May 21, 2010

The Youngest Faces of Homelessness

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The preschool children and toddlers playing at 1900 Rainier Avenue S need to nap, play, and learn just like every other kid. The only thing different about these children is that they might not know where they are going to sleep that night.

But at the Early Learning program at the non-profit Wellspring Family Services, children at risk of homelessness or experiencing homelessness can receive specialized curriculum and emotional and social assessment.

Because the experts of Wellspring Family Services know that children’s brains and future emotional behavior develops the most between the ages of one and five, they step in early to prevent future family homelessness and ensure stable lifestyles for children in crisis or transitional situations.

But Wellspring does not stop with the children—in addition to housing assistance and eviction prevention programs, it offers men’s domestic violence groups, chemical dependency support, and at-home therapist visits to ensure that leaned behavioral patterns go home where they are most needed.

Unlike other social services agencies and non-profits, Wellspring’s Baby Boutique, opened in 1995, offers one-stop shopping for entire familie. Parents can come in and outfit an entire family with clothes, toys for kids of all ages. It offers everything from toilets for potting training to prom dresses.

The Baby Boutique, like other organizations such as ReWA and Consejo, often offers internships and work experience for clients who have succeeded in their programs and are more than ready and willing to give back to the community. The boutique is supported by mothers who have previously used the services and young adults directed from the YWCA’s workforce placement program.

Though the Baby Boutique is well stocked, store employees have noticed a rise in requests for services in the last two years, stretching the access to resources such as cribs, diapers, and car seats that remain difficult to come by. For some new mothers-to-be, entering Baby Boutique may be the first time that they fully realize the extent of the challenge they are to take on, a challenge often complicated by a lack of personal support, financial concerns, and uncertain housing conditions.

But the support offered at Baby Boutique goes beyond providing basic necessities. The store and its open employees offer young mothers and parents a chance to talk about their children, to share parenting stories, ask questions about potty training and early childhood behavior, and find a moment in which to rejoice that in the midst of all the chaos, the resilient nature of kids almost always ensures that a smile or hug will make the struggle just a little bit better.

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