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....

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Simple Walk Not So Simple

This sign didn't stand near the obviously dangerous
oil pump area. No, it was perched on an empty field in the park, inexplicable even to me.

My layover day—besides getting things done, a chance for "me" time. My time in Kansas filming the Worn Out Welcome Mat --KS project has taught me a valuable lesson: don't wait for outdoor activities, when the weather is right, do it! So I went for a walk around my surprise find—a $10 campground with water and electricity, peace and quiet.

Western KS is not for wimps. Two consecutive nights of tornado warnings made that clear. This mostly flat land has its own charm, unlike the picturesque Flint Hills and rocky bluffs of the eastern part of the state. Today the winds qualified as a gentle breeze, as opposed to the land-clearing blasts more common out here.

I'm staying in Beymer Water Recreation Park, directly south of Lakin, KS. The price is right and I get a wifi signal on my hotspot, enabling me to get work done.

My fresh air and exercise walk was intended to free my brain from cobwebs. Instead I'm stewing. This park, established in 1979, could be an ideal, affordable getaway for area residents in addition to a simple place to hook-up to water and electric for nomads like myself. Instead, it's an environmental nightmare.

Remnants of 4 ponds demonstrate not only the devastation of the drought, but also the ruthless power of aquifer-sucking irrigation systems watering cattle feeding crops.

Oil pumps, boasting of toxic properties, loom like scary monsters among the green alfalfa and hay fields behind the park, unfettered by fences or even "keep out" signs.

True, these are ubiquitous sites, not just in Kansas, but many states. What bothered me most, perhaps, was the destruction of this little park. Obvious from the placement of picnic tables and playground equipment, this was once a vibrant recreation spot.

Not so much now. At. All.

Based on the signage, and mind-numbing bureaucratic legalese regulations, this was once a popular fishing spot, too. The chemicals smell and the crusted fishing hole bottom confirmed the abject neglect of not only the park's well being but that of the surrounding area.

As I entered the last leg of my doom and gloom walk, I paused to get "beach" pictures, if you will humor this beach-loving gal.

The irony of the "No Dogs on Beach" sign hurt as I stared at the dried-up pond, now a puddle, likely chemical-laden with no wading, no swimming warnings. No kidding.
A car pulled up near me. Kids piled out of the car and ran over to the railing on the handicapped accesible concrete pad overlooking the lake. They seemed excited, not morose like me. The adult stood nearby.

How do adults explain this all-too-common reality to kids? "Well, when I was a kid we used to come out here all the time. We swam, fished, and played for hours."

"But now, we've killed this park with our lack of personal and governmental responsibility. Sorry kids. Let's go home so you can play on your computers."

You might wonder what a post of this nature has to do with my HEAR US Inc. mission. A lot, really. Our collective apathy and our nation's systemic failures have contributed mightily to the economic and environmental demise of our country. I feel a sense of desperation to call attention to what I see--whether it is the desperate conditions facing millions of kids and families or the demise of our environment as I travel the backroads of America.
Wait, you say. Is not your use of fossil fuels contributing to this demise? True, but with my deliberate, purposeful, frugal use of the resources available to me, I try my hardest to balance the use with the mission--to leave the world a little better than I found it, for all kids. Thanks for asking, and for reading. Now, let's do something to make the world better.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sex—Not the Reason Most Homeless Moms Double Up With Men

Going from bad to worse. Frying pan to the fire. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. None of those adages express the level of dire anguish Melissa and her daughter face. 

A 3-year string of horrible events culminated in this pert mother and her adorable 7-year-old daughter landing in the Kansas version of prison: a town of less than 400, with nary a grocery store, much less any sign of life, no transportation and no support network.

Melissa, who's worked in the home healthcare field for a number of years, tossed out a desperate Craig’s List plea a few weeks ago to escape from the apartment she platonically shared with “Max,” who had “compassionately" offered to share the 2-bedroom apartment he was about to rent with Melissa who had just escaped another untenable living situation.

“Sex,” she told me in the interview she agreed to do for my HEAR US doubled up project, Worn Out Welcome Mat--KS. “What is it with men who think of nothing else, even after I clearly spelled out that I was not interested in it…at all?” 

A divorce tossed her over the edge 3 years ago. The job she had fell apart. When she faced eviction she remorsefully turned to the father of her older daughter to take her, knowing he could provide a decent living situation for the few months Melissa anticipated it would take to get back on her feet.

She attentively and creatively strove to patch her life together, protectively tending to her youngest daughter’s needs. The school McKinney-Vento homeless liaison accommodated their high mobility. They bounced from being doubled up in friend’s apartments to motels to the highly-restrictive, religious shelter back to friends. 

Melissa’s housing choices in this military town were nil, subsidized housing not available, so she generated options intended to give them a place until she could save money to get their own place. Jobs paying a living wage, even for this hard-working woman who put herself through college? Forget it. So she turned to the underground employment and housing network to compensate for the basic needs’ drought in Kansas (and other states). 

Even this didn’t work. Seemingly “safe” arrangements turned hellish. Moving from one bad situation led to even worse. A constant state of panic and heightened parent-protective alertness were matched by the absolute lack of alternatives in the Sunflower State.

Social services and the hypothetical safety net have been all but eliminated by the tax-slashing Governor Sam Brownback and his Republican conspirators. So few shelters exist in Kansas—and they have months’ long waiting lists—that families like Melissa’s desperately do what they have to do.

When the last straw came in the form of sexual and physical confrontation that needed police intervention (again), Melissa turned to a town I’ll call “Hell.” The man who agreed to take in these two vulnerable nomads assured her this was to help him with home health care, not sex. 

Three days later, Melissa told me he made explicitly clear that he had needs and expectations. 

I suggested she contact the nearest shelter (and even offered to give them a ride). I explained the “trick” of qualifying for admission—to make sure the intake counselor knew she and her daughter are in danger (they are), that their circumstances are dire and housing is dependent on her providing for her “host’s” sexual needs. HUD has a high bar when it comes to determining eligibility for their vaunted homeless shelter beds. 

Melissa and her daughter might not be “homeless enough” to qualify for help. If that’s the case, she is absolutely out of options. 

The public library in this hellish town is only open a couple hours a day, three days a week, with one computer. That is, if she will be able to leave the house of this invalid-predator. So searching on Craig’s List won’t even be an option.