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....

Monday, June 25, 2012

Florida Hospitality: Palm Trees and Homelessness

Try as they may, Clearwater, FL officials can't hide homeless families behind--or under--palm trees.

In a Tampa Bay Times article on 6/24/12, City Manager Bill Horne claims, "We believe there is adequate space in the various facilities to offer beds...If somebody really wants to be there, there's a space for them," but others point out dire shortfalls, like the fact that this city of over 100,000 residents has only one shelter for homeless families, and "last year the Homeless Emergency Project, a longtime shelter and homeless services center in north Clearwater, was able to house only 51 of the 1,473 families who sought shelter there."

Of course, that doesn't surprise me. Many communities lack family shelters altogether, not just in FL, but certainly FL is a negative poster child for this dismaying reality.

Imagine if you will, you and your family or a family you care about becomes homeless. Disaster (like the torrential rains now trying to cleanse the Sunshine State of its sins), domestic violence, job loss (as featured on the recent Dateline look at lives of formerly middle income households in upscale Boulder, CO being shattered by this nation's distorted Wall Street-friendly priorities), financial disasters (most often brought about by medical crises), and many other all-too-common life-changing disasters.

Where would you turn? Family? Friends? What happens after your welcome wears thin? What happens if they, for any number of legitimate reasons, can't help? 

You'd do like millions do--like thousands of families in the Disney World area do--turn to motels, as reported a few months ago in a HEAR US instigated story. Motels are not just for tourists, a good thing since tourism seems to, um, decline in this economy, much like casinos. Many motels serve as expensive, profit-making, homeless shelters. Or live in your car. Or with family, friends and acquaintances. Or all of the above.

Florida, famous for letting families live in cars in lieu of providing any homeless prevention/remediation services, seems unfazed when TV tabloid 60 Minutes did a gripping story on this very issue.

Unemployment, slashed public assistance, record evictions and foreclosures...and all the family-destroying stress that goes with it, creates record homelessness among families. But what does family vacation spot Clearwater do? Tampa Times reports Mayor George Cretekos said, "It's not a Clearwater problem. It's a Pinellas County problem."  Pass the buck? Yup. It gets worse:
"Neither shelter (the city's preferred--inadequate--shelters) accepts children, who make up about 40 percent of the county's homeless population of 6,000, yet both shelters have been designated the city's primary resources for housing the homeless by Clearwater's homelessness consultant, Robert Marbut. Families, he said, would be given access to a county hotline of 'virtual case managers' who could direct them on where to stay."
Great. The family swirling in crisis, without housing, gets to rely on a non-existent computer connection to a case manager for help. Neat. Clean. Bullshit.

For my part, I'd love Clearwater, with its neighbor Tampa's big media circus building around the Republican convention coming up at the end of steamy August, to be cast into the public limelight. Ask Mr. Robert Marbut, the city-hired con$ultant, where his family would turn if he lost his job and everything went, um, South. Take these clueless officials on a tour of the real world of thousands of their residents.

It makes me want to take a Florida vacation, sit under a palm tree with the 2600 homeless kids, and throw coconuts.

For the rightfully-infuriated, get your Congressperson to co-sponsor HR 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act. It's the one bill that could shift our nation's distorted homelessness policies to, um, help homeless kids. It's easy to generate the message to your Representative. At least it's worth a try.

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