Fifteen years ago, weekly (in-between running a very busy homeless shelter) I was trucking down to Springpatch, the much-tarnished capital of IL, to lobby for the rights of homeless kids to get into school.
Little did the small band of do-gooders realize what we would unleash. Now, the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act is the law of the land, under the auspices of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Improvements Act which became law in 2002. It has theoretically revolutionized the way homeless students get into school. They, er, get in.
I present this history lesson to reassure nay-sayers about our chances to change HUD's definition of homelessness to include families and teens. With a strong grassroots push, anything is possible. And that grassroots push is available in our HEAR US Piggies campaign.
This weekend I'm spending time at a homeless shelter campus in McKinney, TX. Tillie and I are parked and plugged in at their transitional apartment building. Lynne S., the director of Samaritan Inn, a pretty darn impressive approach to homelessness, and the only shelter in this affluent county, told me they don't take government grants because of the strings attached. I understand.
If HUD doesn't fund the shelter, that means the 20-some families in their overnight shelter and the dozen or so in their transitional program don't count. Yup. We don't see them. The kids who are riding their bikes round and round their building, circling Tillie with great curiosity, they're not here. Families or teens bouncing from motels to friends' couches and around again, or staying in campers or abandoned buildings, they don't count either.
Oh yes they do! They count, and with the help from countless compassionate ordinary people across the land, we're going to change HUD's definition of homelessness, and this nation's approach to homelessness, to make sure homeless kids count.
Seems to me that it's time for this feeling of powerlessness to be replaced by the can-do attitude reflected in this latest presidential campaign. Sure, Obama has hit a few speedbumps along the way, and that's not surprising considering some of the same people who caused the economic demise we're seeing now are still hanging around the Capitol. But that can't stop us from making the changes so long overdo...like addressing homelessness, in its ever-growing forms, before it becomes the way we all live.