“What would you do if you became homeless?” is a difficult question to pose to a room of 300 youth, but FMF program manager Sakinah Mujahid and I did just that.
We joined the youth program, Living Waters at Shepherd of the Lake Lutheran Church for their Wednesday night programming. Rather than speaking from a PowerPoint, we played a board game and let the luck of the dice do most of the talking.
The players began at the same starting point in the middle of the board. Some moved ahead thanks to opportunity cards such as gaining inheritance or completing an educational degree. Others fell behind after challenge cards such as losing childcare and being unable to work or facing unexpected medical issues.
As a case manager with Families Moving Forward, I see the ways these obstacles play out for families in our program. The challenge cards in the game reflect barriers our families face to moving ahead – often thanks to a role of the dice more than their own doing. Throughout the game we posed questions to the entire room such as “if you are homeless, where will you take a shower for a job interview?” or “how will you get your medication?” As I watched the faces of perplexed teenagers grapple with these questions, I was reminded of how unknowingly complex homelessness is too many of us.
Youth were able to ask questions at the end that we hadn’t covered during the game. Many wondered, “What happens if you are a kid without a home and can’t get to school?” or “What do you do when you’re sick?” I was encouraged to hear them putting themselves in the shoes of someone experiencing homelessness.
The overall takeaway of the game is that “homeless” is a situation, not a person. Contrary to popular belief, nearly any of us could find ourselves in such a situation. Debunking stereotypes about homelessness is difficult and must begin with an understanding of the lived experience. The youth at Shepherd of the Lake opened themselves to feeling, on a small scale, the frustrations and setbacks that can lead to homelessness, and asked the hard questions of how to navigate resources and barriers to a more stable situation.