|Lynne Weise, Anne Arundel School District (MD) homeless|
liaison, welcomes the audience at Abundant Life
I'd suspect, having done sessions like this all over the country for decades, that the group suffered from a massive guilt, how could we let this happen in our relatively affluent community?
My first task was to assuage their guilt. In virtually every community across this country, you'd find families and youth without homes. The latest stats from the US Department of Education points to a record-breaking dire reality: over 1.1 million students have been identified as homeless. That, by no means, is a complete number, with many districts failing to identify their homeless students, and families/youth in homeless situations failing to self-identify. Almost 1,000 students are identified as homeless in this district, a steady increase from previous years.
My second task is to introduce the courageous kids who share their stories of homelessness in my award-winning, highly-acclaimed documentary, My Own Four Walls. Any audience watching this 20-minute film can't hold onto ignorance or callousness. And they didn't.
Our discussion, I believe, was fruitful. People wanted to help. And a ton of help is needed. Practical things, diapers, clothing, food, etc.; the vital extras, band instruments, prom dresses, and baseball cleats, etc.; and the underlying essential, raising awareness so that a compassion epidemic can spread.
What I think astounded/vexed them the most is that so many families and youth are still unsheltered in their communities, causing all sorts of logistical nightmares for the unhoused and for those responding to the inevitable emergencies related to being unhoused.
Yeah, it's pretty dismaying to know that for decades our nation, and communities within, have pretty well ignored the basic human needs of vulnerable families and youth. And our federal government, despite what they say, continues to under-fund and under-serve this growing population, at a great cost to taxpayers as well as the beleaguered families/youths.
It would be nice if local communities could muster the compassion needed to solve the problem in their borders, but that's not how it works. They can do great things, but if we don't ramp up the basics: affordable housing, support services, educational opportunities, health care, child care, etc., those teetering on the edge of homelessness will fall hard. That requires pulling in (reluctant) elected officials on all levels.
I'll continue doing gigs like this as long as I get the support (check our our time-limited -3/31/14 matching grant), but I've got to say it's daunting. This crisis isn't easing. And the do-gooders might start feeling like their Uncle Sam has deserted them. At this point, I'd have a hard time arguing.