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....

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The 'Old' Days vs. the New Days of Homelessness

I'm a diane-a-saur when it comes to homelessness. I've been around this "field" for a long time--since the mid '80s. My current effort, HEAR US Inc., is a pretty unique little endeavor that's making an impact, but I digress. When I think I've seen it all, I get surprised. Like this week....

One of my favorite journalists, Kathy Millen, did a great piece on our new documentary, "on the edge," an intense look at lives of 7 women who experienced homelessness. Kathy came to one of our screenings, basing her story on what she saw. To no surprise, she did a fantastic job, and this chain of local papers ran the story in different areas.

Kathy forwarded me a message she received from a woman who, with husband and 2 young babies, is homeless. I found myself wanting to go talk with her. Then I discovered they're staying outside NYC. She picked up Kathy's story on the Web, something we didn't have back in the old days. The mom and I have been exchanging emails, and I've been able to give her info about her son's rights to register in school, ala the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act.

Facebook also factors into my different world. More than once I'm surprised at who finds me. Yesterday, a woman asked to "friend" me. Her name sounded familiar, from my days of working in Joliet where I got my feet wet in this world of homelessness. I asked, and yup, it was the same family. The girl, 20+ years later, is a mom, studying to be an addictions counselor. Cool! 

Good ol' Facebook, the intrusion into my life I often grumble about, also connected me with a mom with 5 little boys that I met out west. Mom is struggling mightily, not doing as well as she/I'd like, but still trying. Her cell phone's died from lack of money. So she gets on the computer at the library, and I heard from her. A flurry of FB messages between us makes me feel like she's going to get reconnected with the school. A good thing....

And the woman who contacted Kathy, then communicated with me via email, shared her story. I've written my weekly post on Change.org, Poverty in America about her situation. It's scheduled to run Friday. Check out my post from last Friday and share it.

I've heard from a grandmother in Houston who found the HEAR US website as she searched for a way to help her 8-year old granddaughter who had been wrongly kicked out of school. We emailed, talked, and she watched our amazing REACH video that explains the homeless education law. That empowered her to get the little girl back in school the next day. Oh yeah!!

Then we have the HEAR US Compassion Epidemic. Never would I believe that I'd be a regular website editor, changing pages as information changes. I don't do the greatest job keeping up, but you'll always find something of interest on our CE page, as well as the rest of the HEAR US website. 

Seems to me the world of homelessness services and resources needs to do a major upgrade. The same-old-same-old ain't cutting it. Just check the HEAR US "Homelessness in the News" page (that needs some updating). And I know some people are really keeping up with things changing even better than I am--my almost 90-year old Mom will surely comment on my diane-a-saur status. What's older than a dinosaur?!


Saturday, April 17, 2010

Homeless Kids...As Ignored as Dead Birds...

Step over. Walk around. Don't look. Forget about. 

Dead birds don't merit much attention except by bird-lovers. That's kinda the same way homeless kids tend to be treated. I'm a homeless-kid-lover. And stepping over, walking around, not looking or forgetting about homeless children in Las Cruces, NM, or elsewhere, is not an option. I've long written about this tragic travesty.

My ire got raised as I read this Las Cruces Bulletin article about the long-vacated Las Cruces family shelter now being converted into a children crisis center. Let me say straight up that I think every community should have a safe place for young (and older) children to go when they are in danger. But...

...the vacant building that for 4 years sat vacant on the campus of the Community of Hope used to house homeless families. My first visit to Las Cruces, a pleasant community of about 80,000 on the south end of New Mexico, had me tethered to their shelter by way of extension cord. I spent time inside, talking with families, interviewing kids for "My Own Four Walls," the now-popular HEAR US series of documentaries (DVD, $40).

Las Cruces has no other family shelter. Families in crisis can go to the Rescue Mission across the street, but it's a tough choice, for too many reasons to discuss in limited space. As a parent of homeless kids, you have to decide if this risk is worth it. And often parents in crisis don't make the best choices. Neither do I. And sometimes we fail to make sure people in crisis have adequate options. Then we're disappointed at their decisions.

When I first met LC Mayor Ken last year, he didn't know that his community's only shelter for families was shuttered. He was pretty upset about not being told. We've talked since then and he seems genuinely concerned. 

Which gets me back to the dead bird analogy. Do we step over, walk around, not look or forget about homeless kids in Las Cruces and across the country? They're not birds, worthy creatures that birds are. These are kids, and parents (some flawed, some not), that seem to get less attention than dead birds.

Seems to me we should put some of our country's misguided passions into something that counts. Making sure families in crisis have a safe place to go, and adequate supports to get them back on their feet, would be a good place to start. With over 1.5 million kids, including hundreds of thousands under the age of 5, we've got our work cut out for us, unless we want to wait and do the human version of scraping these kids off our streets.