‘Figure things out’: How Philly experts, scientists say unhoused children can beat the odds and overcome homelessness

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Almost 500 Philadelphia households, adults and children experienced homelessness in 2023.

The figure was determined by the Philadelphia Office of Homeless Services’ latest Point-in-Time count (PIT)  taken one night in February 2023. But as housing insecurity and homelessness among children and youth continues to expand, experts are searching for solutions to minimize the traumatic effects over time.

Child development experts, researchers and psychologists in the region like Omari Baye may have found a factor to determine how some youth manage to find their way to stability.

Baye is a psychologist, author and the manager of HopePHL’s Building Early Links to Learning (BELL) Project, which serves children and youth experiencing homelessness. Nemours Children’s Health and HopePHL’s BELL project identified “resiliency” as a tool that could curb poor outcomes for an unhoused child’s future.

Baye has worked in education, homeless shelters and as a family therapist. At each job he says he has observed and seen first-hand what can help children thrive. He described these youths as “nimble.”

“We’re talking about children who have found a way to cope with delayed gratification and figure things out,” Baye said.

“Resilience is really the ability to adapt and not allow yourself to become stuck in place. Because the road isn’t clear, you find a way to clear it. But you also are willing to take a chance on yourself,” he added.

In other words, some children raised in insecure environments find ways to pivot around  barriers rather than remaining stuck behind them.

In their research, nearly 25% of youth are considered “resilient” despite the adversity they faced, the BELL study states. Adversity can be defined as “deep poverty” — a family and two children with an annual income of less than $14,000 — or homelessness.

Harvard University’s childhood development department said this function can be built over time.

Harvard used the analogy of a seesaw.

“Protective experiences and coping skills on one side counterbalance significant adversity on the other. Resilience is evident when a child’s health and development tips toward positive outcomes — even when a heavy load of factors is stacked on the negative outcome side,” the report read.

Take earlier interventions, for instance, such as Head Start programs for young children.

  • January 29, 2024
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