One of the outreach team put me in contact with a young mother with 5 little boys under the age of 7 staying in a local motel. Tina was more than willing and able to talk about her predicament.So I went to interview her imagining what a motel room with 5 young boys would be like.
This young mom with "deer-in-the-headlights" eyes and a soft voice let me in. As we introduced ourselves I saw 2 of her 5 asleep on the double beds. The other 3 were with her mother. She assured me the little guys would sleep through more noise than we'd make, so I set up and began the interview.
Domestic violence, no stranger to any income bracket, ethnicity, religion, education level, or part of the country, was the initial cause of homelessness. Last weekend she got tossed from the DV shelter, for reasons not relevant to this discussion. Tina's mother had packed up her life and moved here to be a support for her daughter. Something tells me she has some firsthand knowledge of these too-common struggles.
When Tina and the boys were ousted from the shelter, they had nowhere to go. Tina's mom was living in a 13' travel trailer, a humble abode if I ever saw one. So she bought another cheap one for herself and let Tina and the kids stay in the tiny one. All chilly weekend, no electricity or water. Propane-powered oven (DANGEROUS) providing some warmth, augmented by body heat. Someone from the school got wind of it, and the school put them in a motel for3 nights until a better plan materialized.
Friday noon was checkout time, and things got pretty dicey. Help for this family was slow to develop. Eventually donors came up with enough money to put the little trailer on a RV pad, with electric, water and sewer. Her mom lives nearby in the same park, close enough to help out with childcare, transportation and moral support.
When faced with sleeping on the streets with her children, Tina scrounged for help. I verified, it was not available. The stimulus money for Rapid Rehousing--she was #90 on the list, a wait of between 3-9 months. The only other place was the mission, and I understand a shelter-shy Tina, especially because the mission, with mostly men, has had its share of troubles, including a murder of one woman resident by another last year.
Tina has plans to finish her GED, and get further training to get a good job. I don't want to discourage her. But according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, to afford fair market rent for a 3-bedroom apartment in Las Cruces she'll need an income of $30k+.
Now, I know that's the theory, and the reality is different, and she'll probably be able to find something cheaper. But with the economy, the job market, the lack of child care, and what is likely her need for counseling, that's a pretty steep mountain to climb with 5 pairs of hands holding onto you.
Seems to me a woman who tumbles from a horrible violent marriage should have it better than landing in a pile of rubble that makes her think going back to her abuser is a better option. She and the kids deserve a helping hand. I'm not begrudging the outpouring of compassion the long-suffering people of Haiti are receiving. I just think that ignoring the growing number of poor families in this country might be a disaster too big for us to dig out from under.