Some of us in the room of 600+ attendees at this year's NAEHCY conference had the same thought--wishing we had forcibly kidnapped congressional staffers who oppose expanding HUD's definition of homelessness to include families and teens who have lost housing but are not staying in shelters. We wouldn't kidnap them for ransom, but to have them sit through the agonizingly painful, but beyond-inspiring testimony of 17 young LeTendre Scholarship winners given to college-bound teens who have experienced homelessness.
Why is it that some young people can go through so much--horrible abuse, repeated rejection, extreme neglect, abject poverty, and more--and still have hope? We adults aren't that resilient. We're wimps. These teens were rich in hope--someone believed in them, instilling a sense of belief in self, which kept them from giving up on themselves. They are the reason we fight so hard to level the playing field for kids without homes.
Each of these students stood courageously before a full crowd and shared deeply personal accounts of loss of housing and their typically patchwork quilt of survival, moving from place to place, friend's house to someone's car, nomadic lifestyles weaving patterns of street-smarts and school-smarts that shame the rest of us "silver-spooners." They spoke of how they value education as a ticket out of poverty and a way to give back for all they've been given.
These kids, with the exception of 2-3, were "unaccompanied homeless youth," a specific population that Congress seems determined to ignore, heeding HUD's warning that they can only save so many people from homelessness, so let's concentrate on "chronically" homeless adults.
They're not considered homeless enough. Or maybe they just don't count. Or maybe Congress is going to eventually get it right and look at housing from the ground up--and decide that everyone deserves a place to call home.
Seems to me that we should just kidnap the staffers and somehow arrange a big switcheroo. Let the staffers experience this highly-mobile, unpredictable lifestyle when you don't know if or where you'll be able to sleep each night, or worse yet, if you'll be sexually abused by an adult you trust, powerless to fight it because it means you have a place to sleep. Insert these wise-beyond-their-years teens who understand that homelessness comes in different packages into congressional offices to advise their bosses about the real needs of Americans. These determined young people are virtual hope machines. I vote to turn them loose on this confused country.