invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 3 MILLION 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....

Monday, January 11, 2010

Poverty and Homelessness: Call It What It Is!

A family having "hard times" (translation, homeless because they lost their housing due to hardship) in Starkville, MS was taken in by a mother who understood what "hard times" does to a family, as she was not far from that pernicious condition. On Monday, Dec. 28, in Starkville, a fire rooted in poverty and overcrowded living space took their lives, 3 women and 6 small children.

Having known "hard times," India Williams, the 25-year-old mother of 3 small children, squeezed the other 2 women and 3 children into her humble apartment because they needed a place to stay. I'm not sure of the exact circumstances, but having seen this tragic story unfold countless times, I would guess that a domestic disturbance, money problems,
and/or neighborhood violence caused the loss of housing.

The fire that took their lives, sadly, is not unlike a mostly unnoticed nationwide house fire epidemic (certainly getting less attention than H1N1), as winter's wrath has frozen even Florida. The Red Cross reports a 200% increase in house fires in this country, and utility shut-offs cause a good number of those fires as impoverished and desperately cold households turn to unsafe methods to stay warm. (Does your Red Cross do more than put house fire survivors in a motel for just a few days? Enlighten me.)

I've noticed an interesting, and revealing, phenomenon when it comes to news stories about
these tragedies. "Hard times" is a common term. The Tulsa World just ran a story with the headline "Tough Times" that described poverty among families in the OK state. The Denver Post just ran a superb feature on CO childhood poverty, people "trying to get by."

"Hard times," "tough times," "trying to get by," are euphemisms for abject poverty and homelessness. I want to call it what it is so thick-headed legislators and policymakers get a clue. Poverty causes a dreadful ripple effect through all communities. It costs more to maintain poverty than it does to holistically address it.

So HEAR US is launching a campaign, "Up the Food Chain," to challenge mayors to look at hard times for what it is--poverty. We're setting up a simple way for people to petition mayors to go up the "food chain" to urge legislators on state and national levels to seriously address poverty. We're targeting communities where poverty-related house fires occur, hoping to in some small way make sense out of these tragedies.

Why mayors? Well, the US Conference of Mayors is an influential body, and they have ties--formal and not--to other politicians. Petitions get mayors' attention, as demonstrated with the successful campaign HEAR US launched in Grand Junction, CO that improved daytime options for homeless families otherwise left out in the cold.

Seems to me that it's time to put significant energy--or at least a few keyboard clicks--into something worthwhile, reducing hard times, before we all get to know first-hand what it means to experience hard times. I urge you to join our effort, share this campaign, and do what you can in your community to make lives of homeless children, families living in poverty, and those having hard times just a little easier. We'll all be better for it.


Dee said...

"hard times"? "tough times"? "trying to get by"? My Great Aunt Fannie. Those all imply this is temporary and easy to escape - or even a personal choice. As a dear friend is known to say (roughly paraphrasing), about the only way this can be personal choice besides, perhaps addiction or being one of the rare few who honestly opt not to even try ... See Moreto work, would be if I (for example) were working and turned to my boss and said "no, really you need/want the money more than I do - please cut my salary and/or job"...

For over a hundred years, this has been all about stuff like oppressed wages, bad business practices that take advantage of the poor, bad employment practices that take advantage of the workers, employers who find ways to weaken or break unions and get around employment laws (or related stuff like the ADA), etc. It's also been about health care people need but can't access, food that costs more than the government is willing to admit, poverty levels that are improperly measured, discrimination that's basically institutionalized (and was worsened by Reagan and his rhetoric about the mythic "welfare queen"), programs that discriminate against entire classes of those in poverty (like the disabled and elderly who DO NOT have custody of dependent children), etc.

It's reached the point it's a human rights issue. We can fix it or we can wait until the UN comes in and fixes it for us. If they've gotten involved in Katrina's aftermath, they're paying attention; it will happen eventually.

Michaelann Bewsee said...

Diane, this is a very sad story. I've a similar story from nearby Holyoke-- fortunately no one died-- that I've been meaning to post about, and when I do, I'm linking to your story.

Diane Nilan said...

Fortunately this issue is getting international attention.

Hopefully it will also resonate in statehouses, Congress and the White House.

Your comments and your petitioning local mayors will help. Here's the link--

Executive Director said...

Thank you for all the work you are doing with homeless people, especially the children.

Pointing out all these euphemisms and calling them what they are - poverty - is an important distinction. As Dee mentioned in her post, the people of this country, and the world for that matter, have been systematically and deliberately oppressing human rights and impoverishing us all. It is time to get real, call a spade a spade and wake up to the reality.

I am glad that you pointed out the rise in home fires and what this means. These fires aren't happening in Beverly Hills or Boca Raton, they are happening in poor sections in often substandard housing.

I am also happy that you mentioned the generosity that is possible even among those who have little. Actually, it is that capacity of homeless people that is most inspiring to me. Perhaps we could all be inspired by what we can do with little.

Bob Ballard
Hearts Of Fire Project>

Diane Nilan said...

Reading the list of house fires. besides being depressing, is enlightening.So many mobile homes, a lifestyle I'm more attuned to having lived in a humble RV for the past 4+ years. They are flammable, and if not careful, residents will end up another tragedy on the house fire list. Housing conditions affect risk factors. Hello slum lords. No kidding. When will poor people mean as much as non-poor? I'm not holding my breath...