Dangers of Family Homelessness, Everywhere!

But the plight of millions of parents and kids can be fixed, according to an expert.

Rutland, VT Amtrak station. Photo Diane Nilan

It says something about a parent when a 5-year old child can sit quietly as mom speaks with another adult for over an hour. “Dana” and her daughter “Allie” blew me away this week as I visited with them in Rutland, VT at the Rutland County Parent-Child Center, a slight detour from my HEAR US 2020 VisionQuest trip.

When Dana agreed to sit down with me (no camera or recording device), she approached this opportunity with a researcher’s diligence. She interviewed dozens of parents without homes. Her 17 pages of notes she dutifully condensed to 2 pages.

Dana and her children are homeless, and have been off and on for years. She’s got 4 little ones with her, 9 and younger, including 2 in diapers. As a single mom with limited finances and unlimited challenges, she manages admirably, as Allie demonstrated. Rare to see a little one sit quietly, focused on creating me some beautiful artwork, for that long without interrupting.

l asked her about challenges and conditions for homeless parents and their kids. I’ll quote from her notes (with minor edits for clarity/space) that she said I could share:

“…even though hotel owners try their best it’s near impossible to regulate who stays at the hotels. So in order to keep our children safe [by getting a hotel room] we in turn may be exposing them to more severe danger.”

No-tell-motels offer plenty of challenges for family’s safety. Photo Diane Nilan

She and the RCPCC staff described how hotels/motels were de facto homeless shelters. Families, sex offenders, former felons, addicts, and sex traffickers all stay in these facilities. Room rates, expensive in the off-season, skyrocket in tourist seasons (ski season and summer), forcing the families to head for cheaper accommodations, often camping, or crowding in with someone who may have an apartment/house, or camping.

“Typically children are more impacted negatively by homelessness due to school attendance or lack thereof because of unstable living environment.”

Dana gets it. Homelessness is hard on kids. Plenty of scholarly reports validate this. The APA lists a number of ways kids without a place to call home suffer, including:

“Homelessness has particularly adverse effects on children and youth including hunger, poor physical and mental health, and missed educational opportunities.”

I asked if she had been homeless as a kid. Yes. And beyond. She’s now in her early 30s.

She described the circumstances. Her father, working at Disney World, had a disabling heart attack, lost his job, sending his wife into a mental breakdown resulting in divorce. The kids and mom bounced around, always unstable and destitute.

A new report by Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago determined that early experiences of homelessness was a significant factor in the youth.

“Nearly one-quarter of participants (24%) experienced family homelessness with their parents. Youth attributed their own unaccompanied homelessness to these earlier experiences of instability.”

One Solution to Family Homelessness Awaits

The thing about Dana and her family, and millions more, is often they are not considered “homeless” if they’re staying in the motels on their own dime. Dana told of scraping enough (about $300) for a week in a motel, then bouncing around to a variety of insecure alternatives, then getting enough for a motel…and so on.

This strategy makes them unqualified for HUD housing assistance, albeit in short supply, that would get them off the streets and on their feet. HUD discounts their living conditions as not “literally” homeless.

We have a common-sense, bipartisan bill, the Homeless Children and Youth Act (HR 2001), that will fix this glitch.

But we need to get it pushed forward. That’s where you can help!

Go to www.helphomelesskidsnow.org and TAKE ACTION.

It takes just seconds. Your action can rattle the cage of your legislators who may not know how bad it is on the streets of cities and towns across America for families like Dana’s.

HEAR US E-store

Get a copy of “The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids.” This little book is filled with practical things you can do in your own community, like donate diapers and kids’ socks and undies, to alleviate the suffering. (Disclosure, proceeds benefit my nonprofit, HEAR US.)

Senator Elizabeth Warren’s @TeamWarren recently posted: “Enacting the plan (housing) will be a top priority of my administration — because every American deserves a safe, decent, and affordable place to live.”

My fantasy is to have a forum with Dana (and Allie and her siblings sitting by her side) and 2020 presidential candidates. Her grasp of the reality that millions of families endure could get Dana a job running HUD. That would end homelessness in a heartbeat!

Founder/pres. HEAR US Inc., gives voice & visibility to homeless families & youth, ran shelters, advocate, filmmaker, author, 15 yrs. on US backroads.

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