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....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

HUD Homeless Policies = Child Abuse and Neglect

Maybe I've stared at too many faces of little ones through the eyes of my cameras.

Maybe I've sat on the edge of lumpy mattresses in crappy motel rooms, surrounded by the squalor that comes from too many people crammed into too small space for too many desperate nights listening to heartbreaking sagas.

Maybe I've shared too many WalMart parking lots with too many families who find safety in the security cameras as they cuddle together for warmth in their cars.

Maybe I've talked to too many youth, some with another generation in tow, who ask me what should they do, where can they find a safe way to escape life on the streets.

Maybe I've grown impatient with waiting...for lawmakers and bureaucrats to wake up--or quit denying--the abysmal dearth of housing assistance (much less affordable and safe options) and other vital safety net programs. (Reminder, the US offers about $144 Billion in home-owner housing subsidies compared to a measly $34 billion housing assistance.)

Maybe I'm carrying around guilt knowing that I was complicit in this homeless family and youth debacle, not intentionally, but by default, for my years running shelters that pretty well ignored the needs of our future--the children and youth, unwitting products of their pathetic upbringing, who become adults, productive or not.

Maybe...but I can no longer be part of the silent--or not-loud-enough--conspiracy.
For years, this nation has blatantly ignored the dire peril that millions of families and youth find themselves in year after year. We had to fight to remove barriers to school for kids without homes (kids now numbering 1 million). We have, for years, been fighting with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), the often-hapless agency charged with providing decent affordable housing and homelessness assistance, about including children and youth in their focus (as inadequate as it is).
HUD's newest regulations forcing homeless families/youth to PROVE their homelessness (as if people are clamoring to get into shelters??!) are a horrendous burden to families/youth and shelter staff. Check out this 3-min. video explaining the latest absurdity.
The few groups that continually side with HUD, likely out of fear that the slice of the tiny pie that funds their worthy efforts will get decimated, sadly spread fear and deception like Homeland Security--painting the scene of evil resource depleters coming after what amounts the crumbs from the federal budget table. (Here's a rebuttal to their argument. pdf)

And my friend Barbara Duffield offers these reminders:
a) HR 32 does not mandate that kids identified through four programs are served; it simply makes them eligible and allows communities to make assessments of who is most in need at the moment; b) doubled-up and motel kids are among the most vulnerable, and HUD’s regulations make it impossible for them to be served; today’s homeless kids are tomorrow’s homeless adults
Someone explain to me: when have the feds ever given money to a legitimate cause when advocates haven't fought for it? It sure hasn't been HUD's homelessness assistance programs. I know. I've been in this work too long. Programs serving families--and even worse for youth-- are few and too far between. And HUD makes it seem like families and youth either don't exist or they don't count, I'm not sure.
Where is the outcry about the slash-and-burn of our nation's housing budget (read this illuminating and easy-to-comprehend report, pdf)? 
Having otherwise decent human beings arguing against pulling out all stops to help this most vulnerable and ignored segment of the homeless population--a segment that dwarfs the single adults so disparagingly labeled "chronic" as in a disease--well, it's either a lack of conscience or a lack of awareness of the dire conditions facing families and youth.

In an ongoing effort to convey the desperate situation facing families and youth, a panel of experts--homeless children and youth who know the perils of living without a home and without shelter--addressed Members of Congress in mid-December. Their compelling and heartbreaking stories illustrated beyond a doubt the level of suffering common to families/youth in motels, doubled-up with others, or in other non-HUD-homeless states.  

But what happened? The so-called homeless advocates that have vehemently opposed bringing HUD's definition in sync with other federal definitions ratcheted up their rhetoric dismissing the suffering of the kids in the various non-HUD states of homelessness. Fortunately, the subcommittee headed by homeless kid champion Judy Biggert (R-IL, my congresswoman) passed HR 32, The Homeless Children and Youth Act, which now heads to full committee.

And about the same time, at a national conference of homelessness service providers, the anti-HR 32 rhetoric spewed.

I will not apologize for hammering hard on this issue. Nor will my stalwart band of colleagues (with a growing network of agencies) working hard to get Congress, HUD and the nation to acknowledge--and address--what boils down to federally-sanctioned child neglect.

