invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 3 MILLION 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....

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

How Many Ways to Say 'We've Got a Problem'?

The old love poem starts, "How do I love you? Let me count the ways." I suggest an alternative, "How bad is homelessness among families and teens? Let me count noses..." and then I'd point to myriad ways the problem has been described....
Let's see...soaring, skyrocketing, surging, exploding, astronomical, rising, record levels...well, you get the point.
In the days of Phil Mangano (pre-Obama administration homelessness czar at the mic), we heard a great
deal, ad nauseam, about the need for numbers to convince the administration that we have a problem. So, with a nationwide systemic effort, school districts began tallying, a homeless kid here, a homeless kid there.

Numbers, not my forte nor my favorite way of considering a problem that seems quite obvious, started adding up as this decade unfolded. 600k, 700k, and up. And then the econo-bubble burst and now we're up to more than a MILLION school kids, not counting pre-school or pre-adult siblings or parents. And that's just the kids identified. Some of us believe the million could truly be over 3 mil.

Every article I've seen, and I try to monitor nationwide news on this issue, refers to actual COUNTS of homeless kids in specific geographic areas of varying sizes--metro, suburban, rural--from Anchorage to Key West.

But now, with numbers "
soaring, skyrocketing, surging, exploding, astronomical, rising, at record levels," our nation is distracted. Failed bombing attempt, Karl Rove's divorce, Charlie Sheen's probable divorce, you know, important things. Oh yeah, and the economy, health insurance, er, care, jobs....

Hey, that's not fair! We've counted. We've got lots of kids who don't know where they're going to lay their heads, eat their meals, find their mom/dad after school, do their homework; kids wondering if they'll get reunited with their friends from their old neighborhoods, get their pets back, get to try out for band or basketball. These kids count!

We're happy the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act gets/keeps them
in school. And we've got a new and improved M-V bill that may someday make its way through Congress and become law. (To help, sign this petition to your Senator.)

HEAR US, my organization, works with schools and communities to help them identify and understand
homelessness by letting them hear from the kids themselves, the experts. My Own Four Walls, our collection of documentaries (DVD), lets them rip on how it feels to be a kid without a home. They're powerful.

If we keep going the way we've been headed (no doubt we will), we'll have bunches of homelessness experts. Too many to count. And we'll have squandered the opportunity to make sure these kids had what they needed to be successful adults--simple things like a modest place to live with their families or on their own, adequate nutrition, health care. And we'll have a bumper crop of homeless adults.

Seems to me that between shenanigans and squandering, our nation is quite busy. Too busy to make sure homeless kids count? While the Obama administration is doing a little, it's way too little and will be too late if we don't ramp up those efforts NOW! Consider it a test of what's really important....

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Little Reasons to Remember

One memory forever etched in my shelter director memory is a painful one--a funeral of a little baby whose life began at our shelter with his parents. The miniature white coffin, donated by a funeral home, held the tiny body that had brought so much joy to his parents just days before.

As I recall, the cause of death was SIDS. But the cause of death was lost in the heartache of parents and friends who gathered on the wintery day to say good-bye to this little loved one.

Some would be surprised to learn that people without homes have love. In society's bumbling way of handling challenges, we tend to dehumanize, reducing our guilt and feelings of inadequacy. When "John" and "Marie" buried their beloved baby, their uphill plans for a post-shelter future were shattered.

We lose the gruesome reality that in America, the land of plenty, probably over a million little ones--babies and tykes--face a life that starts with a great deficit. Even factoring in loving parent/s, when a baby's formation years--the most crucial time of an infant's development--are spent struggling for survival--the core of homelessness for children--then the playing field is mud-filled. Sure they can make it, but hardships take a devastating toll.

Poverty, the root cause of homelessness, continues to be the darkness in this great country.
We allow it to sap the life from infants to elderly women and men. We find energy, attention and resources to expend on the trivial, and wonder why the substance of society crumbles around us.

