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....

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Brutal Cold + Brutal Reality For Homeless Families/Youth

Keynote speeches can be good or bad, stimulating or numbing. At the Beyond Housing conference put on by the venerable Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness in NYC last week, I could have danced on the table during Ralph da Costa Nunez’s opening salvo.
Ever the contrarian, this respected guru of all things to help homeless families took a major shot at the homelessness “cure” de jour, Housing First aka Rapid Rehousing. Nunez spared no words. It doesn’t work as a one-size-fits-all (underfunded) approach to ending homelessness. My dear friend and sister-blogger Pat LaMarche captured the sense of his proclamation.
Now, let me add my 2¢ worth: whatever well-intentioned approaches communities have to assist families and youth moving from the streets to sheets (and all the other essentials of home), far more communities have nothing. Read that again.
Maybe it’s the ivory tower syndrome:
  • I’m doing good in my job helping homeless families and youth, so everyone else is probably doing the same. (Hello, organizations in big cities that have resources.) 
  • I don’t see any homeless families/youth, so they’re all OK or we don’t have any here. 
  • I’ve heard this isn’t a problem, so it’s not.
Or worse:
  • I get HUD funding so I can’t say anything bad about this absurd policy that excludes million of homeless families/youth.
  • I will agree with this policy of Housing First because I want it to work (and I get HUD funding so I can’t bite the hand that feeds me). 
  • It would be too much work to change things to better serve homeless families/youth. 
  • They should try harder to solve the problem on their own. I’ve got too much to do as it is.
Having spent many grueling years running shelters for individuals, families and youth over 18, I feel I’ve got skin in the game. (My bio) Having spent the past 9 years traversing the country listening to and chronicling families and youth in homeless situations (3-min YouTube vid), I feel obligated to bring their story to the table. Having spent 30+ years advocating ending homelessness (How’s that working? Not!), I can’t stay quiet when these rare discussions hit the media wave.
I wrote a book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness, because I was dismayed about the lack of understanding of homelessness among policymakers and the public. Here’s a 1-page excerpt from my missive that list some causes of family/youth homelessness. (You can order the e-book or real book at my HEAR US website.)
20+ years ago I astoundingly found myself fighting against so-called advocates in Illinois who said we didn’t need a state law to remove barriers commonly experienced by homeless students trying to get into school. Yes we did. We got it, and now it’s federal law. And millions of kids have had access to 6-hours a day of educational stability, meals (albeit not the greatest), and a shot at escaping poverty through education.
So I’m not backing down when it comes to demanding that our affordable-housing-destroying government steps up mightily to right the wrongs of the past 30 years of what doesn’t pass for viable housing policies. Here’s a 3-minute video critiquing  “Rapid Rehousing,” produced by Nunez’s organization, ICPH.
Housing First, the touted “solution” to homelessness, has been primarily directed at those derogatorily dubbed “chronic” homeless persons, and grossly inadequate funding has caused organizations to fight brutally. You should be a little suspicious when HUD and HUD-funded agencies fight to keep a narrow definition of homelessness that excludes most families, youth and non-chronic adults.
Ralph suggests Housing Second and Third. And funding these approaches. That would take us beyond our one-size-fits-all mentality to addressing this growing national scandal. Why we have to fight about this baffles me.
I’d suggest those who think we’re doing enough to help homeless families and youth to leave the comfort of their cozy work/home environments and spend a day or 2 (preferably with kids in tow) looking for a place to stay. Yeah, Housing First is a good slogan but a lousy blanket. 
 (Originally posted by me on my AlterNet blog)