invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 1,500,000 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....

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....