Meet Lily: A New Friend for Families Experiencing Homelessness

It’s January in the Northeast, which means one thing: below freezing temperatures. Too many adults, kids and families experience this brutal cold without access to one of the main things that makes humans feel well and safe: a stable, permanent place to live.

Living in New York City, this reality is part of everyday life. According to the Coalition for the Homeless, on any given night in October of 2018 there were more than 15,500 homeless families—with more than 23,000 homeless children—sleeping in the city’s shelter system. And, one out of every 10 students in the New York City Public School System is experiencing homelessness, a record high.

Families, especially young children, who do not have a permanent place to live experience a devastating cycle of trauma. The trauma that caused them to lose their home, the trauma of actually losing their home, and the daily trauma of the uncertainty and insecurity of being homeless. They are left feeling alone and stigmatized. This is why last month’s announcement from Sesame Workshop about its new initiative to offer help and hope to the growing number of young children across the United States who are experiencing homelessness resonated so widely.

The initiative, part of the Sesame Street in Communities program, features Lily, a seven-year-old Muppet whose family is staying with friends on Sesame Street after losing their home. Lily is featured in new videos, storybooks and interactive activities for families with children ages 2 to 6, in addition to materials for the professionals who serve them, such as teachers and social workers.

By featuring Lily and her friends on Sesame Street, the resources are designed to show the experience from a child’s perspective, with Lily and her friends encouraging optimism, promoting understanding and modeling simple coping strategies for children. A couple of my favorites are “Rainbow Kind of Day,” where Lily, Elmo and Sofia learn the benefits of talking about big feelings and asking for help, and “Connect the Dots,” where Lily and Sofia play a game that helps Lily feel surrounded by love.

Experiencing homelessness is challenging and traumatic any day of the year, but when winter is in full swing, it feels even more urgent. It helps to know the Sesame Street community is finding ways to support kids and families who are living in such vulnerable, difficult circumstances.