The Importance of Cultural Experiences for Homeless Youth

Posted by: Becca Smith Hill

SLP kids at Columbia Museum of Art

The arts should be a part of every child’s life–and, therefore, part of every homeless child’s life as well. But homeless and poor parents, who are struggling with the demands of their everyday lives, are hard-pressed to provide culturally-enriching activities for their children. And yet, these children need such experiences as much as other children do to complete their education.

Ruby K. Payne, the leading U.S. expert on the mindsets of poverty, middle class, and wealth, suggests that to help a child break out of the cycle of generational poverty, he or she must be educated about and exposed to things of value to the middle and wealthy classes. Basic cultural literacy and exposure to different experiences plays a key role in aiding a child living in poverty to break out of that cycle later in life.

New research from Child Trends Data Bank suggests that “the favorable outcomes associated with high levels of arts participation are particularly strong for students from families with social and/or economic disadvantage.”  See the full article here.

St. Lawrence Place houses up to 30 homeless families, including up to 60 children at any given time. Children ages 4-11 living at St. Lawrence Place or nearby Family Shelter, the emergency shelter for families, attend the after-school and summer children’s programs.  The children’s program provides academic tutoring, healthy snacks and meals, as well as playtime and a family literacy program.

Teens learning animation at CMA with Sanford Greene

The teens living at St. Lawrence Place participate in a weekly Life Skills session, and share a meal.  Beginning last year, the teens have been able to visit the Columbia Museum of Art monthly to participate in art projects and learn more about art through local artists such as Sanford Greene and Josh Drews.

Children visiting Riverbanks Zoo

In the past year the children in the after school and summer camp programs have visited Columbia Museum of Art for Art Camp, they have visited the SC State Museum, EdVenture Children’s Museum, Riverbanks Zoo, and Richland County Public Library for various poetry and theatrical events.  A group of students from USC visits regularly to teach the kids how to play musical instruments, and a different group of USC students visits to do hands-on Science experiments with the kids in the after school program.

Generous grants from the Central Carolina Community Foundation, The Nord Family Foundation, and the Target Foundation, as well as personal donations from supporters, help St. Lawrence Place provide best practice and evidence-based after school and summer programs for our children, including educational and cultural field trips.

We believe cultural experiences are crucial to our children’s development and play a big role in helping our children break the cycle of generational poverty into which many of them have been born.