVEMBER 2013 7
from their classmates. Life can be  for residents to cook their own  Kevin says.    He   d say,    Hey, Jackie  very lonel...
“It was a quiet place where I But he couldn’t bring himself to It would be years, though, could do my homework or play tell his school friends the truth. “I before Kevin let go of the shame music or do arts and crafts,” he felt like I could never truly be he felt during his time in the says. “It was an escape from all the myself and open up to my friends shelter. When he turned 17 this craziness of being in a cramped because I carried around this past April, he decided to confide in shelter with people I didn’t know secret,” he says. his friend Jason. or like.” The program, which serves “I thought, ‘If he turns his back A New Beginning 30 homeless children at a time, offers free tutoring, field trips, and above all, a safe place to hang out. Just before Kevin started high school, he finally got the news on me, then he isn’t a true friend,’” Kevin explains. It turns out that Jason was a Thanks to the Coalition, Kevin’s he’d been so desperately waiting true friend. He was shocked that grades began to improve. He even for. After three long and difficult Kevin had carried around such a made a few friends at the shelter. years in the shelter, his family had secret for so many years, but he Kevin and his dad in their new home been given an didn’t treat Kevin any differently. apartment through a The conversation went so well program that helps that Kevin began telling more of needy families with his friends. their rent. “When I found out Today, Kevin is doing better than ever. He is a senior in high we were moving, I school. His mom has a job as an was so relieved and aid in a school cafeteria (though excited that I his father is still looking for work). practically jumped Kevin dreams of going to college up and down,” Kevin and becoming an actor. He spends recalls. “We have two his free time volunteering at the rooms now, one after-school program that helped bathroom that we him so much when he was in don’t have to share middle school. with strangers, and “I want to help other kids who our own kitchen, so are going through the same thing we can cook our own as I did,” Kevin explains. food. It’s so much “Sometimes I’ll help them with cleaner than the their homework or play basketball shelter, and it’s so with them. I hope they look at me nice to have privacy and see how well I’m doing now again.” and think: I can do that too.” • Think about the state of homelessness in America. What challenges do the homeless face? In what ways does society help and how could we do more? Write two to three paragraphs answering these questions. Use text evidence from ‘I Was Homeless,’ the infographic, and the essay to support your ideas. Send your response to HOMELESSNESS CONTEST. Five winners will each receive a copy of Money Hungry by Sharon G. Flake. See page 2 for details. Get this activity Online 8 Scholastic Scope • NOVEMBER 2013 Tim Soter Photography writing contest
   It was a quiet place where I  But he couldn   t bring himself to  It would be years, though,  could do my homework or p...