Seems to me it's time to move forward to the LIGHT--a respect for life that includes people of all walks of life, the young, old and in-between. On this day marking the beginning of the season of light, each one of us can decide how important life is--for ourselves and for those around us. And, assuming each of us grasps the hope of Solstice, we can move forward, in whatever way our heart leads, to do whatever we can do to hold life sacred. We shouldn't have to prematurely bury babies, children, teens or adults who perish in our abundantly blessed land because they lacked the basics of life.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Sweet Victory for a Monday Morning!

Being connected is a good thing sometimes. This weekend I received an email via the HEAR US website.
Hello I currently reside in Houston Tx and I thought I had a clear understanding of a child with no permanent address being allowed to go to school where ever obviously I was wrong. On Dec 4 2009 my granddaughter was withdrawn from school after being interrogated and left tearful.Before the school year started my daughter checked with the district and they said it was fine for her to be enrolled in school out of the area where we were staying with no permanent address bu to notify them when we did have an address
It's these kind of situations that make me glad I do what I do, and that we a strong, simple law that guides school districts on the right course of action. After playing phone tag, we finally connected late Sunday evening, after midnight in Houston. I only hesitated a moment when calling that late, knowing this grandmother was going to need help in a few short hours.

She was awake and glad I called. She explained the situation, that she, her daughter, and granddaughter live together in an apartment temporarily provided by her pastor who couldn't stand the thought of them sleeping in their car. This arrangement is coming to an end soon; the place is being sold.

But in the meantime, in snowy Houston on Friday, the granddaughter's school made plans to close at noon so no one would be snowed in. Calls and emails went to parents to pick up the kids. The grandmother usually provided transportation but was unable to be reached, and some confusion unfolded at the school with the granddaughter and school staff.

It is usually the confusion that "tips off" the school that something is askew with residency. Evidently that's what happened. Sadly, I've seen this happen; vigilante mentality takes over. It can be ugly.

The grandmother she hid this withdrawal decision from her granddaughter and got on the Internet. Somehow she found the HEAR US website, and figured that HEAR US might be able to help, thus her email to me.

Talking to her that evening, she shared some of her struggles--loss of housing due to mental illness that caused her to lose a job. Both she and her daughter, the girl's mother, work. Between them they try to pull in enough to make housing payments, but once you get behind, it's tough to catch up.

They've stayed in her car, in motels, and with friends. Now they're in this apartment, outside the district where the girl attends school. GM drives her to school. I could tell school was important--to both of them.

Based on what the GM described and according to the McKinney-Vento law, the girl appeared to be homeless. Since this school was where she attended before, she should be able to stay there if the family chooses. And, the district should provide transportation, free lunch, and supplies, among other things. I directed the GM to our REACH film, available for free viewing online, which outlines the M-V law in a mere 11-minutes. And I gave her language to request the "dispute resolution" process if things went bad.

I wished her luck and asked her to call to let me either intervene if necessary or to tell me how it went. And I crawled into bed.

Early that morning, the GM called. She was ecstatic! She succeeded in asserting her granddaughter's rights. OH YEA! She felt so good about this, and was so grateful for my help. Me, I was extremely grateful that she found me, and delighted to help.

Such a sweet experience, which makes today's release of the 2009 US Conference of Mayors annual homeless/hunger report so pathetic.

Knowing what I do about how these things go, this report, for whatever good intention might be behind it, does nothing but add more confusion to the definition of homelessness.

You see, this GM's family doesn't fall under the definition of "homeless" because they're not staying at a HUD-funded shelter or sleeping on the streets. So they don't count.

Seems to me this nation's mayors need a lesson in Homelessness 101. I know just the teacher. She's a GM from Houston, and she knows her stuff. If you're so inclined, sign our online petition
(and spread the word!) to strengthen this law further. You'll be easing the way for some grandparents, parents and caretakers have tools to fight for their kids' education. Maybe the kids will run for mayor....

