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