As the very clean-cut man read the impossible-to-ignore signage as he filled Tillie's tank he asked me about what I do. I gave him my standard spiel, I used to run a homeless shelter (actually 2). 7 years ago I went on the road to give homeless kids a chance to tell what it was like to be homeless. (Here's a spread in UNCENSORED magazine that I did which gives you a better idea what I'm up to...worth checking out!)
Do you have a brochure? Well, I do, but not something easy to find. (Memo to self, work on that one.)
As I went inside to pay, I handed the guy a Littlest Nomads card, the best I could do without digging deep into Tillie's bowels.
He sighed and told me about a young woman he knows, a single mom with 2 kids, one 10, the other 4. She had been living with her mother but was just kicked out and now she was homeless. She's not a bad kid, he offered as if I needed convincing.
Does the federal government have any help for someone like this family? I sighed. Not an easy answer. He sure didn't want to hear about our campaign to get HUD to improve their definition of homelessness so at least this family would be counted in the annual homeless census that gets reported to Congress.
I opted to tell him the harsh truth: the feds partially fund some shelters, if a community even has them. But most of the time the shelters are full and turn families away. Then parents face tough "choices," aka survival. She might be able to get some help at the local welfare office, I lamely suggested.
He sighed. He said he gave the mom $60 yesterday so she could get a motel room. I sighed when I pictured her dilemma. Where will she get $60 a night for a motel room?
He sighed and thanked me for the info. I sighed and drove away. Then I fumed.
It's bad enough families go through whatever leads up to their homelessness. But shit happens. To "good" families as well as "bad." The real shit happens when families go looking for help.
I have seen and heard what happens, countless times. It's ugly. And it's frustrating because it's happening to more and more families (as well as single adults and unaccompanied youth). The economy stinks. That means while the government piles on the money for bankers and corporations it piles on the misery for those on the bottom of the ever-growing heap.
And presidential candidates pile up the campaign funds, sucking the wind out of media, as stories of suffering and injustice go untold.
Truth be told, it's likely that this family is screwed without some unimaginable intervention. I'd bet that this little town has no shelter. The mom will likely have nowhere to turn. These kids will learn the hard way that they don't count. Sigh.
The one thing you can do to help (besides supporting HEAR US Inc.) is to go to our campaign to get HUD to change their definition of homelessness. It sounds like a strange campaign, but this web site will explain all about it: http://helphomelesskidsnow.org. It also gives you a simple thing to do--to urge your member of Congress to co-sponsor HR 32, the Homeless Children and Youth Act.Think of this mom and her kids. And millions more like them here in the good ol' US of A. At least this gas station guy did something to help a little bit. I guess that's what it's going to take. Sigh. Growl.