invisible homeless kids

Hard to imagine that in this country way over 1,700,000 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....

Friday, May 7, 2010

Textbook Example: How We Push Families Through the Cracks

Sometimes it's good to take a few deep breaths before posting a blog. Sometimes that won't help. It didn't help to breathe. So I need your help to act.

Back in January I blogged about a woman I met in Las Cruces, NM. Tina, mother of 5 little boys under the age of 7, was moving from 3 nights in a motel into the tiniest of campers (left, actual picture of her camper), at the time without heat, water or electricity. How tiny? How's 13' ? Click this link to read her story.

Forward to the present. As would be expected, dealing with these circumstances has been really hard on her and the kids. She's made some questionable decisions. And she was struggling to do the right thing--but we talked and emailed a few times and she agreed to go to her housing appointment the other day. I asked her to let me know how it went.

GRRR! The housing authority representative evidently pointed out that she owed money from her previous (another state) stint in subsidized housing, so she's ineligible for assistance in LC, even if she paid the money she owes (from when she and her estranged husband were together). And, to make sure public housing doesn't provide a roof over the heads of undeserving scofflaws, she was told she was banned for at least 10 years.

It strikes me as immoral that we punish poor parents (and single individuals) more than we punish, um, people who have destroyed national and global economies. It's not just this one family--but countless desperate parents and kids with no safe options.

Before I continue--and sadly and infuriatingly there's more to this saga--let's get some facts straight. 
  • Public housing was created to house people who cannot afford market rate rents or who need assistance for any number of good reasons--disabilities being one. 
  • It's federally funded, administered through a local housing authority. 
  • They have rules, made and approved by Congress. Few outside the system pay attention to these rule which, in the past 15 or so years, have become, um, punitive. You could even say draconian. Like insisting candidates for PH have good credit, punishing the residents if they have family members that have gone astray, or several other absurdities as described by Aaron Haas, a legal aid attorney in San Antonio. You get the idea....
Right now, thanks to federal stimulus funds, for the first time in what seems like a hundred years, some (OK, a drop in the bucket) money is available to prevent or end homelessness. These funds come through HUD, the freaking Department of HOUSING and Urban Development. A school social worker urged Tina to apply for funds. This is what they found out:
They (keepers of the funds) both stated that HUD's number one rule is that the client has to be absolutely homeless, they cannot have any type of roof over their head. I tried explaining that the trailer is not appropriate for a pregnant mom with six kids but neither would budge.
Important to note, especially for all who have the comfort of climate-controlled environments: This is Las Cruces, New Mexico, where temperatures now run into the 90s during the day, and get down into the 40-50s at night. This sardine can this family's lived in for the past 5 months sometimes has electricity, sometimes not. It's not air conditioned, it has no space for living, and this is not not being considered ABSOLUTELY HOMELESS??? Give me a f***ing break.

Earth to HUD: Homelessness looks like this, and worse, for a horrible number of families. These are the people we should be bailing out with our billions, not those engaged in Wall Street "shenanigans." I could (and have) spew volumes about the history of HUD's fighting to limit the definition of homelessness, but things are supposed to be changing. My a**.

What we have--just looking at this one family--is a (regretfully, for my thinking anyhow) pregnant mother (and please don't start railing about why/how she got PG), 5 little boys under the age of 7 in a city that has no homeless shelter for families, and the long hot summer weather is already moving in. And this family lives in a tin can the size of a car. AND HUD DOESN'T CALL THAT HOMELESS???

Just what do they think is going to happen? I can predict--based on decades of experience:
  • The children are going to get taken away from her, split up and farmed out to strangers (my knowledge of this family is that options for family help are quite limited); or,
  • Some tragic event will happen, of a scope I don't even want to speculate, prompting all involved to go "Tsk, tsk, what a tragedy. She should have gotten help." or,
  • Mom will turn to the first guy that appears to be nice/interested in her. Odds are this is someone with less than altruistic motives. Bad things usually follow, or
  • Mom will absolutely lose her tenuous grip, and do something hurtful to the children. 
Before criticizing either my predictions or Tina's situation, think of how you might react in a similar predicament.  Imagine if you can being totally without options, having the last 2 doors slammed in your face--the 2 places you were told should be able to put an end to living in this bucket-of-bolts camper. Add  a heavy dose of insecurity and lack of self-esteem. And top with the reality of looking at your little boys, whom you love dearly, and knowing you cannot make things better. And you'll seemingly never be able to because the only help possible is not available.

If you are the least bit outraged, and if not, get off my blog, then sign this petition and circulate it furiously in whatever way you can. Tina's asked for help. I said I'd do whatever I can. 

Seems to me things can't get worse for desperate families and individuals in our country.  This is my last-ditch gasp to help Tina and her family, and those in similar or worse situations. If we don't draw a line in the oil-coated sand soon, the rest of us will be next.



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