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, April 25, 2011

Connecting the Dots: How Homelessness Happens to Families

"Nick" and his parents lost it. Their house. They knew it was coming, but teetered on denial  until the sheriff's knock jarred them into reality. Shoving their most precious belongings into a storage unit that advertised $1 for the first month, they left the bulk of their stuff in the house--their home for 2 years.

Where do we go? began a "game" of musical chairs, but instead of chairs, couches and crowded guest rooms. No family lived in the area, but friends offered to help. As with company that stays too long, or rubs the host family wrong, Nick and his parents ended up bouncing around, a lot. Tension abounded. Sleep and normal eating routines crumpled. Resolve shredded. Obviously the $1 deal on the storage unit would require more money--lots.

Nick yearned for the relative peace and routine of his 3rd grade classroom. His parents were too embarrassed to tell the school about their troubles. Nick tried to keep it a secret. It was a tough one, especially with his best friend, Charles. 

The doubling-up got old. Nerves frayed. His parents argued. Their friends resented the intrusion of Nick's family. Nick acted out in school. The teacher knew something was wrong, but Nick never let on about his family's nomadic life.

Getting Nick back and forth to school was a challenge. The car was on the fritz. Nick's mom worked irregular hours at the laundromat. Nick's dad helped a friend on a home improvement project, generating a little cash and perhaps good will. Nick's attendance, normally steady, faltered. Tardy. Absent. Tardy. Sleepy in class. Irritable. 

This is how homelessness seeps into lives that previously seemed impervious to such "social ills." Now these ills are epidemic. Our nation didn't do well before this last 3-4 years of bubbles bursting and Wall Street winning. But's about to get a heap worse, especially if the budget butchers have their way.

Despite rhetoric on both sides of the crocodile-filled aisle in our nation's Capital, whatever ends up being the federal budget priorities, it will be too little too late for Nick and his family and countless others like them.

The "countless" part is important to the big picture. One reason why Congress doesn't get shook up about homeless families is they don't have a clue about the scope of this problem. Nick and his family wouldn't count as "homeless" because they're not in a shelter. No matter that they have no home and their town has no shelter.

When they don't count, they don't add to the numbers that Congress says they need before prioritizing an issue and tossing money at it. Homeless families, youth, and many adults don't count. So we don't have a problem? 

A modest effort is being made to boost Congress' awareness. A bipartisan bill has been introduced that pushes the US Department of Housing and Urban Development to change the way they define homelessness. It's a start...if it passes. A few members of Congress have a clue. You can involve your legislator by signing this petition:
  • Urge your Senator and Representative to co-sponsor the bill to strengthen the definition of homelessness. CLICK HERE to make homeless kids count.
Nick and his family will turn to a shabby motel on the outskirts of town. Their tensions will escalate. Their resources deteriorate. And the family will fall apart. Nick will lose interest in school and will refuse to attend. His parents will be too dysfunctional to get him to do otherwise.

Do you see where this goes? Down the drain. Another family shattered by homelessness. Listen to these kids (4-min. trailer, My Own Four Walls, a HEAR US production). If they can't convince you that we need to help, no one can.

Nick and his family could have been helped with school issues. The federal law, McKinney-Vento, guides schools in assisting families and youth who have lost their homes, at least as far as education. Nick may have been eligible for transportation, school lunches, supplies, etc. (Watch the HEAR US video, REACH, an 11-minute simple explanation of the homeless education law.)

It seems to me that we've got to connect the dots for our lawmakers Sign the petition. Imagine the surprise if Congress started hearing about this--a real issue. DOT-DOT-DOT  DASH-DASH-DASH DOT-DOT-DOT...SOS anyone?

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