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Gift of Education for Homeless & Foster Care Kids

Try to imagine having no home, and/or no parents. For millions of kids in this country, this is a devastating, regular experience. Frequently it means being ripped from school--the one stability in kids' lives. And you, my friend, are in a position to give an invaluable gift to these kids! NO MONEY needed!
Way over 1.5 million kids in this country are homeless, some with/without parents. Almost a million more are in the often dysfunctional foster care system. For these kids, educational access and stability is vital.
Fortunately, hard-working advocates and enlightened members of Congress have created and just (11/09) introduced 2 important pieces of legislation:
  • Educational Success for Children without Homes Act of 2009 (S. 2800), and
  • Fostering Success in Education Act of 2009 (S. 2801)
I can only imagine what things are like in Congress as the "big" issues get hashed over. Probably worse than Black Friday mobs. Frankly, I'm happy to be out here in California now, getting ready to film some Learning Curve Express interviews in Sacramento. But I know that these 2 bills, just introduced in the Senate, will have better chances to pass if we can rattle the cages of our senators now.

Sure, you're busy. Holidays and all that stuff. If you take a moment to contact your Senators, I can guarantee a few things:
  • You won't die from it! In fact, you might feel like you've done something worthwhile.
  • You'll be among a small group of crazy dedicated advocates fighting for these obscure, yet critically important issues.
  • Homeless kids, and kids in foster care, will be much better off for a chance to succeed in school. Think of it as your gift for them!
You don't need to be an expert. All the info you need is available on the HEAR US website, thanks to my good friend and ultra-awesome advocate Barbara Duffield of NAEHCY.

Seems to me that the happiest people I know are the ones that take time to do something for others. Get yourself set up on Open, and follow the prompts to contact your Senators. Or sign and circulate this HEAR US petition. You'll be giving an invaluable gift to kids for years to come, and you don't have to stand in line!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Raising Awareness Gains Momentum!

This is the last day of the Paso Robles Film Festival where our film, My Own Four Walls, which gives voice and visibility to homeless kids, was screened. Being invited to share this short piece with the audience, which includes digital streaming, is a great opportunity!

I will make my way to Sacramento, where homeless families and teens will share their stories with me about living doubled-up and in motels for our Learning Curve Express project. They don't get counted as homeless, but they are. They've lost housing due to hardships, and typically live nomadic stress-filled lifestyles that make it all but impossible to get back on their feet.

To get an idea of what I'm doing, check out this news clip that originated on Fox Chicago last Friday. It got picked up by the Huffington Post and is getting broad coverage.

And here's a great idea if you would like to help raise the visibility of poverty and homelessness on the Internet. A cyber-friend, Jan, is promoting a simple, but effective, way to begin to tilt the scales on behalf of homeless and poor people in this country. Check out her blog.

Seems to me that as we pour billions of government and private dollars into dubious causes and projects, the crumbs from the table could go a long way to ease what is real suffering for the ever-increasing numbers of homeless families and teens in America. Don't tell me we don't have the money for this. The only shortage is political will.

photo by the author

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Adults Struggle, Kids Suffer

No surprise, a recent NYT article describes behind-the-walls suffering when a parent is under/unemployed. Think of how many households are in that crisis. Then we'll think about the families who don't even have a house, or are in process of losing theirs.

Never in my 25 years of working on the issue of homelessness have I seen economic and systemic failures leaving millions facing peril. Homelessness is a "mere" symptom. We've been totally distracted by the hyper-focus on the issues de jour, ignoring the fact that millions of Americans face catastrophic realities each day. Poverty, with its octopus-like tentacles sucking life from the majority of our country, needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

I'm one week into a 26+ week backroads tour of our country, the LEARNING CURVE EXPRESS, to let homeless families and teens who don't make the federal definition of homeless by some ill-conceived bureaucratic standard share their stories. It's been an inspiring, dismaying process so far. Check the short interviews on the LCE site. Share them with your networks.

Seems to me if we have the supposed vast social networking capabilities, we should be able to make it work for us. Hopefully fund-raising will pick up--because the 3 grant request reject letters we received before I shoved off don't bode well for foundation support. HEAR US has accomplished lots in our 4 years of this unconventional approach to advocacy. With more and more people falling into the vortex of poverty, we have our work cut out for us. Join us!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Most Invisible Because They're Tiny

Warning. If your heart breaks easily, this will break your heart. But sometimes we need to do that so we can get fired up. As homelessness surges upward like out of control flood waters, swirling around unnoticed are thousands of babies. It's a horrible picture, but it's one that we need to look at, and act.

