“Family and friends.” “Joy and happiness.” “My home is the best to me because I feel safe.”
Those were some of the responses when we asked second-graders to write and illustrate “what home means to me.” A temporary exhibit of 100 drawings titled “Home Is Where the Heart Is” was unveiled in front of Housing Assistance’s Hyannis offices on June 8.
“This exhibit serves as an urgent reminder that while the school year is drawing to a close, summer break is no vacation for children who are housing insecure,” said Housing Assistance CEO Alisa Magnotta. “The housing crisis impacts children, families and teachers across Cape Cod. For children, the impact can be traumatic, affecting their ability to learn and thrive.”
More than 22,000 children enrolled in Massachusetts schools in the last school year were homeless. On Cape Cod, between 100 and 200 children every year live in one of Housing Assistance’s family shelters.
An untold number of families across Cape Cod are forced to move out of their winter rentals each spring and look for housing in a market with a 1% vacancy rate, Magnotta said. “They do the summer shuffle, and with few available rentals, many families are faced with desperate decisions,” she said. Those decisions include couch surfing, bouncing from place to place, or becoming homeless. Others are forced to leave the Cape in search of housing they can afford, which in turn hurts the local economy, she added.
Dr. Scott Carpenter, Superintendent of Monomoy Regional School District, spoke about how the housing crisis is affecting his district – from the teachers who turn down jobs because they can’t find housing to the children struggling to do their academic best because they are living in the shadow of housing insecurity.
“I worry more and more that the American dream is becoming increasingly further and further out of reach for the young families I serve and for the young teachers I try to hire,” he said. “The drawings behind me talk about home being safe and a source of happiness and joy. These factors are tremendously important for children as they are growing. Children can’t learn if they’re not joyful, if they’re not feeling safe.”
Cheri Armstrong, Career Education Counselor at Monomoy Regional High School and Chairperson of the Greater Cape and Islands Educator Action Network, said she sees the impacts of the housing crisis in the lives of her students every day.
Armstrong shared the story of a student whose family had been couch surfing for the entire school year. “As these pictures illustrate, even the very youngest among us can understand that everyone deserves a home,” she said.
Gemma Rehm is Director of Housing Assistance’s Carriage House Shelter in Falmouth, where up to 10 families live in transitional housing. One boy who came with his mother from off-Cape to stay at Carriage House told Rehm, “I miss my friends at school. I miss my teachers. I miss my grandmother.” She added, “We hear a lot of things about the explosion of homelessness, and you can see from the artwork how much home means to children.”
Magnotta said that everyone has a role to play in helping to keep Cape Cod a thriving, year-round community where families and people of all ages, incomes and backgrounds can access stable and safe housing that fits their budgets. “I urge you to join Housing to Protect Cape Cod, where you can be part of a coalition of nearly 1,000 people who are Speaking Up for Housing in towns across the region,” she said.