Playtime Project comes to Prince George’s Co., aiming to help more homeless children

An organization that helps create safe places for homeless children to socialize has expanded its reach into Maryland for the first time.

“The timing was really right,” said Jamila Larson, co-founder and executive director of the program.

The Homeless Children’s Playtime Project partners with area homeless shelters and transitional housing programs to provide a place for children experiencing housing insecurity to socialize, play and learn.

They’ve been exclusively in D.C., but they found a need to expand into nearby Prince George’s County.

“As D.C. moves away from large congregate care shelters by closing D.C. General and the overflow hotel shelters into smaller neighborhood-based shelters, they don’t always have space for programming,” Larson said. “We know that a lot of families in the D.C. area are finding themselves in Prince George’s County, so we thought it was time to reach out beyond our traditional borders.”

So they partnered with Shepherd’s Cove, run by United Communities Against Poverty, for the new location.

She says that they’ve served 20 children there since its opening last month and she says they are ready to serve a lot more.

“It’s scary to kids to have to go through periods of homelessness and to enter an institution,” Larson said.

She said she thinks the expansion happened at the right time as families were isolated during the coronavirus pandemic.

“For families in crisis, isolation can really exacerbate those circumstances that brought them into homelessness, be it domestic violence, stress disorders, mental health, substance abuse challenges and unemployment. Isolation is not a good thing for any of those challenges.”

She hopes that the new location will help at a time when many children are heading back to full time in-person school for the first time since the pandemic.

“Isolation has been the name of the game for us all during COVID,” Larson said. “It’s really important to provide kids a safe space to provide parents a break, and to help children practice their social skills.”

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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