Fighting Skewed Priorities and Our Invisible Enigma

Seed packets, sharks distract from “the Big One” — family homelessness

The pre-covid tired sign reflects KY’s apathy for children. Photo Diane Nilan

I’ve been stewing about what to write for my much-ignored Medium blog. Not that I’ve lacked topics about families experiencing homelessness. It’s just hard to compete with (alleged) Chinese seed packets showing up like lottery invitations in the mail and the invasion of hungry sharks in Maine’s chilly waters.

If you follow my Facebook posts, you’ll see I’ve been hammering and yammering about the vast number of households with homelessness knocking at their front door thanks to the eviction epidemic. In all my decades of working on this issue, never have I seen massive homelessness looming as I do now. I wish I was wrong.

The Paducah Sun gets it right with their slew of metaphors: perfect storm, tsunami, tidal wave, natural disaster, ice storm. Senator Mitch McConnell’s state doesn’t need another economic hit, but that doesn’t seem to inspire him to push through the pandemic relief plan.

The article points out what it will take to protect the Bluegrass State from an economic drought. “Data provided by the National Low Income Housing Coalition suggests that Kentucky alone would need $965 million to keep people housed and make landlords whole through May 2021.” Kentucky, and pretty much every state, lacks the wherewithal to handle the homelessness they have now, much less the avalanche coming their way if they don’t get a cascade of federal funds.

Timing on this Category-5 hurricane of evictions and foreclosures also contributes to the perfect storm of back-to-school blues. This year, covid-19 has shredded routines usually well underway by now. Back to school fairs normally distribute mountains of school supplies to millions of kids needing help. I guess they’re doing something along those lines, but what kids really need is a way to attend classes virtually.

The good news from the school arena: Fewer lunch-shaming incidents. Fewer kids turned away because they lack a home.

The really bad news is tens of thousands (likely more) of students are “lost” since the shutdown in March. That means the gallant attempts to provide learning opportunities via the Internet have been lost in cyberspace. Countless kids lack access to reliable internet signals and the equipment needed to connect.

Prosperity has a place in South Carolina, for the wealthy. Photo Diane Nilan

South Carolina recently figured out thousands of kids were missing — as in not getting access to any education.

“At a state House COVID-19 Public Education Committee meeting Wednesday, state education superintendent Molly Spearman talked about how districts are trying to locate the roughly 4,216 students not contacted since mid-March, especially those who are homeless.” (WBTW, 7/22/220)

Something to cry about. Photo Diane Nilan

Trauma doesn’t mean “just another bad day.”

Kids are traumatized in countless ways, and covid-19 piles on the hurt. Adults I knew as kids in homeless families, now are adults, bear debilitating scars of their traumatic childhoods. We bear the cost of their scars. Children of all ages feel the pain of trauma. California Department of Education recently issued this excellent guide (free) containing plenty of suggestions and resources for those running early childhood programs, Responsive Early Education for Young Children and Families Experiencing Homelessness.

The Atlantic recently ran a story about childhood trauma and the impact on classrooms which covered both the challenges from the teacher’s viewpoint and how kids are affected. They said,

“Negative childhood experiences can have a lasting impact on a child’s ability to learn. Those experiences might be relatively common events, like divorce or the death of a loved one. Other traumas are more extreme, like physical abuse, sexual abuse, a parent struggling with addiction, or separation from family due to immigration status. A person’s level of trauma can be measured using a tool known as the ACE (Adverse Childhood Experience) score. Though it may be an imperfect measurement of childhood trauma, it helps quantify the level of abuse, neglect, or dysfunction a person has experienced in early life.”

Take Action!

What can schools do to ease the trauma of this disconnect for kids —

those with parents and without — so that the 2020–21 school year isn’t a total washout? My friends at SchoolHouse Connection offer a helpful array of actions schools, communities, and families can take to ease the impact of this brutal pandemic. They’ve got scads of info on this topic — take a look and share their link.

My home state of Illinois recently issued guidelines on supporting homeless students during the 2020–21 school year. They offer a significant list of trauma-informed practices and resources. And, despite the copious challenges, their bottom line:

The COVID-19 pandemic has erected barriers to learning for all students, but has uniquely impacted students experiencing homelessness. As modifications are made to the educational program, especially as to delivery of instruction, districts must consider what special accommodations may be needed to ensure that homeless students have equitable access to all learning opportunities.”

The Charlie Book — available through

While Zoom-presenting in Dallas the other night, someone asked what people could do locally to help families cope with homelessness. I’d like to say vote out all those who’ve stood by to let this crisis get to this point.

Instead, I shamelessly promoted our little guide, The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids. Quite simply, it’s a way for good-hearted people, scout troops, and community service clubs to pick an action to do locally. Getting one’s feet wet (to continue the storm metaphors) is probably the best way to convince people to jump in, the water is fine, and reports of sharks are highly overstated.

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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