Thursday, July 10, 2008
Neat Little Boxes? No--It's a Mess!
These are NOT homeless boys. No, their family stayed in a motel after their house was condemned. They paid for the motel with a combination of their own money and agencies' money. The proposed definition of homelessness would NOT consider them homeless.
The latest in negotiations over HUD's definition of homelessness leaves me shaking my silver-thatched head.
For newcomers, or those lucky enough to forget this saga is dragging on, HUD is fighting tooth-and-nail to avoid including families and unaccompanied youth in their very narrow definition of homelessness if the aforementioned are doubled-up with someone who was willing to take them in, or if they've scraped together enough to get a crappy motel room.
When I think back to the homeless families and youth I've known, I fail to conjure up any situations that fit the neat, box-like definition of homelessness that HUD is pushing. The definition isn't even worth typing, but for those who want to see that I'm not making this up, click here.
And that isn't even the definition of "chronic homelessness," the actual definition for HUD-funded shelters across this unevenly housed land. (A "chronically homeless" person is defined as "an unaccompanied homeless individual with a disabling condition who has either been continuously homeless for a year or more, or has had at least four episodes of homelessness in the past three years." )
I want to point out some obvious flaws in their Beltway-bumblehead "logic."
HOMELESSNESS DOESN'T FIT INTO NEAT BOXES.
Proposed changes to the definition assume that a family will stay for a specified period at a motel, or simply stay with Uncle Max and Aunt Martha who have made arrangements with their landlord for a whole slew of "company" to stay for an unknown period of time. THAT'S NOT HOW IT WORKS!!
A newly-homeless family, especially those without a shelter in their area (common beyond the Beltway or metro areas), will usually try the motel route, hoping they'll just be there a short time. Classic case was a family I met in Reno (CLICK to read a more detailed account).
Mom and Dad worked--albeit irregularly--and took care of their 6 kids the best they could. The owner of their house chose not to make essential repairs, thus the house was condemned and the family, including a baby, were evicted. Reno has no family shelter--but they have one for adults (another story for another day). The parents pieced together a combination of their own money and agency money to stay in the motel until they eventually found a place.
HUD would not consider them homeless, and as non-homeless they wouldn't be eligible for the sparse assistance HUD-funded agencies give. THEY WERE NOT HOMELESS? Come on.
SHELTERS, NOT ENOUGH AND NOT FOR EVERYONE
Melissa and her kids in Milton, FL shared their story with us for the documentary we're working on. My fingers would fall off if I tried typing all the contortions this Mom and her kids went through to avoid sleeping on a sandy Florida beach. They did sleep in their car when turned away from the shelter right before Christmas because it was full.
Suffice to say they hopped from motels to friends, to motels, trying the shelter that wouldn't let her stay if she kept her job because it conflicted with their curfew, to motels, to friends...well, you get the idea. THEY WERE NOT HOMELESS? Give me a break.
I could go on and on. And this diatribe of mine doesn't even touch the bombshell of an issue of unaccompanied homeless youth. Some other day... I want to point out some huge flaws in the NUMBERS controversy.
HUD's NUMBERS SUCK WIND
HUD uses their very inaccurate "point-in-time" count which counts people in shelters or "chronic" (I much prefer the term "long-term" or how about the more truthful term "ignored"?) adults the well-intentioned volunteer enumerators happen to find on the streets. HUD gives the number 754,000, often sliding over the confusing fact that it's a point-in-time count--whatever that means. It ends up being reported--in the media and to Congress--as 754k. Not bad for a wealthy nation of more than 300 million. Way to go, America!
The US Dept. of Education, using an admittedly under-counted but more verifiable census of school-age homeless kids, came up with over 900,000 for a school year. That doesn't include parents and younger/older siblings. It doesn't include kids who are not identified as homeless. It DOES include families in motels or doubled up.
Most outrageously, one of the "advocacy" negotiators, citing concerns of unnamed advocates and cities among others, pointed out that the proposed expanded definition would possibly cause the 750k number to be bumped up to 2.5-10 million. HOW CAN YOU CALL YOURSELF AN ADVOCATE if you capitulate to the argument of "not enough resources" as the reason to restrict the definition change? Look at homeless kids in the face and tell them that.
So, let me get this straight. People who lost their housing and move into a motel or double-up or combine those survival strategies are not homeless because a few bone-headed advocates and unenlightened bureaucrats don't want the estimate of homelessness to reflect reality???? Are you kidding me?!
I'm sure they'd justify their position by saying the government doesn't have resources to help that many people. Nah, not in this country of tax-cuts for the richest and a military strategy run amok, and bail-outs for friends in high places, and....
Seems to me that it's time to let the negotiators and advocates who that think it's a vacation to stay in one cramped and crappy motel room for an indeterminate period of time with very little money and a bunch of kids who know this isn't Disneyland--let them try it for a night or two. Then move over to Uncle Max and Aunt Martha's, with their surly landlord who is just looking for a reason to kick someone out.
Then come back to the negotiating table and play nicely. Up to 10 million Americans are counting on you.