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
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
Monday, September 21, 2009
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.
Monday, September 7, 2009
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