Massive Needs Uncovered! Now What?

COVID-19 Reveals Society’s Weakness in Caring for the Most Vulnerable

She’s got plenty to cry about. Photo Diane Nilan

For decades, opponents of our Homeless Children and Youth Act maintained that families who lost housing due to crisis and doubled up with others or in motels on their own dime weren’t really homeless. Now all of a sudden, “thanks” to CoVid19, we see how vulnerable these and so many others are. Vulnerable, as in homeless, and becoming more homeless each day.

Photo Diane Nilan

Families living in motels previously, in the good ol’ days, scraped to get by. Many pay upwards of $300 a week to keep a roof over their families’ heads. They can’t scrape together enough to get their own place because it’s hard to pull that much together when you’re living hand to mouth.

Many of those families had been evicted, which leaves a big stain on their credit record, as does their inability to pay medical, utility and other bills. The cost of the room obliterates their financial wherewithal so that eating becomes a luxury simultaneous to the shattering of our food assistance delivery system. Now, despite eviction stoppages ordered by the courts, families in motels are finding out this doesn’t protect them. “A recent South Carolina Supreme Court order addressed evictions and foreclosures statewide. That order prohibits them from taking place until May 1, however it doesn’t provide protections for people staying in motels, hotels or extended-stay hotels.

Doubled Up, Just as Vulnerable

Those doubled up with family, friends, or acquaintances walk on eggshells, knowing that the slightest infraction, or even just their host having a bad day can get their family booted to the curb. Pity the families with kids who have behavior issues or other causes of disturbances (watch this 3-min. vid of a Marine Mom describing her family’s predicament) that irritate their host family. To say nothing about overcrowded households filled with people whose healthcare has gone neglected thanks to our bass-ackward “system” of medical care.

So many hitting the streets, so few options for them to turn to. That’s what homelessness looks like. That, and worse.

Some kids have computer access at shelters. Too many don’t. Photo Diane Nilan

Schools are laying out electronic learning expectations, some of which are a tad stringent and unrealistic. One intrepid mother I’ve known for a long time, one who has battled more homelessness, poverty and hard times than any of us could imagine, calls out the schools that have made online learning hell. For parents as well as kids.

Melissa schools us, speaking from experience:

So now children will be marked absent from school on a weekly basis if their parent/caregiver is unable to make contact with the child’s teacher. This virus and all it has caused, changed and/or taken from people is NOT the children’s or the families fault. Sure…dish out more stress, anxiety and expectations that put the struggling at even greater risk of falling to the effects of yet another unexpected and torrential storm. Remember: Some people were barely budgeted to appease ‘Peter and Paul.’ Phones and internet are being turned off and many homes don’t have computers, people are forced to live doubled and tripled up because of health, financial or safety reasons. This is NOT the time to add insult to injury or assume every household has the means to maintain contact with anyone. Instructional packets are appreciated. Much gratitude and respect go out to the Teachers, Support staff and administrators who are stepping up to provide educational, nutritional and moral support to all the children they serve with heart and passion daily but the WHOLE picture is so very different now for everyone. You don’t count absences when Hurricanes take out our lines of communication. Just STOP, think outside the boxes of Standard Operating Procedures and realize that not EVERY family has the resources or support to do much more than try to survive this. When the children come back they will be expected to change gears again. This should be addressed and cared for long-term as the truly unexpected and traumatic even it is! Most were NOT prepared for a Pandemic….on any level!

Our friends from First Focus point out what needs to be top on the minds of policymakers deciding about future steps to help families and youth.

For children, youth, and families also experiencing homelessness, there are additional safety concerns. The majority of children and youth experiencing homelessness in the United States are not in shelters but moving between different temporary situations that include living doubled-up with others or run-down motels. When schools close, children and youth are in these overcrowded and stressful environments all day without many resources. This not only makes quarantining nearly impossible, but these unstable situations also put children and youth at increased risk of predation, trafficking, and abuse. (First Focus on Children blog, 3/13/2020)

Yvonne Vissing and I (co-authors of Changing the Paradigm of Homelessness) made this point in an earlier Medium post on the importance of caring for the needs of our invisible homeless population.

This pandemic epitomizes the incalculable disparity between the haves and have-nots, which boils down to a dreadful reality if you are among the millions experiencing homelessness. Even without COVID-19 to amplify the risks of homelessness, formidable challenges impact impoverished, housing-insecure families, impairing their health and well-being. (Do They Count? @dianehearus)

We know, without a doubt, our nation’s shortfalls when it comes to kids, especially those in unstable housing situations. Are we going to step up and meet these long overdue needs?


We’ve uncovered our human infrastructure weaknesses in how we care for families and youth experiencing homelessness. Now it’s time to have bonafide experts sit down, with a credible representation of those who know the issues firsthand (like Melissa), and craft the approaches we’ve needed for over 30 years.

We need political backbone when it comes to changing HUD’s definition of homelessness to include those in motels or doubled up with others. Congressional reps Al Lawson and Denver Riggleman, both have known homelessness, according to this RollCall article.

“As a child, Lawson suffered through years of homelessness. Riggleman grew up on food stamps and spent time on Medicaid. Those are stories they both have hinted at but, until now, haven’t fully told.”

Here’s my recent post that offers a list of essential steps needed to be taken as soon as we get beyond the crisis we’re mired in now.

We’ve missed plenty of opportunities to get it right when it comes to protecting the well-being of millions of vulnerable Americans. The time for flimsy excuses and rampant stupidity is over.

Step forth, speak up, and make sure you show up to vote for candidates who haven’t lost their frickin’ minds.

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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