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....

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Cubicle Solution--WWJD?

Corporate sloggers regard cubicles with great loathing(to say the least).

Ask any homeless mom how she likes living in one and she might not be as forthcoming, to avoid appearing ungrateful, but chances are she'd have something to say about the bright fluorescent lighting that doesn't get turned off till way past her kids' bedtimes, minimizing the restful sleep they get. Then she'd talk about the privacy issues, sharing bathrooms with strangers, hearing crying babies or noisy volunteers throughout the night, or how chilly it is and the lack of blankets, or what a pain it is to schlep of her bags of clothes and personal belongings out each morning and back again each evening, or...

This nation's wholesale response to homelessness, for families as well as single men and women, has been the faith-based shelter in whatever building the congregations can offer. While it certainly is better than living under a bridge or in a car, come on! This band-aid solution was created over 25 years ago--at the time the federal government de-funded mental health services--to give severely mentally ill adults a place to go to keep from freezing.

Now we use churches, synagogues and mosques as homeless shelters touting their faith-based solutions to homelessness. With deep appreciation for the sacrifices and significant contributions people of faith have provided over the past quarter of a century, IT WAS AN EMERGENCY RESPONSE TO AN EMERGENCY NEED! It is not a solution!

Now, any definition of "emergency" that I've seen doesn't imply something that lasts 25 years. But in the past 25 years, this country has managed to grow homelessness, particularly the invisible family and youth species, and in our predictable manner we've managed to say "let the churches (and other places of worship) take care of it." (A whole other conversation could be had about the declining number of functional places of worship and clergy to lead them.)

The other night Laura and I followed a young mother as she navigated the logistical transportation nightmare to get her 2 small children to the shelter of the night. Once she arrived, she made her way to her cubicle where her little baby got a much-needed diaper change. The chill in the hall/shelter was enough that I kept my jacket on.

Coming "home" after a long day's work (she is a housekeeper in a motel earning $7 an hour) means dealing with her kids' most basic needs in a sterile, impersonal environment; waiting until it's time to eat whatever the volunteers have prepared for dinner; and waiting until it quiets down so her kids can be put to bed. Most of the facilities have no showers/tubs, so bathing needs to be done at the day center in between work and taking a series of busses to get her children to/from childcare in time to catch the van to the shelter site.

Now, I don't know about anyone else, but for me this life would only be a step up from life on the streets. Yes, it's well-intentioned assistance, but it's assistance that comes at a price--human dignity and respect.

The hackneyed "WWJD?" phrase can be used to prick consciences. Would Jesus believe that homeless moms and their children deserve the barest of essentials or would Jesus ask why in the hell this country, which has used trillions of dollars in weapons and actions of mass destruction, has homeless families, teens and adults by the millions?

Seems to me that if we are doing these shelter programs in good faith, then people of faith have the moral obligation to move these families beyond the cubicle into the corner office.

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