Why Sesame Street connected food insecurity to family homelessness

By: Nina Joung

Lily is a young girl who loves the color purple, enjoys spending time with her friends and, unfortunately, has been experiencing housing insecurity. She may be a Muppet on “Sesame Street,” but she represents a growing concern among young children and their families: homelessness.

Sesame Workshop cites these statistics in explaining why it was so important to create the character of Lily:

According to the Office of Head Start, there has been a 100 percent increase in enrollment of children experiencing homelessness in Head Start and Early Head Start programs over the past decade, with 2016-17 marking a record number.

Lily may be the first Muppet to experience homelessness, but she’s not new to Sesame Street. She made her first appearance during an hour-long special called Growing Hope Against Hunger where she explained to Elmo how her family was food insecure and utilized school lunch programs and food pantries. Her story arc from a family experiencing food insecurity to losing their home is not new, and one many families can relate to.

To better understand the difficulties of family homelessness and the many households vulnerable to falling into the same situation, here’s your News Roundup on this critical issue:

Family shelters can be a safe haven for homeless families [NJTV]

As if homelessness isn’t already hard enough, there’s a unique strain placed on families experiencing housing insecurity and going through the shelter system. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless, some shelters have policies that don’t allow older boys or men to stay, forcing families to separate. This piece on HomeFront’s Family Campus in New Jersey speaks to the many benefits of providing families temporary housing as they go through these trying times.

The Homeless Children and Youth Act can broaden the definition of homelessness [City Lab]

Currently the The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) collects its numbers on homelessness by conducting a “point-in-time” count annually every January. This is done by having volunteers in communities across the U.S. go out and individually count the people they see living on the streets or in shelters. Among other requests, the Homeless Children and Youth Act seeks to amend the HUD definition of homelessness to include those who are living in other unstable housing situations, such as families who double-up in other people’s homes or living in motels. The bill was introduced in March 2017 and hopes to provide better assistance and services for families that currently don’t qualify as homeless through HUD.

ALICE households; families on the verge of homelessness [NJTV]

They are perhaps one financial crisis, one medical emergency or one job loss away from homelessness — they are ALICE households (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed). These hardworking families have to make the impossible decision between making this month’s rent, paying for childcare or affording groceries. This piece speaks to the growth of ALICE families in New Jersey. See where ALICE families are most prominent across the country here.