Diapers and Socks and Laws, Oh My!

Counting on COMPASSION to make life better for kids experiencing homelessness.

Journalist Suzanne Baker managed to take the nebulous topic — my life’s mission — with plenty of complicated side stories and make sense of it in her June 28th story in the Naperville Sun, “Activist for homeless to launch latest journey with Naperville diaper, sock collection.” I appreciate the attention, which competes with media coverage of much more significant concerns.

For people in the Naperville, IL area, family and youth homelessness might be an issue that has escaped you. Be assured, it is real, as it is in communities of all types across our nation. While invisible, this occurrence causes life-changing impact. And, to put it crassly, the cost of this falls upon all of us.

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Charlie. Photo by Pat Van Doren

Twenty-six years ago, Tyeast Boatwright and her 3 children were involuntarily moving from their doubled-up homelessness in Naperville, caused by domestic upheaval, into the next level of homelessness, living at the Transitional Living Center at Hesed House in Aurora where I was running the PADS shelter. Her family’s circumstances provided an invaluable lesson. School personnel and policies needed to adapt to the growing phenomenon of homelessness.

That lesson brought about the Fox Valley inspired state law, the Illinois Education for Homeless Children Act, aka “Charlie’s Law,” after Charlie, the poster child of our hallmark campaign. This law, signed 25 years ago, resulted in Illinois being the first state to guarantee speedy and stable access to education for students without a place to call home.

This statute became federal law in 2002, thanks to (ret.) Illinois Congresswoman Judy Biggert’s leadership. The McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act removes barriers commonly experienced by families and youth as they attempt to access public schools, either in their same communities or where they currently temporarily stay. (Visit this website for more details.)

Since then, I’ve been intricately involved in making sure kids could get into school despite their homelessness. My national nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., is devoted to that cause, and I’ve been on the road since 2005 gathering and sharing stories from these kids and families.

Now my colleagues and I are involved in a quixotic endeavor — to change the way the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, defines homelessness. We want them to expand the definition to include millions of families, youth and individuals currently excluded because they are not homeless enough. It’s a convoluted topic, clarified on this website.

The bipartisan legislation, the Homeless Children and Youth Act, would reshape this flawed approach to homelessness that has failed more than it has helped.

Fox Valley area congressmen, Sean Casten and Bill Foster, sit on the U.S. House Finance Committee where this bill is being considered. Their leadership could move this legislation forward, bringing about the long overdue retooling of our nation’s failed approach to homelessness.

Obscure? Yes. Essential? Yes.

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Me, astride my vehicle/home/office. Photo courtesy WOSU.

For this reason and many more, I will be shoving off after our July 20 kickoff event along Naperville’s Riverwalk. Truthfully, it’s more of an arduous journey than I’d choose to take. But the challenge to highlight family and youth homelessness during these politically volatile times calls to me. And with your support I’ll make the most of it. The Naperville Sun’s coverage of this endeavor gives me wind for my sails.

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I invite you to join us on July 12 at the DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church for their Just Views film screening where I’ll show 2 of my short documentaries on family/youth homelessness. We’ll discuss this topic, and the proposed legislation.

But the socks and diapers. Don’t underestimate the need. Stop by on the 20th. We have a life-changing gift for you.

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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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