An Overview

Since 2005, HEAR US offers award-winning resources and information for those concerned about homeless children, teens and families.

HEAR US gives voice and visibility to homeless children, youth and families.
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Charlie-book cover

Get this book into the hands of people wanting to make a positive impact in their communities!

Think big, and deep: adults and kids, civic organizations and faith communities, scout troops and neighborhood associations, big businesses and mom-and-pop shops, nonprofits and for-profits. Anyone who desires to make life a little easier for kids and families in homeless situations. 

If they need a nudge, nudge ‘em! This is one of the best ways to make people feel good about doing something good for others! 

It’s that simple. The info in the book will guide the do-gooders in their efforts. And perhaps more people will become aware of how family/youth homelessness is both invisible and pervasive. From that awareness, we will see a “compassion epidemic” spreading across the land. Who knows, the ripple effect may cause a much-needed increase in federal and state homelessness reduction initiatives. 

Remember, back in 1993, the unlikely convergence of people, a photo, and a push to open school doors…

Other YBYK resources:

History - Who Is Charlie?

How Many Homeless Kids?

Who Is Charlie?

In some ways, Charlie is every homeless kid.charlie


In reality, Charlie was a little boy hanging around the parking lot Hesed House, an ecumenical center for ministry to very poor and homeless persons in Aurora, IL. Charles, with his mom, had nowhere to live except their beater car. It was summer 1993.


Pat Van Doren, a photojournalist with a heart and a good eye, was also hanging around the parking lot. When this 4-year-old boy appeared, carrying a stray cat like a sack of potatoes, his shoes on the wrong feet, and an innocent smile, Van Doren knew what she saw. Click and head for the darkroom!


The shelter’s abbreviated summer schedule, with occasional meals and access to showers and laundry, relied on a limited volunteer base. Charlie and his mom, along with dozens of adults and a handful of kids, were among millions of homeless persons in every community across the U.S., reliant on the kindness of others for sustenance.  


When the developing fluids revealed this captivating image of Charlie, Van Doren’s creative senses kicked into overdrive. She shared the image with Diane Nilan, director of the shelter, who shared it with Charles’ mother. 

Soon thereafter, a family staying at the transitional shelter at Hesed House, encountered

PVD headshot

Pat Van Doren

 barriers trying to register at their old school. One thing led to another, and a scrappy band of activists, including Nilan and Van Doren, decided to push for the first state bill to remove barriers commonly experienced by homeless students.


Van Doren’s eye and ideas focused on Charlie. She suggested using him as the poster child for the campaign to get legislation passed. “Charlie’s Bill” became the catch phrase for the Illinois Education for Homeless Children’s Act. Charlie’s picture adorned each handout distributed to Illinois lawmakers. 


The underdog effort to get the bill passed became “entertainment” in an otherwise log-jammed legislative session. Ardent efforts by the Charlie’s Bill team, far from slick lobbyists, and dedicated, bipartisan sponsors, accomplished the near-impossible: in May 1994, Governor Jim Edgar signed into law this hallmark legislation.


The new law opened school doors for children and teens who had no permanent place to live. The IL State Board of Education developed strategies to make sure school districts across the state complied, a gradual process. Homeless families and youth reacted gratefully as they learned that school stability was guaranteed by law.


From State Law to Federal 

Fast forward to 1998. Newly elected Congresswoman Judy Biggert (IL, R-13), visited Hesed House at the behest of one of the sponsors of Charlie’s Bill. After an eye-opening tour of this former incinerator building converted to a life-giving facility, Diane asked Mrs. Biggert, supportive of the law when she was a state representative, to take this law to the federal level. The McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act was up for reauthorization and it needed strengthening. Mrs. Biggert agreed.


fmnlogo2001This national “flower-roots” campaign had the slogan “Forget Me Not: Help Homeless Kids Blossom.” Nilan teamed up with Barbara Duffield, staff at the National Coalition for the Homeless, to organize activities to call attention to the issue of homeless kids’ educational rights. Zealous activists from across the nation pushed and prodded their lawmakers. Busloads of kids without homes made their way to these lobby efforts from across the nation, including from Hesed House. Hearings with homeless kids testifying were held at the Capitol.


Untold effort went into this unlikely campaign. Incredible media coverage focused on this other segment of the homeless population—children and youth, mostly invisible, and their quest for education. In December 2001, President George W. Bush signed into law No Child Left Behind (NCLB), including a newly-improved Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act under the umbrella homelessness bill, the McKinney-Vento Act. 


Those responsible for this bill’s passage knew it would take plenty of effort to implement it in the 50,000 or so school

so has a deepdistricts across the land. They dug in, and have fervently pursued every avenue to remove barriers common to homeless students, paving the way to educational success for a growing number of children and youth. 

hear us-logo


More Improvements!

In fact, in 2006, when the U.S. Department of Education began requiring districts to report the number of homeless students served, approximately 600,000 students were identified. In 2016, that number has grown to 1.3 million, a reflection of tough times and better identification. HEAR US Inc., created in 2005, has worked hard to improve the identification and sensitivity to these students without homes.


In December 2015, President Barrack Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). Included in this omnibus educational bill is a tiny, but critically important improved piece of legislation, the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act. 


charles-smileCharlie—who prefers Charles—now married with his wife and 3 children, has a home and a job. He also had a sense of pride in his role opening school doors to millions of homeless kids.


Those who were around back in 1993 remember the unlikely convergence of a poignant photo, passionate people and the push to open school doors for kids without homes. 


Thanks, Charlie!


 Other YBYK Resources:

How Many Homeless Kids?

How To Use the Charlie Book?





