I’ll admit to enjoying this time of the year. Setting aside the religious aspects of the upcoming holidays, this is a season when most of us take time to celebrate with our families and friends. Wonder what it would be like to be a child with your family living on the streets, in a car or in a shelter?
That’s not just a question. It’s reality for one in 45 children in the USA, according to a story this morning in USA Today, “Report: Child Homelessness up 33% in 3 Years.”
One in 45 children in the USA — 1.6 million children — were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families last year, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness.
The numbers represent a 33% increase from 2007, when there were 1.2 million homeless children, according to a report the center is releasing Tuesday.
“This is an absurdly high number,” says Ellen Bassuk, president of the center. “What we have new in 2010 is the effects of a man-made disaster caused by the economic recession. … We are seeing extreme budget cuts, foreclosures and a lack of affordable housing.”
Not much in the way of holiday cheer in that story. But as I continued my early morning march through the Internet sites, I came across an article on NewsBusters, “60 Minutes Story About Amazing Homeless Girl Raises $1 Million for Charity.”
A few weeks ago, NewsBusters introduced readers to an amazing homeless girl in Florida with a truly inspiring view of life.
Her story, first told by CBS’s 60 Minutes, touched so many Americans that Scott Pelley announced at the end of Sunday’s program more than $1 million had been sent to various charities in Florida, and colleges have offered full scholarships to the main characters.
SCOTT PELLEY: An update now on the story that we aired two weeks ago called Hard Times Generation. About children living with their families in vehicles in Central Florida because homeless shelters were full. The children we met included Arielle and Austin Metzger who showed us how they get through the day after getting ready for school in gas stations. They didn`t ask for anything.
But since our broadcast, viewers have sent in or promised more than one million dollars to help homeless families in Central Florida. Beyond the cash came offers of housing and jobs. And for Arielle and Austin, three colleges have offered full scholarships. The Metzgers and other families we interviewed have been given free housing and all of the parents in our story have been offered jobs. Quite a holiday present.
60 Minutes on Sunday did an absolutely touching segment about homeless people living in cars and trucks in Florida.
One such unfortunate soul was Arielle Metzger, a 15-year-old girl with more self-confidence and pride than those carping and whining about what they’re supposedly entitled to in Occupy encampments around the country.
At the end of this fourteen minute segment, host Scott Pelley had an amazing discussion with Arielle and her 13-year-old brother Austin:
Scott Pelley, Host: One threat to a family out here is idleness, so the folks that we met fill the days with every free and normal thing. After school, the Metzgers drive their truck to the library.
Arielle Metzger: ‘Cause they’ve got the computers that we can use. And light and all that.
Pelley: I wonder what education means to you two?
Austin Metzger: It’s everything.
Arielle Metzger: It is everything to us. I plan to be a child defense lawyer. If I focus on my studies, I have that opportunity.
Pelley: The American dream is durable. And there is something about growing up in a truck that makes you believe in it all the more. As we tagged along with the Metzgers they told us they like the truck better than a motel and they wanted to show us something they’ve been doing in the evenings: they’re acting in a community theater, a free and normal thing.
On stage they had a chance to be somebody else, but what struck us most was that they were just as happy in their roles as the Metzgers.
Arielle Metzger: Before the truck I always saw all these homeless people and I would feel so bad for them. And then as soon as we started living in the truck ourselves I’ve seen even more. And I just feel so bad. And even though I’m homeless myself I wanna do as much as I can to help them get up, back on their feet.
Pelley: You sound very adult to me.
Austin Metzger: She is. She likes to take over.
Pelley: And you too a little bit, Austin. You had to grow up pretty fast?
Arielle Metzger: Yeah.
Austin Metzger: Yeah.
Arielle Metzger: Every time I see like a teenager or any other kid fighting with their parents or arguing with them and like not doing what they’re told it really hurts me. Because they could be in my shoes. And of course I don’t want them to be in my shoes. But they need to learn to appreciate what they have and who they have in their life. Because it may be the last day they might have it.
I know this doesn’t go anywhere near solving the problems facing those who are homeless and those sinking into poverty. But I was struck by the spirit of Arielle Metzger — and those who reached out to help her and her family and others following the broadcast.
Not a bad holiday story.