Most enlightened people can grasp the common concepts of why homeless families become and remain homeless so long. Realities like:
- An appalling shortage of decent affordable market-rate housing;
- An even worse dearth of subsidized housing, with wait-lists of 5 years and more;
- Stringent, some would say impossible, credit requirements filtering out people in poverty (those with tainted credit tend to be the most impoverished);
- Harsh penalties for those who’ve done time in prison—banning them from even stepping onto public housing projects, excluding them from consideration as tenants in the private market.
- Exorbitant application fees that don’t get refunded if an applicant is denied.
- Steep deposits, for housing and utilities, which often get kissed goodbye when the tenant moves out.
(Read Matt Desmond’s excellent expose on this topic, Evicted. Or my 1-page "Causes of Homelessness" from my book, Crossing the Line: Taking Steps to End Homelessness.)
That's tough enough, as exemplified by our nation’s record high number of families in homeless situations.
HUD’s (U.S. Dept. of Housing and Human Development) policies and their continuing refusal to acknowledge the horrifying level of homelessness among families and youth, will only get worse with an incoming clueless HUD Secretary.
While HUD is dancing around the Washington Monument waving banners proclaiming “Homelessness Is Ending!” the U.S. Department of Education grimly points to the doubling of homeless students identified since schools began seriously counting back in 2006. The number of students—not parents, older/younger siblings, nor those still unidentified—has doubled, from about 600,000 to more than 1.3 million in 2015.
That's bad enough, but another barrier exists that causes, perpetuates and prevents homelessness from ending. It doesn’t get discussed much publicly. But it needs to be addressed.
That one word encompasses physical, mental, sexual abuse that creates a sense of panic, dread, and immobility, to name a few manifestations. This affliction often sabotages a person’s return to self-sufficiency. It’s the invisible demon that lingers in the background, waiting for the opportune moment to shatter any chance of progress.
I’ve seen it time and time again. Depending on the damage the trauma has inflicted, some are rendered pathetically, frustratingly immobile when it surfaces.
We’ve heard “PTSD” referring to soldiers exposed to horrors of war. Post traumatic stress disorder. It’s not just a way of explaining away unacceptable behaviors of our troops. Or our citizens. Lady Gaga’s admission of her PTSD recently rocked her fandom.
It’s far past time to acknowledge that those exposed to violence—mental, physical and/or sexual—are vulnerable to PTSD. Their trauma is real. As I’m witnessing now.
The mother who, after 3 long years of enduring and surviving incomprehensible abuse and hardships, including homelessness that resulted in her family being split up for survival’s sake, has an opportunity to move out of her (and her daughter’s) hell-hole of indentured servitude and homelessness into a decent, affordable place of their own.
I suspect the demon is circling, pushing her vulnerable self-esteem against the wall, shouting the abusive chant that she’s unworthy, that she’ll fail, so why should she try.
She texted me to ask how soon she should tell her sinister employer/housing provider that she and her daughter are moving. Reading between the lines of this short text, she wants to, understandably, tell him to “f-ck off,” a satisfying response to a hated bully.
Her justifiable anger is ready to spew, amassed over years of abusive, demeaning, brutal experiences that have threatened her wellbeing, and worse, that of her children, just as she’s about to break out of this prison.
Not now, I uncharacteristically advised. He can kick you to the curb, or make your lives even more miserable while we’re waiting for the languid housing authority to hand her the keys.
She thanked me for my counsel and said this will be, next to the birth of her kids, the best Christmas ever (we agreed to postpone the celebration of Christmas by a month, figuring they’ll be in their new home).
This can be my best Christmas, with my fingers crossed that she can hang in and make this happen. Selfishly, I could use a reason to cheer 2017’s inauspicious arrival. Demon, be gone!