Charlie-book cover

The Charlie Book:
60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids


Author: Diana Bowman
Editor, Photographer: Diane Nilan

Graphic Design, Layout: Beth Adams

Charlie photo: Pat Van Doren

Price: $10, quantity discounts available

Publisher: HEAR US Inc.



The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids grew out of the desire to create a compassion epidemic that would spill out across the country to at least ease the suffering of millions of homeless children and youth. 

This concise handbook will provide the know-how for adults and kids, civic organizations and faith communities, scout troops and neighborhood associations to make a viable difference in their local communities for the mostly invisible families and youth experiencing a variety of shapes of homelessness.

Those involved in this book believe that good people doing good things will mitigate the apathy and anxiety that grabs headlines and shatters lives. The Charlie Book offers a simple, doable approach to providing tangible help to young people striving to get an education despite the formidable challenges they face. 

The antidote to apathy is action. The Charlie Book, offers simple activities that can simply change lives for the better. 

LIKE and SHARE The Charlie Book Facebook page.

Other YBYK resources: 

History - Who Is Charlie?

How Many Homeless Kids?

How To Use the Charlie Book?

Yay Babies! (and toddlers) Yay Kids! (and youth) General YBYK info
    Out of the Shadows: A State-by-State Ranking of Accountability for Homeless Students
Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness, June 2017

 Early Childhood Homelessness in the US: A 50-state profile

US Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, June 2017

 Addressing Mental Health Needs in Young Children Experiencing Homelessness

North Carolina State University, Mary Haskett, Feb. 2017


Are We Creating Chronic Homelessness? 

Barbara Duffield

UNCENSORED, Institute of Children, Poverty & Homelessness, Summer 2016.

Health Behaviors and Infant Health Outcomes in Homeless Pregnant Women in The United States, 
Rickelle RichardsRay M. MerrillLaurie Baksh
American Academy of Pediatrics, 2011
 Overlooked: The Far-Reaching Consequences of Late Identification of Homeless Students for Special Education Services
Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness, 2016
Homelessness Overview

Horizons for Homeless Children

Key Concepts
Early Childhood Development

Center on Developing Child, Harvard University

 Supporting the Success of Homeless Children and Youths

U.S. Dept. of Education, 2016

Basic Facts About Low Income Children

National Center for Chidren in Poverty

Access to Early Childhood Development Services...

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Administration for Children and Families (ACF), July 2016

Family Interventions for Youth Experiencing or At Risk of Homelessness

Urban Institute and Child Trends, July 2016 

 ESSA and Homeless Youth

The National Association of School Boards, August 2016


Resources for Young Parents & Children Experiencing Homelessness, August 2016 


Hidden in Plain Sight

GradNation, June 2016


YBYK-All copy



LIKE our YBYK Facebook page 

YBYK logo designed by Mary Parks

REPORTS and More:

 Other YBYK resources

Yay Babies! was an effort by Professor Staci Perlman to create positive energy around babies in homeless situations. Tragically, during the summer of 2015, Staci was diagnosed with cancer and died in August 2015.

HEAR US created Yay Babies! Yay Kids! to both honor Staci’s memory and to help young homeless babies, children and youth, the mission of HEAR US since 2005.

(5/2018) Yay Babies! North Carolina is a focus group leading the way on how NC will improve services to babies, toddlers, and their families! Yay Babies! HEAR US has been involved in this effort from the beginning. 

YBYK-1Traditionally, babies and children of homeless families are either ignored or people are just not aware that they even exist.

What if babies and children (kids) were celebrated? Positive attention would likely yield positive results.

Aside from the fact that millions of babies and kids go unacknowledged by homeless counts, many parents can’t get the help they need to better care for their little ones. Like diapers. Or backpacks for school-aged kids. Kids suffer for something they have nothing to do with, and we all suffer the cost of their deprivation.

Now Available!

The Charlie Book: 60 Ways To Help Homeless Kids
Charlie book cover

Includes several project to help babies and toddlers!

YBYK2YBYK creates an energized, positive awareness of these young homeless babies, toddlers, children and youth and provide new ways to increase resources for them and their families while encouraging better care of these little ones during their period of homelessness.

Watch this adorable
2-min Yay Babies! video. Then share it! 

HEAR US YayBabies! YouTube page has a collection of shortYay Babies videos.
Reno girl 1


"Life is But A Dream" (4 1/2 min)baby in crib


Yay Babies! CA
Watch and share this touching 3-minute HEAR US video on babies and toddlers experiencing homelessness.(New, 5/18)




  • Homeless babies, toddlers, children and youth have long been neglected. Creating a positive-focus to their value creates energy and momentum around their needs. 
  • YBYK helps local shelters and programs serving babies, toddlers, children and youth by encouraging donations of items needed by families.
  • YBYK gives local faith communities, service clubs, scout troops simple activities to get involved with helping homeless families.
  • YBYK inspires research projects and will offer ways colleges, universities can help.
  • YBYK  inspires and guides shelters and service providers to improve their level of care for these little ones.
 DDN1.Staci-croppedStaci Perlman (center) with Joe Willard (People's Emergency Center, Philadelphia) and Diane Nilan.
baby feet


  • Babies, toddlers, children and youth and the shelters/programs that serve them
  • Various groups across the country, (now stirring in Philly)
  • National groups concerned with babies and kids 
  • Local organizations, faith communities, service clubs, scout troops, etc.  
  • University professors, students and more…



  • Devise activities to involve others in YBYK, from local level to Congress.
  • Focus on positive—thus “yay”—an attention getter from the get-go!
  • Encourage shelters to improve care of these little ones while helping them with specific needs—essential items like diapers, school supplies, etc.
  • Inspire local communities to get involved, diaper collections, advocacy, etc.
  • Create short HEAR US videos useful on social media to call attention to homelessness.




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