Seeking Cure for Rampant Invisibility

Families and youth experiencing homelessness have it hard enough, now rendered further invisible by media “priorities.”

Every morning, my Facebook friends are “treated” to a round of posts from me — aka Diane Downer — about family/youth homelessness. I’ve done it for years. It’s one way I have of keeping this issue in front of the public, media and elected officials, at least those on my page.

But since the arrival of the crazy-beyond-belief show in the White House, media coverage on homelessness and other social issues has all but evaporated. Not that the issue has vaporized, in fact it’s getting worse. But hardly anyone knows. Which will make it worse.

Acclaimed author Professor Matthew Desmond (Evicted) recently had his article posted in the New York Times. Those of us who read these kind of stories rejoice when a respected expert gets attention.

So that the kids wouldn’t run away out of anger or shame, Vanessa learned to park off Route 1, in crevices of the city that were so still and abandoned that no one dared crack a door until daybreak. Come morning, Vanessa would drive to her mother’s home so the kids could get ready for school and she could get ready for work.(NYT, 9/11/18)

Vanessa’s story, sensitively told by Desmond, mirrors the story I focused on about another New Jersey mom and her kids that I met last September. Tamu shared what it’s like to exist with her family in NJ motels. She works fulltime, barely earning enough to keep her kids sheltered and fed. (Video, 5-min)

Homelessness has long suffered as the invisible condition that few know little about.

My shelter running days are past me, but then I had to convince well-meaning people that families were a significant part of “the homeless” in every community — suburban, rural and urban.

My work with educators on this issue continues to find me dismazed — their lack of awareness of abundant homelessness in their communities, and their cluelessness of the federal law to make sure kids without homes have access to educational stability and services, i.e. the McKinney-Vento Education for Homeless Children and Youth Act, leads me to believe we still have work cut out for us. (Many educators do stellar work on this issue, THANK YOU!)

To help, I’ve created dozens of short documentaries that focus on family/youth homelessness (found here, and viewed/shared free). The videos are perfect professional development/community awareness tools for educators and others to learn more about what kids and parents think about being homeless.

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The board of my national nonprofit, HEAR US Inc., has been busy pushing this issue in the tony area of Naperville, IL, repeatedly acclaimed as one of the most family-friendly cities in America. The Naperville City Council is gearing up to proclaim November as “Homeless Kids’ Awareness Month.”

We’ve got a slew of activities and outreach opportunities planned to:

  • inform Naperville that hundreds of students experiencing homelessness attend local schools, and
  • inspire the community to do something to help the students/families in this situation.

Despite our best efforts, this will not happen in a vacuum. Media coverage will give us the needed mojo.

I used to be able to count on media pals to toss us a little coverage. I’ve got piles of articles that actually propelled passage of some pretty amazing legislative measures that, among other things, opened school doors for homeless students. Or, like the HuffPo story on the left, had a part in inspiring the Oscar-winning movie The Florida Project.

But now, despite 24/7 media and instant message dispersal via Facebook, Twitter, et al, we sputter trying to get people aware of and involved in this ubiquitous issue.

I don’t know what else to say. I’m frustrated.

We have a very cool, effective, inexpensive tool to mobilize people in their own communities to do SOMETHING to alleviate the struggles of families and youth experiencing homelessness.

The Charlie Book: 60 Ways to Help Homeless Kids

And we even have a BOGO sale offer going on this nifty little book (through September).

The book is filled with a variety of projects. We want people to just do one.

Focus on one task, either by yourself or with others, to make someone’s life better, or at least less miserable.

You can do that, right?

You WILL do that, right?

If Naperville can get a buzz on about helping homeless kids, and if that buzz inspires other communities to do likewise, at least some of the 6+ million kids in homeless situations nationwide will be better off.

The other thing you and your pals can do is VOTE!

But make sure those you vote for are people who shiv-a-git about the majority of people in this country — those not financially over-endowed — those who work for a living — like Vanessa, Tamu and countless invisible parents trying to escape homelessness.

So, how about it? Any media pals, old or new, want to take a shot at starting a compassion epidemic?

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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