Monday, March 24, 2008
Turning Our Nation's Back on the Poor: Don't Be Surprised
Traveling is nothing new to me, but the reason for the huge gaps (the length surprised even me!) in my blogs has been 3 trips to New York this month. But that's not the heart of this post.
Even in my tired state of mind I can get riled up by perusing homelessness/poverty stories on the web. A typical article, from the Madison Times, illustrates the homelessness creation efforts of the federal government--or at least the part of the federal government ultimately responsible for policy decisions.
Homelessness--for adults or kids--doesn't happen in a vacuum. It's usually not caused by one thing, but the culmination of the budget cuts that have led to significant reductions of nutrition, health care, and housing services. These and similar cuts play a major role in shredding the safety net that barely holds today's vulnerable families and youth.
A young relative of mine (I won't get more specific until I get permission) shared with me the reality of her homelessness experience. She was in her early 20s, struggling with "stuff" and easing pain with whatever substances were at hand. After several months on the streets, piling up too many legal problems with no resources to bail her out, she ended up in jail.
True, it was probably the critical moment, "hitting bottom," that sadly is needed before we make lifestyle changes. Anyone who knows much about jails and/or prisons knows this is an ugly, and potentially tragic, way to turn one's life around. Fortunately for her she had some family members supporting her--though with tough love--so she wasn't totally without hope, though I'm sure it seemed that way at times. Today she's clawed her way back to self-sufficiency, tenuous as it may be.
But, the reason she ended up in jail was essentially that she she wanted to get into a treatment program but lacked insurance or money. This country's turned its back on helping people attain sobriety. And, if a homeless person is "lucky" enough to get into a 3-day detox program they get released to the streets--not the best place to test fledgling sobriety.
She told me about how hard it was being so alone on the streets, knowing that she couldn't get a job without a place to live and couldn't get a place to live without a job.
Then she gave me something more valuable than a paycheck. She thanked me for what I do--raising awareness of and sensitivity to homeless kids and families.
Seems to me that being busy or tired is no excuse. I best continue doing what I'm doing--so kids like her have a chance to live up to their full potential.