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....

Friday, October 14, 2011

Compassion Call-Out!

Oregon Family Campsite, Photo by Rob Finch, 11-2007

All across America, as weather shifts into the raw winter chill, record numbers of families are turning to the "great outdoors" for their new homes.

This photo, by friend Rob Finch (Oregonian), gives you a peek at what passes for camping for families with no other place to stay. Once they lose their homes--for a variety of reasons--and discover that their town has no shelter, the shelter is full, or the shelter doesn't allow intact families, they get, um, creative, and camp. Rob and I followed this family around for several days during a raw, rainy November. They had "camped" for about 6 months on the wooded edge of a church property.

This camping is far different than state parks or private campgrounds. Families tend to set up their tent (if they're lucky enough to have one) and tarps (a cheap essential to extend their living space and to cover their firewood and belongings) in remote places--thick woods--close enough to sources of food and other essentials but out of public view. They don't want child welfare agents, police officers or nosy do-gooders finding them.

They lack access to any basic hygiene facilities, i.e. bathrooms. They're always being invaded by critters large and small, and camps like this lack any way to be safe and secure from 2-legged predators.

Weather is always an issue. Water--in its many forms--is both a luxury (fresh drinking water and water to bathe with) and a menace, soaking blankets, clothing and food. Cold temperatures become brutal. Hot temps make living miserable. Wind and snow are "bonuses," making life even more miserable.

Food--especially nutritious offerings--tends to be scarce. Storage of food vexes even the most determined camper--rats, raccoons, and chipmunks always get their way. Lack of refrigeration presents logistical challenges. Cooking is an art that Jamie Oliver would learn from. Cooking space sanitation? Forget it. Food supplies are meager because pantries often hesitate to give food to people who have no address. What they give is often impractical for campers.

Health care? Nope. Sickness, yup.

School--if they're lucky the kids will get to/from school. Can't say much for the quality of their attendance or participation. Nutritionally and sleep deprived, hygiene-deficient, and insecure kids don't make the best students.

And in this testy environment, we're finding families with kids of all ages. Homeless camps used to be just for the crusty "hobo" types, those escaping or rejecting life as most people know it. But now, in this day of uber-prosperity for the lucky ones, the unlucky ones fall through the big crack. Emergency shelters are turning away families in record numbers. Families with nowhere to go and nobody to help them turn to the great outdoors.

I don't know how people can sleep knowing that moms, dads and kids are huddled under tarps and tents, lacking heat, lacking civilization, lacking any way to get out of this mess on the outskirts of most communities. Everywhere I go, even in the affluent Atlanta suburbs, homeless families "camping" is epidemic.

Occupy Wall Street (and many other efforts nationwide) could benefit by the numbers of families and single individuals setting up camp. They could bolster the numbers of people on the streets because they live on the streets. And if we don't get things turned around, unrealistically before the brutal cold sets in, we're going to have homeless children and parents dying on the streets.

Pathetically, and embarrassingly, at the same time of this record ravaging homelessness, record numbers of vacant houses sit and rot. Now if someone can't figure 2+2 and decide homeless families and empty houses are in many cases a good combination, well, we're dumber than we look.

If you want to help, check out the HEAR US Compassion Action Guide on our home page (  Plenty of opportunities to make a difference, including a link to vote for the HEAR US CITGO $5000 gas card prize.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

HUD--the Homelessness Creation Agency?

My good faith gets shaken on a regular basis, and when it involves the US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, aka HUD, it really flaps wildly. What I'm yammering about is a policy that leaves a formerly homeless family damned if they do, damned if they don't.

Tina, the courageous mother I've written about over the past couple years, and her 6 young boys, live in a modest house trailer in Las Cruces, NM. First I blogged about the family's bleak situation after I found them living in a 13' beater-camper-trailer--mom and her 5 baby boys. Stimulus money came about, giving communities funds to help move families like Tina's into housing. Then  I blogged about the difficulties finding a landlord to rent to this large family. She finally found the landlord with the trailer. But...

Her next struggle came transferring into Section 8 (subsidized housing), not because she wasn't in need or qualified (she got through the eye-of-the-needle exam at the HUD-regulated public housing authority), but because...she has bad credit. Yup. Bad credit.

In her previous married life, she incurred a penalty of about $5,200 for unreported income with the public housing authority. She was in the process of getting her then-husband reinstated on the lease (he apparently talked her into it after putting her in the hospital), and Tina's brother moved in before being okayed by the PHA. Tina and her kids left her abusive ex, but now she gets saddled with that past debt--a barrier to keep her and the kids from qualifying for public housing.

Hubby (now ex), 1/2 the gene pool, apparently doesn't have to assume his share of this debt. Mom and kids struggle mightily, comply with copious regulations, scrimp and scrape to keep together and out of the shredded child welfare "system," and she's got to pay the whole $5,200. It gets worse.

HEAR US negotiated a payment plan and found donors to help pay off the debt, Tina and her boys got their Section 8 certificate allowing them to stay in their humble trailer. Then, the Las Cruces housing authority diligently does an income review and finds, gasp, that $180 a month is being paid on the prior debt by HEAR US so Tina and the kids wouldn't be homeless. According to HUD regulations, they need to factor in this money--that Tina never touches--into her income, more than doubling her rent.

Tina protests, attends a hearing and is shot down. I write to the old HA and ha-ha. They shoot me down, claiming HUD regulations. So now, after all this time--mid-2010 till now--Tina, saddled with the care of her 6 little boys (try to get a job under her conditions), has no way to increase her income enough to pay the increased rent that HUD says she needs to pay because she's lucky enough to have someone paying her past debt with the old HA so she and her 6 boys won't be homeless in Las Cruces.

How's that for stupid? Now, without being able to pay the money both housing authorities are demanding, this family teeters on the precipice of homelessness in a city that has no emergency shelter for families. So then, for want of about a $2,000 balance on the past debt and $100 a month on the current housing, this family will get churned up in the same system that found it in its heart to bail out rich bankers, hedge fund traders, and the rest of the sleazy bums.

The ex--father of 4 of her children--may get stuck with half the debt in a pending divorce agreement. But HUD will factor that into Tina's rent, raising it further. This gets dumber and dumber as I type. 
HEAR US will again try to collect money to help Tina and the kids, fighting for a change of policies in the meantime. It feels really sleazy sending money to a housing authority that's making life this hard on her, but she has no option--other than the unacceptable one of homelessness. If you want to donate, here's the secure link. It's tax-deductible. We don't take a penny and it all goes directly to pay that stupid debt.
My delirious hope out of all this...that we get to a point where HUD agrees to "do no harm" for Tina, and for scores of other housing-vulnerable decent human beings in this country--that would be the majority of us. Sigh.