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....

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Who Are the Tough Ones?

Homeless mom and son doing laundry and showering at a campground.
Dueling political parties make the news. Obama, Boehner & Co. standing tough. But that's not where the real toughness lies.

The toughest people in this country are those trying to survive and to help their families survive. I just heard from a young mom that I've known for about 20 years. She, her husband and their son live in a trailer in the south. Modest living by all accounts.

Her husband just got sick and is unable to work. She's fighting a kidney stone, carpel tunnel syndrome, depression, migraines, and probably a bunch of other things. Their little boy (for now) is OK.

She's going for outpatient surgery for the kidney stone and will report back to work the next day. "I've got to. We need the money," she stoically shared with me. "Our furnace needs replacing. Our winter heating bills are $600. My husband's grandparents, on a fixed income, took a loan so I could have this surgery. We can't get food stamps, even though our income is now $100 a month."

Could you cope with that load of tough stuff? I wouldn't trade places with her for anything. Her big fear is rejoining the ranks of homeless families, knowing from her childhood what that was like. That's when I met her--she, her mom and siblings stayed at the shelter I ran.

In another part of the country, a beleaguered mom with 6 young boys is trying to make ends meet. Her meager budget of child support and welfare isn't enough to cover their essentials. Logistically, she can't get a job--child care and transportation alone would break her. And besides...what jobs are out there? She's $1,000 behind on her water/gas bill. She's looking down the road to back-to-school time and knows she'll need money for her boys to be ready for school. Her beater truck guzzles what she can't afford. Electricity. Gas. Water. Kids' shoes. Food. Such choices.

These are 2 families. I'd bet my lunch money millions more like them gallantly struggle to survive. They're tough. Bootstraps long frayed, they have unlikely prospects for escaping their bleak situations. Sure miracles happen...but, really, in today's world?

We have money. The "we" is our country. Not just government either. A Baptist church in Orlando just collected millions to help homeless families. That's just in compassion-challenged Orlando.

On July 4th, in backyards, towns and metro areas across this country, bazillion bucks went up in loud smoke as we celebrated (?) our nation's birthday. We spend billions to pamper pets (as opposed to providing adequately for them). We chug billions worth of beverages that harm us. We devour billions of bad food. You get the point.

And the Dems and Reps duke it out over our nation's fiscal policy. But they don't give a rat's ass about the families struggling to survive, like the households I mentioned and the millions more like them.

If nothing else, we should channel our respect to where it's deserved--the countless invisible s-heroes and heroes who continue to struggle to keep their families' bodies and souls together. Spend 4-minutes listening to young experts on what it's like to be homeless, our My Own Four Walls documentary trailer. You'll understand and be inspired.

Seems to me that we should revise our tax code so Good Samaritans could get tax credits for bolstering the frazzled safety net of families across our country.  Then we'll need to learn a tough new way of living--helping our neighbor without government intervention. It's shutting down. Of course, that will make the tax code irrelevant. Sigh.

Friday, July 1, 2011

It Really Is About the Children

These young children enjoyed the book Sarah gave them.
About 15 years ago, my friend, Pat Van Doren, started a project, It's About the ChildrenPat and her effort are now part of HEAR US Inc., our unconventional effort to prick the nation's conscience about the invisible homeless children and youth population.

Recently I've traveled coast-to-coast, filming for our new Littlest Nomads project. We're trying to sound the alarm about the hundreds of thousands (millions?) of little babies and toddlers growing up without a home during their most important time of development.

Sarah Benjamin, a McKinney-Vento funded homeless early childhood teacher and advocate from Long Island took me around to families in her program willing to let me "invade" with my camera. These kids, whose families had experienced various forms of homelessness (doubled-up, in motels, in shelters), benefited immensely by once a week "home" visits from Sarah and her colleagues. Despite high mobility, families had a strong link and continually received valuable resources, guidance and support to keep them involved in their toddlers' vital development. Witnessing the interaction between Sarah and the families touched my heart!

On an entirely different, disturbing level was the recent report of no increase of homeless persons during this brutal recession. Disturbing? You betcha! The National Alliance to End Homelessness reviewed the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR) that Congress receives from HUD. I dunno. Leading the NAEH press release with No Increase In Homelessness Despite the Recession strikes me as a tad, um, delusional.

I've never had much use for the AHAR-generating Point-in-Time counts, the late-January best-faith effort to enumerate homeless persons in communities receiving HUD funding. One reason--they tend to totally overlook the invisible homeless family and youth population. And they ignore the many communities not receiving HUD funding. Even the Government Accounting Office took issue with these reports and related topics last year, citing rampant confusion in HUD's efforts.

NAEH staff, HUD and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness,
Congress and our President should be made to listen to this traumatized
baby wailing on this church floor (aka homeless shelter of the night).
Congress gets AHAR and feels "good" about HUD's progress. NAEH touting HUD's success is, in my humble opinion, disingenuous at best.

Homelessness--for adults and children--is traumatic and not acceptable. And the half-ass way this nation has been pretending to address it--the McKinney-Vento Act of 1987 signed into law 24 years ago--the abysmally under-funded, discombobulated, bamboozling "approach" to "ending homelessness," is a travesty at best.

Whatever M-V success--and some has occurred--is commendable. But don't think that these accomplishments have reached coast-to-coast or in any way solved the problem. And for every family or individual who gets the well-intentioned, sincere help returning to a place to call home, or gets an education, countless others fall into the vortex.

Homeless programs are an easy target for the ruthless budget-balancing-bobble-heads wanting to rob from the poor and give to the rich. But it doesn't have to be that way. 
I invite--no, urge--you to join me and tens of thousands of like-minded concerned Americans to urge President Obama to take a stand that will protect our vulnerable infants, children, elders, and others from the otherwise inevitable budget slashing. Co-sign Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) letter.
Seems to me the message Pat Van Doren created years ago is even more essential today. It's About the Children...or we'll all be sorry.