I filmed this 4-minute video, Life is But a Dream, with touching song by one of my favorite songsters, Sara Thomsen, while in Boston a couple weeks ago, joining with the MA Campaign to End Child Homelessness.

Since I was stuck in their tiny parking lot until staff left, I asked if I could hang with the little ones with my video camera. Staff at the amazing Horizons for Homeless Children agreed.

What most people fail to realize, even those of us working with homeless families, is that according to a recent report by the National Center on Family Homelessness over 40% of homeless children are under the age of 5.
Those kids have the most to lose by a continued life of homelessness. But we all lose. It cost more. We deal with the aftermath of thousands of deprived lives, as these babies represent. And state budget cuts just announced in MA (to be followed in many other states) will make things horribly worse.

So, please watch this 4-minute video. It will inspire and infuriate you. Maybe it will move you. If so, check the HEAR US Compassion Epidemic page. Do something.

Seems to me it's time for people across this land that profess to be religious, spiritual, and caring to put the beliefs to work. Don't make me explain what happens when these neglected babies grow into adults.

top photo (c) Pat Van Doren

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Learning Curve Express Rolling!

The HEAR US LEARNING CURVE EXPRESS gives homeless families and teens a chance to be heard. And they need it like never before. In the dozens of years I've been working on this issue, the plight of homeless families and youth, as well as single adults, has never been more dismal.

Yes, we have a new administration in DC. President Obama, with his plate chock-full of critical issues, is trying his best. But it's not good enough. And lots of "other forces" are competing--with lots more resources and, well, let's say less compassion.

We're moving into winter--not that weather is the only dire factor with homelessness--but it's not to be ignored. Especially for kids.

Families and youth often don't get into shelters. Some communities don't have shelters. Sometimes people don't qualify for emergency housing or opt out for a variety of reasons--work schedule conflicts with shelter curfews, older boys are not allowed at the family shelter, pets are not allowed, etc. So they turn to a patchwork quilt of friends, family and/or motels. Or sleep in vehicles or tents. It's often not a pretty sight. (articles about homeless families/youth)

So far I've interviewed:

Laura and her 2 teen sons, from a rural town in Indiana, bounces from her parent's dilapidated single-wide trailer to other family and friends. They sleep on the floor. The trailer has holes in the floor and the family is too poor to pay for repairs.

From DeKalb, IL, Cathy and her 3 daughters struggled in a variety of places, family and friends' houses and expensive motels. All had their painful downsides.

In DuPage County (IL), Jacob and his sister tell of life in motels, where the entire family crammed in and tried to endure.

These families and teens on their own haven't registered a blip on the convoluted agenda driving Congressional priorities. But they need to.

So these courageous spokespersons will be sharing their stories with viewers everywhere, including their members of Congress. HEAR US will facilitate, but these experts will shine a light on this often invisible plight. (watch for these stories soon!)

HEAR US is joining forces with the National Center on Family Homelessness and their End
Child Homelessness campaign. We're not kidding. We need to end child homelessness NOW!

If you want to help, check our HEAR US Compassion Epidemic info and alerts. Or not.

Seems to me if we can ignore homeless kids in this country, it takes us down a slippery slope. I don't want to go there. I bet you don't either.

photos by the author

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Even in the 'System' Families Get Lost

I knew I'd be angry. But I went anyhow, volunteering at the DuPage PADS shelter (above, volunteers set up in the church gym) last Thursday night, helping my friend Jan with children's activities.

In one of the most affluent counties in the country, on the edge of Chicago, homeless families and adults are given less attention than homeless pets. That is not to disparage gallant efforts of the DuPage PADS program and their volunteers, but to point to gross inadequacies of funding and support for a more comprehensive effort.

