I didn't need to watch Sunday’s 60 Minutes piece on homeless families. But I did, along with my 90-year-old mother, my brother and his 14-year-old son, and my brother's significant other. She cried. I raged. Mom shook her head sadly. Mike and his son didn't say much, but were subdued.
CBS did a decent job on the surface issue, letting kids say how hard it is to live this nomadic existence. Their parents rose above the understandable shame and allowed the audience to peer into their erstwhile "normal" lives. And so far, online comments haven't sunk to the sewer-like level of frustrated blame and distorted interpretation of the story. (Though columnist Jay Ambrose seems to be confused, writing that "As virtually any historian can tell you, the average poor family today -- especially as defined under law -- is easily better off than many families considered well off in the Depression years." Huh?)
This wasn't a "feel-good" story. Some points need reiterating:
- A family of 4 at the poverty level earns less than $22,000. (Joe might want to do a math-reality course to see what less than $22k --gross--buys today as opposed to the Depression days.)
- The poverty rate for children in our country is nearing 25% by the (understated) government standards.
- This is the fastest and largest fall from middle class that we've seen since the Depression, an unprecedented jump from 14 million to 16 million, with no signs of abatement.
Those are statistics. But more painfully than the above statistics are these stark realities for the families in Seminole County and invisible families across the country:
- Often families face the dilemma of homelessness and head for the local shelter (if their area has one)--only to be split up because the shelter only allows (typically) women with kids (boys under the age of 12, which varies).
- Families not willing to split up, or wanting to keep their pet, or having a parent who works a job outside the shelter's curfew, often bunk with a friend/family member until that becomes untenable then they move into a motel at the steep price of $150+ a week.
- Families "stuff" often ends up in storage and lost because it's sold when they cannot pay the storage fees. Stuff lost includes important identification and other documents, pictures, and personally valuable items.
- Areas around these unsupervised, unsanctioned "homeless shelters," a.k.a. motels, frequently deteriorate and become unsafe for the families and others. Drugs and prostitution are common at many motels. So are lice, scabies and bedbugs.
- Space inside the motel room is inadequate for one. Multiply that by the number in the family and you get the idea that this is not a vacation.
- Food, especially nutritious meals, becomes a logistical and expensive nightmare. Just think of the steps in buying, storing, cooking, serving, and cleaning up in the average motel room.
- Hygiene and space become serious detriments for infants and toddlers who require special attention and activities to develop into healthy children.
We ignore the dark, growing cloud of poverty negating well-intentioned and expensive education efforts. We toss a crumbs to low-income housing, far too little to make up for the past 30 years of shortages, during a massive housing crisis that tosses middle-income families to the streets. We slash resources for health care, mental health services, child care, family support. We bought into lies that "welfare queens" are causing our nation’s fiscal woes, not the wealthy robber-barons of corporations and Wall Street.
Seems to me we need to admit what we’re doing: We toss our kids under the national-budget bus, ostensibly to balance the budget--or more truthfully, to give huge subsidies to oil companies and other wealthy interests. Can we at least admit we have a problem?
HEAR US Inc. has been invited to testify at a congressional briefing on homeless children on Weds. March 30, 11-noon at 1300 Longworth House Office Building, Washington DC.
on the edge on Weds. March 30, 6 pm - 7:30, 2325 Rayburn HOB, Washington DC, open to the public, free.