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....

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fiddle Dee Dumb!

I don't remember much of the ancient history I was exposed to in high school, but I do remember something about politicians fiddling while Rome burned.... No road map needed to see where I'm going with this one....

Amazed that where I'm parked--in the deep woods outside Pensacola--that I got a signal at all, much less one that streamed video, I watched quite a bit of the health care summit today.  I shook my head in befuddlement. Sure, a few bright spots emerged, and I was impressed with Obama's ability to try to diplomatically but firmly herd cats, but my worries on behalf of our country, specifically about how homeless families and teens will fare under the 111th Congress, well, they grew.

I've been posting news stories about homelessness from across the nation on the HEAR US "Homelessness in the News" page. I know it's hard to keep track of these issues, and I figure it's a service HEAR US can do, knowing students, educators, interested individuals, etc., are always wanting information.

I also monitor the homelessness blog, in addition to writing a weekly post for their Poverty in America section. This morning I almost choked on my yogurt as I read the Homelessness blog and saw the expressed concern from the National Alliance to end Homelessness about the growing number of homeless families staying in motels.

Not long ago, NAEH was instrumental in brutally obstructing and killing a bill that would have increased the definition of homelessness to actually include families doubled-up with others or staying in motels. They weren't really homeless, or so they said. I even made a 3-minute video, "So They Say" to depict this issue. 

Now this national advocacy group has become enlightened. I suppose it's because the new HUD leadership and the new president have shifted direction. That's good. I wonder about their dedication to an issue that didn't seem worthy just a few short months ago. It's about the children, the teens, the families in the family living in a tent for 6 months that I met in blustery Oregon (in pix).

If you'd like to do something to help--HEAR US has a petition to urge the Senate to strengthen laws to make sure homeless kids can get an education. Sign it and share it, and do whatever else you can for the skyrocketing numbers of invisible homeless kids in our country.

Seems to me that Congress would get a lot more done if politics (money) didn't interfere. Lobbyists and special interest groups that likely have something to gain from massaging the issues contribute to a heap of suffering in this country. Which brings me back to that ancient, ancient history lesson....

Sunday, February 14, 2010

USA--A Nation in Love with Homelessness?

I I peruse news about homelessness from across the land some things jump out at me. We seem to grasp symbolic solutions, like donating jeans for teens, a good deed as far as it goes, but I wonder if it becomes a band-aid that covers a larger wound? 

In my quarter century of working with homeless persons, coming at it from a non-social work perspective, I've been dismayed at our nation's ability to bandage problems instead of address root causes. Homelessness is a perfect example. We just "love" to do charity, volunteering to make brownies for the homeless shelter, but when asked to contact Congress to urge passage of legislation to ease a greater need--e.g. helping homeless kids get an education--well, we scoot off to take the brownies out of the oven.

Now, as a former shelter director, I was always happy for brownies, chocolate chip cookies, and the volunteers to staff our shelter. Unfortunately we need such temporary solutions because we as a nation seem stuck in the mud when it comes to addressing homelessness and poverty issues.

One area of blatant unjust "patience" that seems intractable is child support payments. I blogged about this issue a few months ago on my Poverty in America blog, generating what for me was a firestorm of responses, from women and men.  Last night, visiting with my friend Angela in Opelousas, LA, we were talking about our latest documentary, "It's All About the Children" (working title), and how a common theme among homeless mothers was the lack of support from fathers of the children.

"Oh yeah, let me show you something," exclaimed Angela, a spunky mother of 9 whose poignant story unfolds in our film. She reached over to her computer, clicked a few times, and showed me her ex-husband's child support (lack of) payment record. Although I was impressed with Louisiana's technology, I was far less impressed with the state's ability to get the father to pay. 

Seems to me that our nation suffers from attention deficit disorder. We tend to lose sight of important issues, vigorously substituting frivolity, like making sure homeless teens have jeans or developing fancy technology that tells us what we know. You can prove me wrong-- petition your Senators to increase essential resources for homeless students' education. Share this blog with your network. It's a small act, like a snowflake. But as this snow-battered country should know, a bunch of snowflakes make a huge impact. Time for a blizzard....

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Ugly Reality...Homelessness Never Far Away

One of the most difficult things I can imagine for the people I've known who experienced homelessness, especially families, is when they face returning to it. And this week I found out about a family that did.

Charlie, our HEAR US "poster child," the cute boy whose image was captured by photojournalist Pat Van Doren, a longtime friend and conspirator, and his mother, "Cookie," recently lost their home, for reasons that I'll keep private, but not unlike reasons of other vulnerable people. 20-year-old Charlie had been working, but got laid off and is now just trying to make ends meet by temp work, staying with a friend. His mom is staying with people she knows.

In our latest documentary, "It's All About the Children," each of the 7 women expresses some form of "I'd never want to be homeless again." It reminds me of Scarlett's quote from Gone With the Wind,
As God is my witness, as God is my witness they're not going to lick me. I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again. No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill. As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again.  
I certainly don't mean to imply that Cookie or Charlie would ever "lie, steal, cheat or kill," but I could understand the sentiment. 

When I visited them in summer 2008 I was touched by Cookie's pride in showing me her blue glass collection. She beamed as she spoke about her "clowning" as Cookie the Clown, brightening kids and old folks' days with her routine. Charlie was finishing courses for his high school diploma and was working had his sights on getting in at Caterpillar, a great paying job.

Formerly homeless families face repeat bouts for any number of reasons. It's easy to slide down the slippery slope. It's much harder to get back up, and the thought of being homeless hangs like a dark cloud over your shoulder, even for those far removed, as this family was. Stigma, lack of resources, feelings of failure--all contribute to the trauma of the return trip.

Today as I drove across Texas' backroads, I saw lots of roadkill, including a wild boar. It got me to thinking about people in poverty--they are the roadkill on the Capitalism superhighway. 

Seems to me our way of dealing with poverty and homelessness needs drastic changes. It's bad enough to experience homelessness once, but you should be granted a "get out of jail (homelessness) free" card if facing it again, sort of like we gave those rich bankers and Wall Street scoundrels.