invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 1,700,000 kids are without homes. H-O-M-E-L-E-S-S Kids. I don't get it. Are we willing to discard these kids? Not me. So this blog will relentlessly focus on this issue, hoping to light a spark to fuel a compassion epidemic. Chime in, argue, but do something....

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Seeing is Believing

Believing is all a child does for a living. Kurtis Lamkin

The just-released report “Economic Crisis Hits Home: The Unfolding Increase in Child and Youth Homelessness” documents the painful reality of a long-ignored, worsening dilemma facing millions of kids. And it offers deliberate, well-considered solutions. But let’s not analyze yet another report.

Boiled down, this report verifies this nation’s huge increase in the number of homeless families and unaccompanied youth simultaneous to the tumultuous economic meltdown in real estate, corporate and banking headquarters across the country and world. Not surprising, it’s a bad-news report. Perhaps the only good news is that some still gallantly try to help kids cope with the loss of friends, teachers, neighborhoods, and school that comes in the wake of losing their home.

Of the hundreds of kids I’ve talked to on my HEAR US journey, this report validates their observations. If you watch the HEAR US documentary, My Own Four Walls, and listen to the astute deliberations of these young homelessness experts, you would view Hits Home differently.

Authors of Hits Home compiled this data and wrote this report to convince people that the growing number of homeless kids in our country represents harm more crucial than the billions consumed by pyramid schemes and greed. They point to each and every child and teen who lost their home—the haven that gave them a sense of belonging—and give visibility to these innocent victims of failed housing, poverty, family welfare and health care policies. They offer starting points to reverse this colossal damage.

For far too long, families and teens have languished on the invisible edge of homelessness. The slow-to-respond Congress needed proof that these families were out there, not only in the urban decay of big cities struggling to survive, but in the hinterlands, in of thousands of tiny towns, dusty rural areas, and nondescript cities that dot the map. Hits Home hits home. Those in the trenches, homeless liaisons at school districts in communities across the land, are screaming the substantiation of existence of a frighteningly escalating number of homeless families and youth. And they plea for help on behalf of these kids.

It seems to me that the next steps are the most important. We can walk away from Hits Home, ignoring the plight of millions of kids and desperate parents, hoping it will go away. Or we can insist that we rebuild the human infrastructure of our country by assuring these kids that they really do count. Look at the picture on the cover of this report or the one at the top of this essay and proclaim your response to these children….

Friday, December 12, 2008

Ho-Ho-Ho...hum...

Pardon my cynicism. Releasing their report on homelessness on a Friday, the US Conference of Mayors completed their annual ritual, a token nod to millions of homeless children, teens and adults who, by virtue of their homelessness, aren’t considered a part of any community.

For the past 22 years, USCM has issued this report. In the 20+ years I’ve been working on the issue of homelessness, I can’t recall anything that evolved from the time, money and minimal fanfare connected with this tradition.

Miami’s Mayor Manny Diaz talks about the cities being the “front line” of the war on homelessness. I’d like to suggest a good research project: dredge up the past USCM press releases and reports and see if anything is different. Investigate how “mayors have been proactive and implemented local initiatives to combat hunger and homelessness in their communities.”

As a vocal critic of HUD’s 10-Year-Plan to end Homelessness, I automatically question the motivation of elected officials who boast about efforts to address hunger and homelessness. Sorry, but I’ve not seen or heard of the impressive results that these efforts have yielded. My 65k miles of travel in the past 3 years, talking to homeless children, teens and adults, and to those who try to help them, despite dwindling resources, I can’t say things look better (that's the best I can do for a positive spin!). And this economic free-fall will be more disastrous than I want to even ponder.

And to point out something USCM, with their membership criteria of cities of 30k or more, fails to address, or even mention: if cities are the “front line” then a massive guerrilla war is happening in rural areas and small towns across the country. Hunger and homelessness are rampant, and solutions are scarce because no one (other than those experiencing it and the ill-equipped "medics” trying to help) knows that the problem is out there, or perhaps no one is willing to look that far.

Gallant, but insufficient, efforts to feed and house families, teens on their own, and single adults in non-urban areas barely touch the population needing help. Congress has been kept in the dark about the explosion of homeless families and youth by the very federal agency, HUD, charged with providing housing assistance to those most in need. HUD seems in the business of protecting Congress from the bad news of a failed housing and hunger war in the hinterlands. Oh yeah, and lots of those out there are kids and struggling families.

So, if lawmakers rely on the ho-hum report from the USCM, then the ho-hum response will continue to foster ho-hum non-solutions and, ho-hum, ho-hum-lessness and ho-hum-hunger will be around to give next year’s ho-hum-Hunger and ho-hum-Homelessness committee something to do.