This pristine county reflects a lifestyle many areas couldn't dream of: the median price of
houses is $300+k, family poverty hovers under 4% of the 928,000 residents, and schools and recreation are regarded as top-notch. But they have homelessness, including a growing number of families.

The DuPage PADS executive director Carol Simler was recently quoted in a newspaper article, "
...through the end of June, they saw homeless families increase by 119, or 49 percent, over the previous fiscal year. That included 152 children, a 43 percent increase from the previous year, and 75 of those children were under age 5."

What angered me as I interacted with families at PADS is their inability to get out of this totally inadequate way of living--some families have been there over 2 years! Imagine you and your kids schlepping to a different place to sleep each night, bedding down on the floor with dozens of others, and getting shuffled out by 7 each morning to make your way cross-county to the next shelter site--and doing it as a regular way to live for years! Their reasons for being stuck are complex, but shouldn't be insurmountable. But they need help!

One family uses bikes, not a bad transport in good weather, and they have the rickshaw contraption hooked to the back to transport their 2 growing kids to the shelter of the night. With nasty IL winter approaching I can't even think about what this would be like.

Just what does this say about society where some live in mega-mansions and some live without a place to call home? Many volunteers seem numb to the reality spilling through the doors before them, and church life goes on despite the suffering down in the gym. Thursday they had a photographer shooting portraits of well-groomed and healthy families for the church directory, and the choir echoed harmonious hymns in the sanctuary as they tuned up for Sunday's services.

Before ranting at my naivete, I know some families are hard to serve, and they may defy guidelines set by programs working with homeless families. But, come on, what's keeping us from providing more intensive services and housing
for families--not hope-bashing pads on the floor in an overnight emergency shelter?

Oh yeah, money. Here's something people can do: Demand that Congress quits spending $2.7 BILLION a DAY on war. Spend a year using $2.7 billion a day on families in this country who have fallen through every crack possible.

Seems to me that it is cost-effective to create comprehensive solutions to homelessness. But the only time we seem to be cost effective is when we're cutting programs to the poor. No wonder we have such a mess! And these are the families HUD counts, not the uncounted invisible ones in motels and doubled up with others. That's why I'm hitting the road on Sunday for the Learning Curve Express.

photos by Diane Nilan

Monday, September 21, 2009

Need Inspiration?

When I need a shot of "I can do this,"
I turn to my favorite kids and an inspiring song.
These courageous kids volunteered to stand up infront of audiences far and wide,
via our "My Own Four Walls" DVD
and share their plight and dreams
with the hope that viewers would
be moved to
to EASE and END

I share these kids and the song with you.
Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 7, 2009

Soaring, Surging, Way Out of Control

Can't say I'm surprised at the latest news about numbers of homeless kids exploding all across this fine country.

Sad because, in addition to the trauma that kids endure, this problem isn't bound to improve for a considerable amount of time.

Ever tell a kid to wait a bit, that things will get better? Their impatience puts pressure on the adults who promised improvement. Right now the pressure is on schools, struggling with a host of other issues, mostly funding-related, as they get swamped by homeless students.

Ever look at a youngster's face and know things are tough--and will remain painful--for a long time? What can you say?

I think it boils down to adults not getting it, or not prioritizing the well-being of kids. What gets in the way? Distorted politics, greed, and a sense of disconnect from what used to be perceived as kids from the other side of the tracks.

But now, with numbers of identified school-age kids shooting past 1 million (meaning even more than that--kids, younger and older, those hidden from plain sight), it's kids from both sides of the tracks losing their places to live.

I wish I could say I'm surprised. But I'm not. It's one of a multitude of "perfect storm" scenarios that are swirling around our beleaguered country. And, until our leaders learn to play well together, we're going to see more kids we know, with and without families, losing their homes.

Seems to me it's time to call a time-out on the "Red Rover" game. Instead of trying to destroy the other side, it's way past time to join hands together and see if we can salvage things before they get worse. But that means the bullies on the playground need to quit bullying. The principal better have a deep bag of tricks.

Photos C Diane Nilan

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Here's Part of the Problem...

