This house and the one next to it were destroyed in a fire last Friday. An 8-year old boy, Rodney, is in critical condition from burns and smoke.
Binghamton, NY seems to me like the proverbial "every-city," nothing special, but a decent place in many ways. This city of less than 50,000 in south central New York made the news recently--tragic news that has popped up in other cities as well--fires that not only destroy houses but also lives.
An eight-year old boy was critically injured in this fire, which displaced 10 people. Sadly, as I've inquired as to what happened to the family involved, the best people can say is "the Red Cross helped them."
Unfortunately, and fairly unknown to many people, the RC solution is far from the kind of help anyone needs whose place to live was just destroyed. I'm not bashing the Red Cross. But I want to dispel the myth that all is well. TV News Clip of my visit The Red Cross probably could never help people get back on their feet after a tragedy like this.
Imagine the early morning scene: smoke, flames, sirens, emergency vehicles, an ambulance speeding away with a little boy who used to look out the upstairs window of this aging house in an industrial area that doesn't qualify for a neighborhood where kids play outside....
After the fire is reduced to smoldering, the parents' next thought is "where do we go now?" The family learns that a motel is arranged. by the Red Cross. They stumble in, exhausted, stressed and worried about the little boy who was transported to a Syracuse burn unit, over 70 miles away. They have only the clothes on their backs.
And days later, the family learns that the motel room offer is short-lived--they have to go. In Binghamton, as in far too many communities across the country, no family shelters exist.
Read that-NO FAMILY SHELTERS EXIST-- and think of what you'd do if you had nowhere to turn and you lost your home for whatever reason--fire, flood, domestic violence, eviction....
Where do people go in this predicament? From what I know listening to people's stories of homelessness and working with families in the shelters I used to operate, families split up, farming kids to anyone who will take them. The entire family may move in with family or friends for a while, but that often is unworkable. Landlords don't allow it, people in public housing can't have long-term "company," or safety issues make it untenable. Little kids told me of being bullied by the kids of the host family. Food gets stolen, physical/sexual/mental abuse occurs, and the already insecure family has to move on.
Try to absorb what stress that will cause in both children and adults. Think of your own life--any upheaval and crisis you've experienced. Add to that memory the devastation of losing your home, your stuff, your security. Think of trying to hold a job down, going to school, even taking care of loved ones becomes stressful during these times. Look for a new place to live, drive up to the hospital (not to mention the cost of gas, which exceeds the national average at $3.71), see your little boy hooked up to machines that are keeping him alive....
Most people living on the edge have no insurance. They have little, if any, savings. They have few places to turn for help. And this family is supposed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps? Agencies in cities like this are strapped with pleas for help and too little resources. A New York Times story the other day described the effects of winter and poverty on people's ability to keep their houses warm. Turning families away is a horrible thing to have to do day after day.
Seems to me when the smoke clears that every community might want to look at what really happens when these inevitable tragedies occur. If the safety net is so frayed or, worse yet, nonexistent, then it's time for action. In a country that is witnessing a presidential campaign spending millions by the minute; where gamblers plunk down billions pursuing the dream of hitting the jackpot; where war destroys lives and hope on both sides; where super-rich hedge fund operators struggle to find ways to spend their obscene amounts of our money...please don't tell me we don't have money to help families survive.