‘Sesame Street’ Tackles Homelessness With New Muppet

The beloved children’s program Sesame Street will now be addressing the serious issue of homelessness, WGN is reporting. In 2011, a 7-year-old Muppet named Lily was introduced on the show. Lily was initially regarded as food-insecure, as her family struggled to have enough food. Now, Sesame’s Workshop has expanded Lily’s storyline to reveal she is homeless. Sesame Workshop, which used to be known as Children’s Television Workshop, is the nonprofit behind Sesame Street that helps to educate children on important topics. Sherrie Westin, president of global impact and philanthropy for the organization, explained how new online resources will tell Lily’s story of having to stay with friends after her family loses their home.

“When Lily was first launched, she came out as part of the food insecurity initiative. So she’s not brand new, but this seemed like a really perfect extension of her story, so that we could use her to help children identify with,” said Westin. “With any of our initiatives, our hope is that we’re not only reaching the children who can identify with that Muppet but that we’re also helping others to have greater empathy and understanding of the issue.”

Lily’s new story was announced on Wednesday as part of the “Sesame Street in Communities” program. While an episode about Lily’s situation is not set to air just yet, resources will be available online so children can access her story.

“The goal is really to give service providers, parents, teachers tools in order to address homelessness with children, in order to talk about it and raise awareness of the issue from a child’s perspective and also to help children experiencing homelessness feel less alone,” explained Westin. “I think we tend to think of homelessness as an adult issue and don’t always look at it through the lens of a child, and we realize that Sesame has a unique ability to do that, to look at tough issues with the lens of a child.”

Sesame Street, which first aired in 1969, is known for not shying away from real problems that can affect children. Last year, a Muppet with autism was introduced named Julia. Julia also technically made her debut through Sesame Workshop materials in 2015 before her premiere on the show. In 2002, South Africa’s Sesame Street introduced a Muppet with HIV. The Muppet was shown playing and making physical contact with her friends, which helped de-stigmatize the issue. Rashmita Mistry, a professor of education at the University of California, Los Angeles, believes Sesame Workshop can do the same for homelessness.

“Young children quickly develop ideas about the homeless based on what they see, observe and hear. And, unfortunately, their perceptions lead them to form negative impressions about the homeless,” said Mistry. “Humanizing the experience of homelessness is especially important because families with young children and school-age children make up a sizable proportion of the homeless population, especially so in urban communities where there’s high cost of housing, a tight housing market and limited rent control along with low and non-sustainable wages.”

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