Deep in the South, in Mississippi, a state that registers 41th for child homelessness according to the National Center on Family Homelessness report "America's Youngest Outcasts", I made a discovery. People here aren't mean or callous on this issue. They just don't know--as in don't see family/youth homelessness in front of them.

"We take care of our own," explained one educator at the MS Dept. of Education Homeless Conference I presented at this week in their quiet capitol city of Jackson. She explained that when a family was having "hard times (i.e. homeless)" that others took them in. Often the local church gets involved.

And that is fine and good on one level. But consider one drawback--not identifying the root problem for what it is--a family lacks the resources/abilities to survive and thrive on their own--prevents those in power, the government, from knowing family/youth poverty and homelessness is a problem. So it goes on and on...

That seemed to be a common dilemma for rural folks, where shelters and agencies are non-existent to begin with, that people make do thanks to outstanding hospitality of family, friends and neighbors.

This state has identified over 11,000 homeless children. Conventional wisdom is multiply that number by 2 or 3 to factor in the invisible kids. Actually, with over 260,000 MS children living in poverty, figure a minimal 10% will experience homelessness. 26,000 children in Mississippi with no place to call home....

Seems to me that it's time to reframe the issue so legislators and other policymakers can get a clue. Let those with the nice houses, the mansions along the Gulf, the spacious stately abodes on moss-draped streets, the historic governor's mansion, you know, the rich folks...let them be the ones to take in the families having trouble. We'd soon have some forward movement on a long-ignored issue.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Good Ship USS USA Going Down?

Imagine a ship filled with passengers and crew, an adequate vessel owned by a wealthy, respected maritime corporation.

The ship fairly capably sails for a long time, and passengers and crew are mostly satisfied. But, unbeknownst to the passengers and the lower-ranking, least respected crew members—those who do the grungy grunt work—things are drastically changing.

Instead of plotting the course, the officers, including previous Captains, have spent a lot of time plotting how to have better accommodations and more control, at the expense of both passengers and the “non-essential” crew. This top-down systemic mutiny doesn’t happen with one swing of the sword, but as a gradual, noticeable change in the way things happen and how the ship's supplies are divvied up.

Soon it becomes apparent that because of the redistribution of space and materials, something has to give. With little fanfare, lowest ranking crew gets tossed overboard; then passengers, the least-affluent, up through the ranks. Finally, only the elite members of the crew remain and a handful of very lucky, and very wealthy, passengers who were able to buy their safety.

To say operations became dysfunctional is an understatement. Despite the need for crew and passengers for balance, the ship kept churning, although in erratic circles. Without adequate sailors and crew, the ship hits a hidden shoal, seriously damaging its hull. Abandon ship! Anarchy reigns....

The good ship USA is off course. Alienation is the norm. Thrashing, desperate former ship occupants and crew scramble to get on the lifeboats as the USS USA starts to list further to the right. The elite passengers and crew struggle to repel the invaders. With incredible help from the waterlogged masses, a new Captain, determined to rescue the ousted passengers and crew, fights his way on board and makes his way to the top deck.

Now what?

Take the above analogy and apply it to the current health care debate, or affordable housing/homelessness issues, racism, sexism, fair wages, environment, or any conundrum between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

We're at a time in our country's history when more people are disenfranchised than ever. Homelessness among families, teens and single adults has blown off the charts. Poverty is spreading like wildfire thanks to those who schemed to gain control of even more money and power by sabotaging national and global economic engines.

Don't tell me that we CAN'T improve things. We can't afford to fail. Remember, we've managed to make progress on many essential issues, but every time we crawl onto the lifeboat we let some big brute stomp on our fingers and kick us off.

Seems to me that the only hope is for a strong voice of reason to be heard above the cacophonous cries of the self-interested mutineers. They need to walk the plank. Captain Obama and the masses need to get our mass-asses together and kick some ass. We may have to out-mutiny the mutineers....

NOTE: The New York Times ran a powerful op-ed column about poverty by Barbara Eherenreich, one of my s-heroes. It's worth reading, pondering and sharing! DDN

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Make Up For Lost Time?

