Imagine, if you can, staying with your 4 kids here in a 12'x12' motel room for more than 5 minutes....
I received one of those dreaded voicemail messages from someone who had seen the impressive coverage on homeless families in the Aurora Beacon News this past Sunday. This mom with 4 children staying in a DuPage County motel needed help.
My years of answering phones at homeless shelters never prepared me for calls like this. I knew I couldn't shy away from the call, ignoring the reality that someone was desperate enough to call me to ask for help. I also know that the person could be a scammer, hoping to get money or other resources, gasp!, to use for drugs or alcohol.
When I called the woman I knew at least some of the story to be true right away. I was familiar with the motel she and her children were staying at--a teensy, seedy place dropped in the middle of nowhere between DuPage and Kane counties. I've been there and seen what passes for "affordable housing" according to HUD.
For whatever reason, this mom had been asked to leave the suburban shelter they stayed at for the past 11 months, according to her. She just got a job with a cleaning service and worried about having enough money for gas while paying for the room. This place is so tiny that it doesn't have a web presence. My best guess is rooms are probably about $40 a night, the cheapest place around, which makes it a great place for unsavory characters to stay, something I didn't mention to the mom.
Her immediate worries/needs: gas for her car so she can go to work, money to cover the motel room. Food would also be essential, and the logistics of getting it, storing it, preparing it, and serving it would challenge the most capable among us.
My first thing I stress when speaking to someone in this desperate situation is to disclaim my ability to work miracles. When she shared her story I looked up the number for DuPage Human Services and gave that to her. I explained that she may not get help and to call me back if she didn't and I'd pick my brain for the next level of possibilities, a much slimmer list.
This family wouldn't be considered homeless by HUD's definition. No, they're just vacationing on the outskirts of West Chicago in a dumpy motel room far from anything, even McD's. Instead of a swimming pool they have a parking lot puddle. Their front yard is a fairly busy highway. Their meals come via good luck and culinary ingenuity under the most primitive conditions. Their entertainment is watching drug addicts, prostitutes, and sex offenders come and go in the parking lot.
Seems to me King Phil, the nation's homelessness czar, should stop by this motel and and explain to this family why they are not so bad off, at least why they wouldn't be counted as homeless. I'd even pay for his room.
RECOMMENDED ACTION if this story appalls you: Call or fax Congress. All the info you need is available here. It will take a moment. This issue of who is/is not homeless will be decided upon this week. Your action will make the world of difference to families like this who are not vacationing but staying in seedy motels because homeless shelters are not available and better housing options are zilch.