End Exclusion — Kids Count!

Who counts in America? Obviously not families and youth experiencing homelessness. But we can change that — something YOU can do! (No $$ required)

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Kids enjoy learning. Millions have learned the hard lesson about homelessness. Photo by Diane Nilan

Melissa, her family and about a dozen trailer park neighbors are being ousted from their humble abodes, not for what they did but evidently for what Ms. Carla, the owner/operator of this park didn’t do — make sure the sewer system worked. And these homeless households will likely get little help to end their homelessness.

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This has been home for Melissa’s family since 2005. Photo by Diane Nilan

On the heels of Hurricane Ivan (2004), FEMA moved in a dozen or so households who had lost their housing when this nasty storm blasted through.Two people — including Melissa — bought these flimsy trailers from FEMA, recognizing that the $185 or so lot rental was much cheaper than what they’d find in town, Milton, FL, a nondescript community outside Pensacola.

As of Friday the 13th, the water was shut off to the park, forcing residents to haul H2O or to abandon ship. This is the first step in what will likely be a total shutdown, pushing both adults and families with kids to the streets. The families appear to be without recourse, and the 2 who paid big money to buy their trailers from FEMA are out of luck. Big time. (One would wonder if FEMA knew of the failed septic system before moving families in…?)

I can’t say it often enough — this is one of the many ways homelessness happens — often unnoticed.

Those living out in this bedraggled trailer park are only there because it’s affordable, and maybe because Ms. Carla, before she was hospitalized, overlooked foibles that make renters unpalatable to most property owners. Limited income, past evictions, criminal records, pets, large families — all are reasons to reject potential renters.

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Families are “lucky” if they are able to stay in a shelter. Photo by Diane Nilan

Homelessness 101

It’s extremely unlikely that those displaced will find housing options. They will join the ranks of millions of kids and adults who are homeless. Most of the families/youth are not in shelters.

(NOTE: Families with school-aged kids should let the schools know of their housing loss because their kids are entitled to special help due to their housing-less status.)

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Some will move in with family, friends, or acquaintences.

  • We call that doubled up. It’s homelessness, but the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, HUD, doesn’t think so because, well, it’s not so bad.

If you’re up for a 20-minute documentary on doubled up, here’s one I made a few years ago in Texas. You can’t watch that and tell me that those doubled up are securely housed.

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Motels, with pricey “efficiency-type” accommodations, are “home” to countless homeless families. Photo by Diane Nilan

No-tell-motels are the other typical options. Households move into expensive weekly efficiency-type places and think they’ll get out quickly, but they often get trapped, many times working as indentured servants for the motels, or they soon are evicted because they can’t afford the rate.

  • Motels are 21st Century homeless shelters. If you’ve lost housing due to hardship and land in a motel, you’re likely homeless. But HUD doesn’t think so unless an agency is paying for it, something cash-strapped agencies are loathe to do.
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Tamu and her 4 children have been stuck in a motel for years. Photo by Diane Nilan

Take 5-minutes to visit with Tamu and her family in their motel room. You’ll understand how vulnerable homeless families are.

Typically families bounce around from family/friend/acquaintance to motels. They exist not knowing where they’ll be staying.

I’ve been part of a concerted effort to change the way HUD defines homelessness for over a dozen years. And we want you to help!

HUD’s definition of homelessness EXCLUDES families/individuals who’ve lost housing due to hardship and stay in motels or double up. Yeah, I know, this sounds arcane. But it means that those deemed “not literally homeless” by HUD don’t get help (what little is available). And you have to PROVE you’re homeless.

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HUD Homeless Creation — exclude most families. Photo by Diane Nilan

HUD’s extremely exclusive definition of homelessness keeps the numbers of homeless people reported to Congress low so Congress doesn’t care about adding resources to make sure people have a place to live.

The US Department of Education has a much more enlightened definition (truth be told, I helped write it). It includes those homeless because of loss of housing, now staying in motels, doubled up, and in a variety of other situations.

HOPE is on the Horizon!

Amazingly, given the overall dysfunction in our nation’s capitol, our bill to change HUD’s definition is slinking through the hallowed halls. It will align HUD’s definition with the education definition.

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Help for families/youth experiencing homelessness lies with this body — Congress. Photo by Diane Nilan


Go to our website, www.helphomelesskidsnow.org, and do the simple TAKE ACTION thing to rattle your Congressperson’s cage.

Really. It’s that simple (a personal call or visit also works wonders). Congress rarely hears from constituents about homelessness.

The least we can do is to make sure kids without homes get an education. Maybe they’ll become elected officials some day. At least they’ll be enlightened.

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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