She, her husband and other child, Brittany and her boyfriend and her 2 children, and Tyler and his partner, a motley community that shared this rundown but affordable house in Kansas City, Kansas, celebrated “Danny’s” birthday Saturday.
On Sunday, they were picking through the ashes of their rental house. Everything was destroyed in an electrical fire caused by, they surmise, shoddy repairs done by a dubious “handyman” hired by their landlord.
The Red Cross gave them 2 rooms in a motel for 3 nights and a promise of first month’s rent and security deposit if they found housing within the week.
Crystal’s family hugged their yellow lab as they left him with a friend, then they made their possession-less way to the motel.
They went from housed and self-sufficient to homeless and desperate in a flash. It wasn’t their fault. One might be tempted to blame the landlord for neglect. According to Crystal, he didn’t have insurance, so he told them not to expect anything from him—like their security deposit or unused rent. Without that money they had nothing.
One of their stops Tuesday morning was the KC School Board building, where I happened to be on my HEAR US Inc. quest to film stories of families experiencing homelessness, doubling (or tripling or worse) up with others, families not considered “homeless enough” by HUD. (READ this EXCELLENT article on doubled up from the Educational Leadership Journal.)
They enthusiastically said I could share their story to let others know how easy it is to slide from independence to scraping through the rubble of our shattered safety net.
Fortunately for the two moms, their school board stop netted them more help than they could have imagined. Thanks to the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Act, federal legislation removing barriers to school stability, their kids would be transported to/from the motel to their same schools.
Staff gave the moms uniforms, backpacks, school supplies, toiletries, food and a few books. The families were connected with resources to stay in the motel for another week, only possible because they could stagger back on their feet with a little more time.
But I must clarify a few crucial points:
- These families, though tripled up due to economic hardship prior to the fire, and figuring to be doubled up (or more) again after leaving the motel next week, will not be eligible for HUD assistance because they’re not homeless by HUD’s definition.
- Besides the fact that they wouldn't have been able to find room in area shelters because every shelter across the land is at capacity thanks to this beastly winter weather, they would not be able to stay together because few shelters take intact families.
- And with Crystal’s work schedule, overnights, she would have to choose between work and staying with her family at the shelter, a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you don’t choice.
- Public (subsidized) housing in KC, and mostly everywhere else, has 3-years or more waiting lists.
- The only way they can afford the $700 mo. rent and utilities is with 3-4 adults working, the others chip in by providing childcare. Even then it’s dicey.
If they’re “lucky,” they’ll find another landlord—likely to be a slumlord because they don’t have sufficient income and lack good credit records—who will rent to them, dog and all. If not, they’ll tumble deeper into the hole of homelessness, finding that it’s hard to be self-sufficient when you have nowhere to go. And their lovable labrador will also be homeless.
The campaign to get HUD’s definition in line with the more realistic US Department of Education’s definition—which includes those doubled up and in motels— continues. It takes but a moment, and your zip code, to nudge your federal lawmakers to cosponsor the Homeless Children and Youth Act. www.helphomelesskidsnow.org TAKE ACTION!