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Lily the Muppet and advocacy groups help Sesame Street shed light on child homelessness

Lily is the first homeless muppet on Sesame Street, and it's an important step towards changing perceptions and helping kids heal from the trauma of child homelessness.

Helping kids with the sensitive issue of homelessness, Sesame Street introduces a new character.

Sofia and Lily, the first homeless character on Sesame Street.

By Kristin Toussaint, Metro

Though she’s got bright pink skin and a lavender nose, 7-year-old Lily still has something in common with a staggering number of New York City children: she’s homeless. And now, she’s the first Muppet on Sesame Street to shed a light on the issue.

Child homelessness is a growing issue, experts say. One out of every 10 students in New York City experienced homelessness in the 2017-18 school year. In 2015, more than 20,000 children under six years old were in the New York City Department of Homeless Services shelter system at some point that year.

“The sad truth is when people think of homelessness in America, they don’t think of the face of a child under 6, but that is in fact the majority of those who are homeless,” said Kate Barrand, president and CEO of Horizons for Homeless Children.

Horizons for Homeless Children is a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that works to improve the lives of young homeless kids. Sesame Street reached out to the organization, asking them to help create content around Lily and the topic of child homelessness.

Some of the material, like articles and resources for adults, is for the Sesame Street in Communities program specifically, which works with community providers, parents and caregivers.

“What they’re really trying to do is help to make accessible information to people who are in the field, providing shelter to families, [teachers] finding they have homeless children in their classrooms and anybody who is part of the support system for homeless families,” Barrand said. “This is designed to support them in their work.”

The importance of Sesame Street focusing on child homelessness

In videos, Lily and Sofia, a real-life person who works at a local community center in the Sesame Street world, play a game to show that Lily is surrounded by love and learn about the benefits of talking about their feelings. After Lily’s family finds permanent housing, she demonstrates “survivors' pride,” and shares one of her coping strategies with Elmo.

“We know children experiencing homelessness are often caught up in a devastating cycle of trauma,” said Sherrie Westin, president of Global Impact and Philanthropy at Sesame Workshop, in an email. “We want to help disrupt that cycle by comforting children, empowering them, and giving them hope for the future. We want them to know that they are not alone and home is more than a house or an apartment—home is wherever the love lives.”

Lily isn’t a completely new Sesame Street character. She appeared in the show seven years ago as a character struggling with food insecurity. This is a common experience, Barrand said, for many homeless children.


Off of Sesame Street, the resources for parents and community organizations will help mitigate the impact of trauma that homelessness can have on young kids, “so that this experience of homelessness doesn't become the defining event that changes the trajectory of their life,” Barrand said.

Thanks to Lily the Muppet, Sesame Street will be able to reach kids experiencing homelessness and let them know they’re not alone, break down perceptions of homelessness for other kids and aid parents and caregivers in helping those kids through that tough time.

“The focus of the homelessness effort is largely on the parent and trying to find them appropriate housing, help them with job skills get them living wages,” she said. “We need to focus equal energy on making sure that while children are homeless, they’re living in and have access to healthy environments and have healthy interactions.”

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US News: Lily the Muppet and advocacy groups help Sesame Street shed light on child homelessness
Lily the Muppet and advocacy groups help Sesame Street shed light on child homelessness
Lily is the first homeless muppet on Sesame Street, and it's an important step towards changing perceptions and helping kids heal from the trauma of child homelessness.
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