invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 3 MILLION kids are without homes. H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S Kids. I don't get it. Are we willing to discard these kids? Not me. So this blog will relentlessly focus on this issue, hoping to light a spark to fuel a compassion epidemic. Chime in, argue, but do something....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Pets Have It Good, What About People?

Beatrice, a bright 18-year old college student, came up with an astute way to describe FOSTER CARE that clearly depicts why this "solution" to kids being on their own doesn't always work.

First, let me say that I'm sure foster care works for more kids than I'm aware. Good foster parents and good kids can make the best out of what are usual bad situations: family crises, disconnection with parents, etc.--issues which make it impossible for the family to remain intact.

But for those of us in the homelessness arena, we hear countless painful accounts of foster care nightmares. Too often kids get chewed up and spit out of a system inadvertently designed to leave kids on their own when they're least able to cope--as they turn 18 and "age out." (An excellent documentary, Aging Out, does an powerful job telling this story.) The System deems them ready to be adults and pulls the rug out from under them.

Beatrice spent several years in and out of foster care. When we asked her about what it was like, her response summed it up:

Being in a foster home is like being a pet. They feed you and give you a place to sleep, but they don't give you what you need most, someone to really care about you.

Sadly, this seems to be the case with kids who have negative experiences with foster care. And the long-term effects of growing up in a non-nurturing environment eventually rears its ugly head, often in devastating ways--drug/alcohol abuse, serious behavior problems, inability to hold a job or maintain a relationship, etc.--problems that easily lead to homelessness.

Higher education can offer a way out of this vortex, but potential college students, like Beatrice, had to struggle to apply for financial aid because of bureaucratic barriers, soon to be removed by passage of federal legislation, the FAFSA Fix, removing onerous provisions that kept kids without parents in their lives from applying for funds to attend college.

Our current visit to Las Cruces, chronicled in the Las Cruces Sun, focuses on the effects of homelessness on young people who, like Beatrice, find themselves without a place to call home. These kids get a university-level education of life's realities, some of which are pretty ugly. This weekend a tragic stabbing occurred in the local shelter, the only place families can turn for refuge. Across the street from the mission where this murder occurred sits an empty family shelter. It needs an agency to run it and the funds to operate.

Seems to me that our families should be valued and nurtured, with kids given opportunities to thrive like Beatrice, who received significant help from the school's McKinney-Vento homelessness liaison. We can either lend a hand to kids and families who struggle with homelessness or let them languish on the streets like stray animals.

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