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....

Friday, October 26, 2012

Technicalities and Torn Carpet--Causes of Family Homelessness

Sitting in the parking lot outside Staples, waiting for a last minute printing job before the start of the much anticipated National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth Conference, I think I'm going stark raving mad. Foaming at the mouth....

Simultaneous messages--on FB and text messages, 2 disasters brewing for 2 families I know who will both be homeless unless sanity returns to the bureaucracy known as HUD, the U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, and their local housing authorities.

One situation involves a 2-parent family now crammed with 3 high-maintenance boys in 2 tiny rooms, sharing a home owned and lived in by Granny. Their circumstances are unbelievably hellish on the surface, and beyond description as you look deeper. All 3 boys have medical/behavioral issues that make the idea of living in this small space unfathomable. Parents love each other and the boys. One boy has severe medical issues that require a bunch of trips to hospitals and doctors. Gas prices be damned.

The family is trying to apply for housing assistance--subsidized--to get them out from under Granny's roof. Blam! They hit a brick wall because Dad has a felony, the kind that if I told you the circumstances you'd shake your head. Not drugs, not sex, not murder...just a turn of events that turned bad for him.

Right now, that's the barrier keeping them from a subsidized house or apartment. And absent this solution, they're going to be on the streets. Now they're aiming to get a motel room, the expensive "solution" to homelessness that is still homelessness and keeps them from moving forward.

It's up to the local housing authority to use their heads and evaluate at this situation. But they have more than enough "customers" and little time/motivation to look at extenuating circumstances. The local congressman's staff is trying to help. But this family needs high-powered help, STAT. Parents are looking at the option of divorcing, a totally unacceptable--and absurd--step, but they're thinking of the boys.

My text message signaled crisis #2 simultaneously with the above drama. A mom, with her 7 kids, including a newborn, was told by the public housing authority that she has to move because their humble little house trailer didn't pass inspection. According to the mom, whom I've known for about 3 years, the carpet is stained and got torn when she vacuumed it and threads got caught in the vacuum. Been there, done that with a vacuum cleaner. I was at this house just weeks ago, and nothing seemed uninhabitable to me.
Most people don't know that the larger families have a horrible time finding places to rent--a lot of issues here...too many kids cause too much trouble, HUD regs require certain square footage per person with a formula for how many bedrooms for how many people. 
In most households, we would toss a throw rug over the blight and figure it good. But when the housing authority does their annual inspection, they looked at that and gave a detention. Landlord doesn't want to fix it? Then the family has to move. Easier said than done.

Most people don't know that the larger families have a horrible time finding places to rent--a lot of issues here...too many kids cause too much trouble, HUD regs require certain square footage per person with a formula for how many bedrooms for how many people. Yeah, those are good standards, but does it makes sense for a family to super-stress and possibly become homeless? Is there not middle ground?

So I'm sitting here in a parking lot, sucking down a wifi signal from Staples, hoping that the universe smiles (instead of shits) on these 2 families. And I know countless more families are enduring the same insanity. A good beginning would be having HUD and local housing authorities reduce dysfunction.

The only other suggestion is to stimulate the RV industry and give homeless families motorhomes (and a huge gas allowance) so they can do like I do, sit in parking lots and do their family stuff. But, alas, I remember the formaldehyde-laced campers they tossed at Hurricane Katrina victims. No wonder I'm crazy.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Who Pays?

Within the past few days, I’ve been asked for money 3 times by deserving people who are "economically-challenged." Generous as I like to think I am, I’m coming up short. And I'm getting annoyed...not at the askers.

The first was easy to help. A slight, bearded man politely asked if I had any change. I used to agonize about people on the streets asking me for money, but that was before the economy tanked (one might be tempted to ask how it tanked, who was responsible?) and I had to acknowledge that some folks weren’t going to make it through the day without us sharing. And I can do it without judgment, a personal accomplishment.

Second, a reasonable request on one hand, but it could be seen as frivolous by those with a discerning eye toward self-sufficiency: a mother of 3 small boys wants help getting them Halloween costumes. The family is in an undefined/unsanctioned state of homelessness, bad enough, but they are also grappling with horrendous health issues with all of the boys, who apparently have been exiled by the local public school system—deeming these little guys too tough to handle. So much for free, appropriate education....

