"Sesame Street" has not shied away from taking on tough topics in its 49 seasons, whether it's kids dealing with parents who are incarcerated, handling the challenges of autism, or facing bullies at school.
The iconic children's show is now tackling the issue of homelessness through the story of a Muppet named Lily, a 7-year-old girl whose family stays with friends after losing their apartment.
TODAY's Craig Melvin paid a visit to the legendary "Sesame Street" stoop on Friday to meet Lily and her friends and talk first-hand about an issue that affects about 2.5 million children in America.
"We hope when they see Lily, this character who on 'Sesame Street' has experienced homelessness, that they can identify with her and hopefully feel less alone,'' Sherrie Westin, the president of Global Impact and Philanthropy for Sesame Workshop, told Craig.
The new initiative aims to reduce the stigma children who experience homelessness can face and redefine the notion of home as more about who you are with than where you live.
Lily was introduced as a character in 2011 to address the issue of food insecurity. Her family struggled to consistently have enough to eat, an issue that is often linked to homelessness.
In a recent episode, she is shown painting a rainbow mural with Elmo when she begins to look upset. The purple part of the rainbow reminds her of her old bedroom, which her family had to leave behind.
“We don’t have our own apartment anymore,” she tells Elmo and a human named Sofia. “And we’ve been staying in all different kinds of places."
She is the first character to address homelessness on the show.
"Recently, we've created a lot of content to help children who are experiencing traumatic events,'' Westin said. "And we have a unique ability to look at these issues through a lens of a child. So that's why we're stepping up."
Sesame Street has also provided resources on its website for supporting children and families whose housing situation is in transition, including the estimated 1.2 million American children under six who go to sleep without a home of their own each year, according to Head Start statistics cited by Sesame Workshop.
Craig asked Lily about what it's like to experience homelessness. Her family ended up staying with Sofia when they lost their stable housing.
"It's hard, because, well, you feel like no one else is going through it,'' Lily said. "But you realize that everyone's going through it with you. We stayed with (Sofia), and she taught me this really cool thing called 'Connect the Dots.'
"She said to make a dot for everyone who loves me,'' Lily continued. "Like my mom, my dad, my friends. And that I should connect all those dots. And when I did, it was a heart. And she said that I was in the middle of that heart, and that I was surrounded by love. So I really wasn't alone."
Lily's friend Grover then told Craig the real meaning of home.
"Home is just where the people you love are,'' he said.