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, December 24, 2016

Beyond the Obvious, Reasons to Fear for Homeless Families

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!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Homeless Family's Christmas Tale: From Ogre to Oh My God!

Melissa kept sobbing “Oh my God!” Probably 50 times. 

Then she said the phrase that caused me to cringe. “We don’t have to worry about The Man anymore.”

Spoken by the absolutely desperate mother of a young girl. They, by virtue of desperate poverty and homelessness, were doubled up in a hardscrabble Kansas town. This Mom and her 9-year-old daughter share a small, dark room in return for the mother’s providing in-home health services to the disabled wheelchair-bound, obese and allegedly perverted homeowner, a man whose 2 teens who also live in this menagerie.

I’ve known this mother for over 2 years. I’ve known others who’ve known her longer. So I know her story rings true. She’s allowed me to share it (4-min. video) hoping it would enlighten or embolden other women (and maybe men) in similar situations.   

As with far too many women, she found herself and her 2 daughters bouncing from couch to motel to basement floor and around again after her marriage broke up—shattering both her jaw and self-esteem. She worked the jobs mothers can work when juggling child care, school obligations, and pernicious poverty. Instability was their constant companion. So was violence, sexual abuse, and hopelessness.
The one insurmountable barrier to returning to any kind of normal living was a $2500 debt to the local housing authority. It’s a long story, but trust me when I say this mom found herself doing something most of us would have done, and she was “sentenced”  to 5 years of hard time (homelessness), barred from the only affordable housing in Kansas—subsidized by the federal government via HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development). 
I kept in contact with her for reasons I cannot explain. Maybe because she was the one mother I interviewed who had no one. I encouraged her when my normally optimistic self was cringing at the hopelessness of her situation. I suggested that she apply for a housing voucher before the new HUD administration takes over. She did, and was told that she’d be eligible (strict guidelines) as long as she was able to pay her arrearage. I personally tried to get them to waive all/part, to no avail.

Through a lot of luck, I was able to find donors to clear her debt. She meets with the housing authority person next week. They evidently have a unit ready for her and her family. 

Families (and individuals) who live in these horrible conditions for so long need time to adjust to having their own place. The trauma they’ve experienced for so long follows them like a vicious tornado cloud ready to tear their fragile lives to shreds. And too often, the earlier experience of homelessness often leads to homelessness as an adult. All is not “happily ever after” yet, and maybe ever.

Imagine yourself as a parent in this situation, what would it mean to have your own place? And try to imagine Melissa’s relief when she realizes, “We don’t have to worry about The Man anymore.”

Be assured—she’s not the only parent in this situation.