Third, a young woman I’ve known for about 20 years asked if I’d help raise funds for essential back surgery following an accident; she had a seizure and totaled her truck. She has no insurance and no income. She just started nursing school, which may be on hold unless things come together fast, leaving her income-less, and pretty well screwed. I just can’t fathom how this country, with money to spare for the things it wants to spend it on, can’t figure out how to make sure people can get quality health care. And holding bake sales seems a tad ineffective in light of the 100s of thousands in medical bills. 
Now, those, ahem, more conservative readers are stirring in their seats thinking, “If people would just be more self-sufficient, and better use their money, they’d have what they need.” And, let’s assume for a moment that it is true (far from my belief).... 
That kind of thinking assumes that at the count of 3 that everyone will jump up and become productive enough to afford the basics of food, health care, housing, etc. What about those who, for any number of valid reasons, are not able to jump up and pull it all together? What about those mired so deeply in the pit of poverty that they’d need a crane to lift them out? What about those who couldn’t succeed in this crazy and cruel world despite their best, albeit flawed, effort? What about those working for corporations like Walmart, whose wages are so low they qualify for welfare (my tax dollars and yours)?

Do we just toss people into the dump? We already toss “dead-beats” into jail, further impeding their self-sufficiency and self-esteem. Who pays for this punitive and fruitless approach?

What’s wrong with bolstering a safety net for those who need help temporarily, with dignity, letting them move forward, while ensuring those who need more substantial assistance to receive it?

It’s not just Congress’ fault, though they bear a significant responsibility, as do our President and elected officials. Each person, according to their abilities, must be responsible for living a productive life. And to those who have been given much, much is asked, but to those who've been slammed with daunting challenges, they need help. Continuing on the path of our mutually destructive ways, the weakest will crumble and fall. 

Do we think that the wealthy/healthy among us deserve to enjoy the fruits of their—and other—labors while the lowly crumble and fall? Who pays? still demands an answer. I'm not holding my breath.

NOTE: "Garbage" photo, (c)Pat Van Doren, used with permission

Monday, October 1, 2012

This. Is. Tough.

Tough. Tough luck. Tough break. Tough life.

“Amanda” has it tough. And she knows it. Her 3 little boys struggle with a long list of troubles—ADHD, seizures, bipolar, and more. Her single-parent status changed last year with marriage to “Jake,” by all accounts a good husband and father. But he’s out of work. So is she, and the practical considerations of getting a job are as remote as walking to the Antarctic.

They’ve been homeless a while—and are now by my standards and that of the US Department of Education still homeless. 3 boys and 2 adults living in 2 small rooms isn’t anything but homelessness. They’re swirling in the desperate storm of medical issues, mental health crises, and abject cramped poverty. And they have a lot to lose if things get worse.

Stress begets stress. The family’s dire day-to-day reality has caused their resolve to crumble. The boys acted out in school, so now they are “home” schooled. If you can imagine home-schooling 3 little guys filled with anxiety squeezed into a closet-sized space…not ideal, but the school district has tossed the job to these parents.

They have no choice but to fall behind on rent, utilities, and other bills because they have to take their youngest to multitudes of doctors, making gas companies rich and this family, if possible, poorer. Mom astutely observes, “No one’s gonna hire either of us because we’d always have to take off work to take ‘Joey’ to the doctor.” And she’s right. They’ve made the right choice, and pay the price.

These stalwart parents are trying their best to hang on as the slope gets unimaginably steeper. I wouldn’t be able to handle their job for 5 minutes. Nor would Mitt, Paul, or I suspect Barrack and Joe. Even Santa would struggle. I’m seldom at a loss of words, but this family—not, sadly, an anomaly—has me stymied.

Without subsidized housing, they’ll not be able to afford an adequately sized place. But waiting lists tend to run in the 3+-year mode. Not good. Child support, bolstering this family’s below poverty level income, is sparse and skimpy. Gas prices shatter their fragile “budget” as they bounce from doctor to doctor in search of answers to their youngest guy’s wasting away. Employment? Out of the question until the big issues are solved. Disability income, meager, has only been granted for one boy, with a long approval process ahead for the others.

So what would our leader and leader-wanna-be propose? Since it appears we’ve discarded our moral responsibility for those who struggle, they’re not our problem. But they are. Letting families like this collapse—they love each other and are willing to fight to survive—will cost us all in the long run.  Absent a mammoth miracle, they’re screwed.

In my dreams I see a presidential candidate debate solely on the issue of poverty. Amanda will ask the tough questions. Jill and Cheri will have the edge. Mitt and Paul will stumble and fall. Barrack and Joe will admit their shortcomings. We can only hope the winners don’t make it even tougher on families like Amanda and Jake’s. But I’m not holding my breath. It’s tough.

"Amanda" reads my Facebook page. Go ahead, comment on this to her. Let her know that people care.