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, August 20, 2011

Michigan Tourism Slogan--the Canary in the Coal Mine?

Michigan, with their miles of dunes along miles of Lake Michigan and Chicago area pols hot-footing it down sandy sidewalks in picturesque vacation getaways, spends good money for their catchy new tourism slogans, now Pure Michigan, from Great Lakes, Great Times, and Say Yes to Michigan....

No matter, because the more popular signs in the beleaguered Wolverine State, tarnished by the tanking of the auto business and what was left of commerce, now feature for sale by owner, for rent, and closed signs.  Michigan can teach us something. They've increased their tourism budget to attract people to the once-popular vacation land. (One would wonder who's getting all the money...but that's another topic for another blogger I hope.)

Sadly, the state once known for beaches, tulips and cherries is now close to dying. Because the symptoms are little—as in kids—few pay attention. While nationally the number of kids in poverty (household income $22,000 or less) has reached an alarming (to some of us) 25% according to Kids Count 2011, the number of kids in Michigan living in poverty soared 64%, with 75,000 kids added to the already dismayingly high numbers, which includes over 20,000 homeless children.

Take a look at the years since I've been on the road under the HEAR US banner--since November 2005. Way back then MI had 459,000 kids living in poverty. The number now is 520,000 (for 2009, the latest data reported). That's quite an increase.

I'm not a number cruncher, but the availability of detailed data in this respected report got my attention:

  • 249,000 kids in extreme poverty (that's 1/2 the measly, inadequate poverty rate). 
  • 709,000 kids living in households spending more than the acceptable amount of 30% on housing
  • 735,401 kids getting free or reduced lunch
  • 340,169 babies and toddlers (0-4) receiving WIC (Women, Infants and Children). 

Enough data. Look up your own state. Get locally appalled.

(This is where the rabid nay-sayers chime in and say women shouldn't have babies. We should cut people off the benefit trough and let them fend for themselves. Stick a sock in it.)

Folks up in MI aren't just sitting around pining (bad pun) about these problems. The MI League for Human Services offers suggestions:

Here in Michigan we should focus our attention on:
  • Expanding programs, such job training and postsecondary education for unemployed and low-income parents and the Earned Income Tax Credit to supplement low wages; these programs promote economic success for families.
  • Implementing programs and disbursing funds that help more families negotiate the foreclosure process; Michigan has $498 million in federal funds to help families in foreclosure.
  • Enacting the reforms, such as including part-time workers, to the unemployment system that would recognize the changes in the world of work and bring another $139 million of federal funding into the state.
    – Jane Zehnder-Merrell

Yeah. That's gonna happen with Gov. Snyder whacking away at anything that resembles human services.

For those applauding Guv Ax-Assistance, let me point out the hard truth. Ignore human needs today and pay more tomorrow. It's a lesson that needs to become the new Michigan slogan.

I'm so outraged about this and every other state's skyrocketing poverty I hardly know what to say or do. I can cry for the kids, but that won't help. So the small band of us working hard to make sure kids get an education, even if they don't have homes, will continue our efforts.

Not to get all scriptural, but The poor shall inherit the earth comes to mind. Hmmm. That makes a great slogan for MI tourism. Wonder what they'd be willing to pay me?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Times Get Tough, the Tough Get Tougher

The "Evil Diane" is coming out in me. Expect nothing less after the latest round of budget bamboozlement. I'm plotting our next strategy to help homeless families survive what is bound to be more than the common "hard times."

So, here's my idea: We, the advocates for kids who signed this letter begging our Prez and congressional leaders to have mercy on vulnerable kids, form an ad hoc committee, "Share the Shack," or something like that, to pursue non-traditional housing options in our communities. Texas families give us a perfect prototype, let's call it "Sharing the Bling."

A recent NYT article reports on a trend of building playhouses for the kids. Not just any kids, kids of mega-rich parents, like Ms.Schiller, who's husband is (ahem) an oil company exec. Here's a partial description of their daughter's playhouse: "the two-story 170-square-foot... vaulted ceilings..., hardwood floors and a faux fireplace with a fanciful mosaic mantel. The little stainless-steel sink in the kitchen has running water, and the matching stainless-steel mini fridge and freezer are stocked with juice boxes and Popsicles. Upstairs is a sitting area with a child-size sofa and chairs for watching DVDs on the 32-inch flat-screen TV. The windows, which all open, have screens to keep out mosquitoes, and there are begonias in the window boxes. And, of course, the playhouse is air-conditioned."

To do justice to these playhouses you need to read the article, which adds, “I think of it as bling for the yard,” said Ms. Schiller, 40. Some people might consider it “obnoxious” for a child to have a playhouse that costs more and has more amenities than some real houses, she conceded. Obnoxious? Nah. So far beyond it that I can't come up with a word.

OK, here's the idea. Get maps pointing out bling locations. Give them to local desperate families that have no homes. Provide transportation to the bling-address. Let them move into these nice playhouses. Let the money-endowed families pick up government slack, providing for the families' food, medical, child care, education, and so on. This will end the need for the seemingly endless "Stuff the Bus" projects to provide basic school supplies for income-deprived kids.

For those communities that lack bling, connect with the profit-laden builders constructing these mini-mansions and ask them to find some local trees for homes. I'm sure we'll have enough to go around (trees and families in need).

Best to get hopping on this project because bad weather is just around the corner. We'd hate to have shelter-less families littering the landscape.

Seems to me we have enough to go around. We just need to be creative about prying it from those who have it and sharing it with the growing urchin class.