If we "can't afford" to go all-out to help those in all kinds of homeless situations, if we (from our positions of relative comfort) deem some homelessness tolerable, if we don't demand that resources be immediately and adequately marshaled for the millions of precarious and/or un-housed people in this country, than I'd say we're suffering from a severe and unconscionable lack of compassion.

My conscience pushes me to do everything possible to help. What about yours?
  • Contact your member of Congress if she/he is on the House Financial Services Committee (view committee list)
  • Urge their support of HR 32. Sample letters here.
  • Challenge nay-sayers who insist this nation cannot care for our homeless kids.
  • Do something to help.
At least you'll be able to look at kids like this with a clear conscience. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Tired of the BS from 'Advocates'

Photo (C) Pat Van Doren
I worry that things are so screwy that we'll "eat our young" as we all scramble for a piece of the dwindling, vulnerable federal human services pie. It seems that a group of so-called advocates and unenlightened legislators are poised to do just that--"eat" homeless kids by depriving the majority of them of assistance otherwise available for homeless kids staying in shelters.

Gosh, this homeless definition issue is getting so drawn out that it makes me shake my head in wonderment. I dug through my email trash to look at what the young-eaters give for reasons to oppose forcing Congress to help more homeless kids. Shameful. I'll let their words speak for this atrocious form of advocacy.
If HR 32 (The Homeless Children and Youth Act) were enacted, children who are now defined as homeless, including those who are fleeing domestic violence, living in dangerous situations, or literally sleeping outside, would be forced to compete for scarce resources with millions more who have the advantage of a more stable apartment or house to sleep in every night.
As NAEHCY Policy Director Barbara so adamantly points out, "Defining a problem by the funding currently available to address it is nonsensical. Congress needs to know who and how many people are without housing in order to devise effective solutions.  A narrow definition of homelessness does nothing to reduce the number of people living without their own homes. It simply gives policymakers an unrealistic view of the scope of the problem.

I'd be even more caustic. Continuing a failed policy of counting homeless people, spending money and volunteer/staff time each year to do so, to produce the absolutely bogus AHAR (Annual Homeless Assessment Report...or the capital of Ahar County, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran) is irrational and unconscionable. Furthermore, the last thing we need to do is confuse Congress on matters of poverty.
... HR 32, if enacted, would expand the definition of homelessness to include an additional 2,351,762 low-income housed children each year, who, although their housing may be poor, are not literally homeless (my underline).  
 The esteemed Barbara Duffield rebuts, "H.R. 32, will not require communities to spend HUD funding on doubled-up and motel families and youth. It simply gives them the flexibility to do so when these families and youth need HUD homeless services...Vulnerability determinations must be done on a local, individual basis, after gathering as many facts as possible. Congress is not in a position to decide the relative vulnerability of individual children and adults in communities across the county."

My good friend Pat LaMarche took a swing at this issue in her Christmas HufPo column following the testimony of 6 supremely courageous and articulate kids who testified to Congress about the agony of homelessness (the non-HUD kind). She gets it. She ran a shelter for a few years.

And I'd add that the time and energy we've spent on this issue is time wasted. Not so much for policy-wonks but for families and youth being excluded from possibly getting emergency assistance. How can you look a kid or a desperate parent in the face and say they're not homeless enough...when they are as homeless as the next person, and possibly suffering abuse, among other common experiences? Not "literally homeless"? That reference pushes me over the edge. When do we get to splitting hairs over who's homeless, more homeless, most homeless? I can't even go there. Nor should they.

Had I not just witnessed the debacle between The Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood, I'd think our advocacy wars were unusual. In case you missed it, here's the powerful and poignant response on this life-threatening issue as courageously and vociferously offered by Linda, a woman whose own experience with breast cancer gives her the right to weigh in, which she did. Catch her last line. 

I'll be looking for an outraged parent or kid who is willing to go on record like Linda did about the atrocious behavior of "advocates" and public officials that think our pathetic level of assistance directed to the crisis of homelessness is enough. But until then, I'll close with some thoughts of my own...
To pretend that you have any comprehension of the anguish, agony and hopelessness of homelessness is absolute bull shit. To shy away from a united and forceful campaign to begin to relieve millions of people in this country from the sufferings of homelessness makes me disregard your efforts entirely.
If you wish to act upon this outrage, check the HEAR US website, Compassion Epidemic, Hot Alert!