My neighbor--this bird family--recently experienced a violent attack that left 3 hatchlings dead and a mother "homeless," and family-less. The symbolism haunts--and motivates--me....
Over my 25-years working with homeless adults, families and teens, one constant has served as a pebble in my shoe--ivory tower professors who influence our nation's housing policies. Maybe it's my aversion to theory vs. reality, or my disdain of people who seem to lack a reality base to their thinking, I dunno, but here's a recent example:
Dennis Culhane, a prof at the University of Pennsylvania, just penned a report for Massachusetts, "Ending Family Homelessness in Massachusetts: A New Approach for the Emergency Assistance Program." (this is my highlighted copy for ease of perusal). For those of you not following homeless stories from across the nation as I do, major consternation has exploded over the $143 million being expended in MA on emergency assistance (EA), mostly paying for motels for homeless families.
Let me say upfront, motels are often not ideal places for homeless families. There. Dennis and I agree on something. The nay-sayer that I am, I have a few "nays" to offer. I will also comment on another blog I read by Steve Lendman, "Growing Homelessness in America."
Part of me wonders if it's a guy thing. Do most men fail to grasp what's happening to families in America (elsewhere too, but that's someone else's story)? Well, maybe not, because Steve's blog refers to Nan Roman, the head of the National Alliance to End Homelessness, who until lately engaged in a vigorous campaign to deny the existence of homeless families.
In case you won't read till the end, here's my biggest concern about the MA report. Government, always looking for a quick, less-expensive fix, will pick the less expensive options, especially when it comes to the poor. History of humankind backs me up on this.When have you seen government say, "Gee, these folks need lots of help. Let's do everything possible to help them..."?
Additionally, Culhane's report seems to miss--let off the hook??--a major government flaw and reality: since state and federal governments have abandoned the responsibility of creating affordable housing (Steve's blog mentions this), at the same time housing costs have shot literally through the roofs, well, homelessness has skyrocketed. Anyone see a connection here? If people are supposed to quickly move through the EA system, where the hell do they move to, the slums they abandoned when things became too expensive, violent and/or uninhabitable?
So what we have are desperate families, teens, and single adults falling through the abyss of poverty, un/under-employment, unaffordable housing, health care crises, lack of viable treatment options for people with addictions, and on and on...being told to get a life and move on. Assuming the best (not always the case) these families are being pushed by agencies that are already overwhelmed by the tsunami of homeless families and the dearth of resources and viable options.
And what this has created over the years is a huge number of families and individuals who lack the basics--basics that Dennis Culhane, you and I enjoy. Sure, we work for them. But some of those folks now on the other side of the economic tracks do/did work too. They just got screwed by government, corporations, and Lady Luck. You're right--some made poor decisions, but don't we all? And isn't it true that the worse your circumstances, the easier it is to make stupid decisions? Sadly, too many of these families will be hit by the wrecking ball hanging over their heads.
I'm really upset by the tone of Dennis' report, which in my reading seems to coddle MA lawmakers, hoping to at least get something out of them. I seethe at Lendman's reference to the US Conference of Mayors annual drivel on homelessness and hunger too. More money gets spent on creating these reports than helping people in need. And no one seems to pay attention to them unless they need a reference for a blog/report.
My ranting could be endless. But none of us have time for that. Let me leave this golden example of how I fear the system will fail. This story is one I'm following. This family of mom and 5 little boys stands on the edge of disaster. They've been told by distributors of the rapid rehousing funds (HPRP) that they're "not absolutely homeless," therefore not qualifying for housing assistance. Mom owes money in another state for public housing, so she's ineligible for subsidized housing for at least 10 years.
What I fear will happen is this family will soon be split up--it means the mom loses her kids--sort of like my bird family--with dire consequences (seeing as child welfare/foster care systems are in disarray). Maybe that's the point where my thinking (childless by choice, but I've worked with families all my life) diverges from Culhane and Lendman. Do they not understand how precious family life is?
If you care, sign my petition to HUD Secretary Donovan and President Obama to urge a change of HUD policy that would help families like Tina's and countless others.
Seems to me we need to rethink our approach to solving homelessness. Let moms and compassionate people set the parameters. Because without heart, we'll have more of the same, draconian policies that will make families' lives even worse. And that makes it worse for all of us, even the clueless. The only ones who benefit are those who get paid to write fancy reports.