Diane the Contrarian, ever vigilant, is not holding her breath. Nope.

The recent influx of $1.5 billion stimulus dollars to address homelessness will help some folks move off the streets, but...500 cities getting funding? My quick Google check led me to a Census Bureau page that listed 718 cities over 50k. What happens to the cities that don't get funds--the unselected out of the 718 and the little ones?

What happens to the little ones--as in kids--who find themselves in the wrong place, with the wrong family at the wrong time? I've been astounded by the plethora of stories across the country talking about homeless families and youth. Seems to me we've given up on those who have no voice. Are we glossing over the big problem--poverty and its many ills--and tossing money at housing?

A recent NY Times article by one of my favorite poverty/homelessness writers Erik Eckholm pointed to a little-mentioned reality in our war on crime--the kids whose parent(s) go to jail, often leaving the kids to fend for themselves. These are the kids we should be worrying about instead of throwing good money after bad at banks, Wall Street, and the like. HEAR US has focused on this population, hoping at least to stabilize the education of children who end up homeless when a parent is incarcerated.

I'd point out what is obvious to me--that our quick-fix schemes--war on drugs, crime, poverty, etc.--seems to hurt those "we" purport to help. And someone else gets rich in the end. We're all responsible--it's our tax dollars being spent by our elected officials.

A perfect example of capitalism gone awry is found in a fascinating account of the Las Vegas housing market's rise and fall. This is worth listening to if you want to know, in simple terms that will disgust the average listener, how our so-called sophisticated financial system deteriorated by greed-mongers.

Seems to me that the best intentions of President Obama may be thwarted by the evil ways of money-grabbers. I will be happily surprised if this round of funds to alleviate homelessness doesn't make the rich even richer.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Learning Disability in Congress

I took this pix of Congressman Foster (guy with the suit) who recently met with constituents who stood in line on a Saturday morning in a freezing cold grocery store's bakery department. Despite the discomfort, it was worth it because he admitted to me that he "blew" the issue of the definition of homelessness.

I'm back. A week's vacation, tech issues and an unplanned week dealing with a family emergency knocked me out of the box for the past month. Hope I was missed! For those who can't get enough of my insights, I'm still doing a weekly piece for's Poverty in America blog.

A while back I decided to take advantage of a Google feature that lets me be notified once a day of stories and blogs on the topics of my choice. My keywords: homeless children, homeless teens, homeless students.

I rightly figured that those 3 would keep me busy.
Since doing that, I've been astounded about the fairly significant news coverage of these issues. No reports of a dearth of homeless kids, quite the opposite, to no surprise. Some stories report gallant efforts, some tragic happenings. Accounts filter in from across the nation, from places I know and those I've never heard of, despite 4 years on our country's backroads.

I've found myself pondering one question: With what seems to be common knowledge of the existence and plight of America's homeless kids, why is the learning curve so steep for Congress?

I just left for my vacation when Congress passed and President Obama signed the reauthorization of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, the piece that governs HUD's homelessness efforts. While some improvements have been made, I was glad I was out of town and without phone/internet access.

key issues some of us were hoping for did not pass, despite a herculean effort. Instead, a much-flawed version is set to become law, fortunately for just 2 years instead of the customary 5 year period.

A good story about a house-less family in a no-tell motel in affluent DuPage County (IL) ran this week on Chicago's Fox TV. Mark Saxenmeyer, the reporter, put together a compelling piece that included a poster-child family (mom, dad and 2 boys) who have spent a year in a motel. Chicago Coalition for the Homeless rep and my friend, Rene Heybach, did a superb job emphasizing the issues.

Seems to me steep learning curves need special vehicles. HEAR US plans to be that vehicle. Soon I will announce the game plan. But in the meantime, I'll be glued to my computer, reading about the problem some in Congress think we don't have--kids living without homes in our great nation.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Can It Get Uglier?

Compared to issues like water-boarding, steroids in baseball, and the economy, the DEFINITION of HOMELESS gets little attention. But to the little people affected by this issue, way over 1.5 homeless children and youth, it's a critical issue, one that seems to be going down the toilet.

