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"I Want to be a Dinosaur"

Photo of a children's drawing that shows hand prints and the words: Dempson - I want to be a dinosaur.By Brock Grosso, Bill Emerson Hunger Fellow, Early Childhood Development

I came to ACF a few weeks ago through the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship. As a Fellow, I am working on early childhood homelessness in ACF’s Office of Early Childhood Development. The Emerson National Hunger Fellowship program is designed to develop leaders in the anti-hunger, anti-racist, and anti-poverty fields through the combination of field and policy experiences.

Recently, I got to experience the intersection of policy and field work first hand when I took a trip to Baltimore with ACF staff members to see the great work being done in Baltimore by Health Care for the Homeless (HCH), an HHS funded health care grantee. HCH offers pediatric and adult medical care, mental health services, social work and case management, addiction treatment, dental care, vision assistance, HIV services, outreach, supportive housing, and access to education and employment for people of all ages who are experiencing homelessness in Baltimore.

The walls of HCH feature artwork created by the clinic’s clients. One piece that caught my eye was a quilt made by young children with their hand prints, name and what they want to be. Dempson wants to be a dinosaur. This stuck with me because its absurdity, its childishness, shows exactly what HCH is all about – providing young children with the resources they need to be typical, silly, creative kids (or dinosaurs) even as they go through the difficult experience of homelessness.

The level of respect and care HCH provides is shown in everything from the ventilation system to the relationships between the clients and staff. In addition to an advanced ventilation system, HCH’s building features state of the art medical equipment, ample space for clients to wait comfortably, and constant reminders that it is a welcoming space. HCH also makes sure that the clients play an important role in the work. People who use the clinic’s services sit on the board, serve on committees, tell their story through the clinic’s Speakers’ Bureau program, give feedback through the consumer advisory board, and build trusting relationships with the clinic’s staff. The respect shown by HCH, both by their building and their practice, feeds into creating an environment where clients, especially young children, can thrive in the face of adversity.

Here at ACF’s Office of Early Childhood Development, we applaud the work being done to expand access to services for children and families experiencing homelessness. In the past year, we’ve launched a special initiative that is focused on Expanding Early Care and Education for Homeless Children. Through this initiative, we’ve released policies and procedures to Increase Access to ECE Services for Homeless Children & Families, an Early Childhood and Family Homelessness Resource List, among other resources. In addition, the Office of Family Assistance published an Information Memoranda on states’ ability to use TANF funds to support families experiencing homelessness and recently released a developmental screening guide for housing providers and shelter operators.

Even with all our recent efforts, we couldn’t do anything without great local partners like Health Care for the Homeless! The work being done by the folks at Health Care for the Homeless gives me hope. Their commitment to providing their clients high-quality care and the space to grow in the face of great hardship is truly inspiring. From what I saw last week, HCH is doing everything it can to make sure that every young child who experiences homelessness has the chance to grow up to be whatever they want – even a dinosaur.

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