It seems to me that the excitement of Ho-Ho-Ho-Obama coming and dropping some “Ready-to-Go” big bucks under the tree took all the pizzazz out of the ho-hum-hunger and homelessness report. Maybe they can use some of the Main Street Recovery money for Tent Cities so the poor grunts on the streets and the guerrillas out in the backcountry can have a place to sleep. I’ll bet the tents won’t be allowed in any USCM members’ cities.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

STOP Doing That!

'Kicking the dog' is the age-old reference for what happens when angry people take out their frustrations on the innocent pooch. Homeless kids know how that dog feels, especially now that the economic crisis swirls around us all, making us feel fiscally-violated by the greed-meisters of Wall Street and Congress.

I read with dismay an article decrying the cost of getting kids to their school of origin. First, my fuse was lit by the cheap trick of headline deception--"costs up to $200 a day"--to bus one child. The only thing thought-deprived readers will see is "cost $200 a day" and they'll hit the roof. The blog that referenced that article added toxic icing to the cake, not correctly presenting the issue or the reason behind the law.

Now that every aspect of the economy is swirling down the drain, including the oldest profession--prostitution, everyone is upset, sometimes at the wrong people for the wrong reasons. With homeless kids' educational rights, stories about kids being deprived of school stability and, in too many cases, any school at all, are common and heart-wrenching. Watch My Own Four Walls, the HEAR US video, if you need convincing.

So to read the unenlightened blog of a person who professes to be a homeless advocate reminds me we have a long way to go to foster understanding of the plight of the invisible homeless kids, way over 1.5 million by my estimate, who seem destined to be kicked around by the system.

Seems to me we need to figure out a way to stop the proverbial dog-kicking. Adding to the hate-filled dysfunctional environment that seems to surround all of us is not the answer. I'd love the blogger of the aforementioned entry to rethink this issue and offer what I think she's capable of--thoughtful analysis of why the news article was in error.



Saturday, December 6, 2008

Moral Outrage Turned Off?

Moral crisis requires moral outrage at both the problem and the seeming imperviousness of the problem to viable and permanent solutions. We need to be morally outraged at what poverty and systemic injustice is doing to people. Michael Maher

Moral outrage might be headed for the history books as national and global economies swirl down the drain of greed and destruction. Liberty and justice for all reflect ancient ideals. Now it's survival of the richest, and those ranks dwindle as the 'dog-eat-dog' mentality takes hold.

Moral outrage, which used to motivate some of us to protest war,cruelty or injustice has been replaced by don't piss off 'the man.' Be nice. Go along. Or you might find out that government, aka 'the man,' refuses to help, kicking sand in your face in the process.

In Atlanta, one of the main emergency shelters for this city's unwanted and neglected adults has seen the writing on the Peachtree City's wall. Allegedly tied to frustration with the Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless' refusal to go along with the "chronic homelessness initiative," the City, holding an unpaid water bill of about $160,000, shut off water for this shelter that houses about 700 people a night. Nice.

As a former shelter director, the prospect of a waterless night at a shelter sends shivers down my spine. It's the ultimate indignity thrown at a population that feels nothing but scorn all day long. Their nightly humble haven, the human equivalent of a sardine can, has now been violated by the authorities--those with power to do good or evil--who have chosen to do personal harm to each person staying at the shelter.

The disrespect of the cut-off reeks--not allowing people the dignity of flushing a toilet or taking a shower or brushing what's left of their few dentist-deprived teeth. Many people without homes still try to maintain human dignity by practicing at least basic forms of hygiene. Water is crucial for that. Shutting off the tap stinks. It hurts.

Imagine waking up in the morning, not being able to wash up, hesitating to eat or drink anything because of the Third World conditions in the restrooms, and going forth to meet the day, with no hope in sight. It's not like restrooms doors are thrown open to those who look obviously homeless. And for hygiene-impaired individuals, boot-strap-jobs are unattainable.

The Metro Task Force, by refusing to play nice with the City on the 10-year-plan, apparently has taken a moral, though risky, stand. I admire their courage. And I agree with their refusal to shape their program to comply with the morally reprehensible approach to homelessness of Bush's anti-homelessness initiative.

Case in point: if the federal 'homeless czar' really cared about the well-being of homeless people, he'd have been on the phone to Atlanta's Mayor Shirley Franklin, demanding that she restore water to the shelter that takes 700+ people off the street each night.

In a few weeks, a long-awaited change in presidential leadership will take place. Changes in presidents bring changes in policy. The absurd failure of HUD's "chronic homelessness initiative" will hopefully be halted and reversed.

It seems to me that Mayor Franklin should read the writing on the wall. Knowing that HUD policies will certainly change for the better, why not do the right thing and let the tap flow at the Peachtree and Pine Street Shelter? The way the economy is going she might be showing up there for a stay....