According to our homeless children/teen "lobbyist" Barbara Duffield, hopes in DC are at the lowest point ever for negotiating improvements in the definition of homelessness to include the population missed thus far--families and teens who are "outside" the system.

HUD seems to be fighting this effort to expand the definition to include families and teens in motels, doubled-up with others, or outside the sparse HUD-funded shelter system. Big cities--with their big power--seem to be behind some of this strange behavior, maybe because they get funding to get those "chronic" homeless adults off the streets. I dunno...

In the meantime, in Georgia, walking along a highway, a wildly-determined 11-year-old Zach Bonner aims toward DC, wanting to meet with President Obama to raise awareness about homeless children, an issue that rightly appalls him. Zach started his nonprofit, Little Red Wagon Foundation, when he was 8. He's already walked from his home near Tampa to Tallahassee, then Tallahassee to Atlanta, taking important steps to walk the walk.

And I sit in Tillie--my RV home/office, desperately trying to help both Barbara and Zach's efforts. With technology at my fingertips, I can blog, call, and tweet. I'm pleading with people to:
Seems to me we need to convert the energy spent on changing the system into energy spent improving the hopes and dreams of kids without homes. In order to make that happen, lots of people are needed to rattle the cages of President Obama and legislators. Listen to Zach! And Make Homeless Kids Count!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Questions from ‘Mom’

Truth be told, I'm not a mom. But I feel like it when it comes to the millions of homeless kids in our country. So, taking indecent liberties with that, I'm going to ask some serious questions as a mom:

President Obama

  • You publically stated at your March 24 press conference that "I'm heartbroken that any child in America is homeless." What does that really mean when your heart is broken?
  • Does it mean that your administration is ready to change the abysmal business as usual with HUD's homelessness policies that seem bent on ignoring homeless families and teens?

HUD Secretary Donovan

  • You represent a new era at HUD, one which has been long awaited. How much attention have you paid to the pending issue of the definition of homelessness?
  • Did you notice that the definition, a hold-over from the previous administration, absolutely slams the door on a significant number of homeless families and teens on their own?
  • Do you not have a different approach to addressing this heartbreaking issue?

Nan Roman, NAEH President

  • You and your organization, the National Alliance to End Homelessness, profess a commitment to, well, ending homelessness. Why are you supporting a definition of homelessness that excludes so many children and youth, making them more invisible and less likely to get the help they need to avoid homelessness as adults?
  • The definition of homelessness that you support requires kids who in motels or doubled-up situations to move around a lot before they are considered homeless – are you unaware of the research on the impact of mobility on child development?
  • You support a definition of homelessness that considers people in motels to be permanently housed unless they only have enough money to stay for 14 days. Do you really consider a motel room a home, adequate for raising children?
  • How many families and unaccompanied youth in motels or doubled-up situations have you spoken to directly? Can you really say that they are less vulnerable than those in shelters?
  • If the same youth moves from shelter to couch to motel, are they less homeless when they land a spot on a couch or in a motel?

Kevin Chappell, Senior Editor, Ebony

  • What led up to your question posed to President Obama at the March 24 press conference about homeless children? Were you satisfied with the President's answer?
  • Are you aware of current legislative "shenanigans" that will essentially put into place a very restrictive definition of homelessness that in effect doesn't count or adequately address the unmet needs of millions of homeless families and teens?
  • What would you like to ask the President about this issue to further shine light on our nation's abysmal failure to house and care for families in poverty?

Readers and people of compassion across this nation (CLICK HERE FOR 2 1/2 min. video)

  • Since homeless families/teens are in effect being bullied by the system, are you willing to fight back on their behalf?
  • Do you think our nation needs to ensure that children, teens, families and other vulnerable people have a roof over their heads and access to help to move out of homelessness?
  • Will you step up and advocate for this to happen? (link to advocacy info)

Seems to me that it's way past time to reach way down to the most ignored populations in this country and give them a hand-up. That's what moms do every day.