The Lives of Homeless Children

I saw a news program (sorry, I can’t remember which one and can’t find the link) that suggested homelessness is up by 60%.  They also indicated that the face of homelessness has changed as well.  Many of the newly homeless are intact families who had been working at jobs that paid the bills.  The homeless population is not comprised of the old male drunks we see in the Salvation Army ads.   The number of homeless children is growing and they need help.  The problem is not going away.  Over the summer, they have nowhere to go.

The following may help understand of the life of a homeless child.

Many years ago, I was working with a program that helped homeless children in grades k-5.  It was a tutoring program.  The school buses would bring the children after school to a designated school where we gave them snacks, provided activities and helped with homework or problems they had in school.  Circumstances changed for me and I wasn’t able to continue, but the circumstances for homeless children have not improved for them.  They have gotten worse.
We had about 100 children in the program.  We could have easily had 500, there were that many eligible for the program.  But the woman who ran the program would not take more than her volunteers could handle.  Further, and she refused public money for this reason, there were a number of children in the age group who were already dangerous to other students and the volunteers, and she could not include them.  It broke her heart but she could not allow her students and volunteers to be put at risk.
As I worked with the students, I got to talk to them.  I also learned a great deal from the woman who ran the program.  It was a major eye-opener for this formerly insulated woman.  I learned:

  • That the shelters close for the day at 7:00 am and do not reopen until 6:00 pm.  That meant that without the program, the children would be on the street from the time school let out (2:30 to 3:00) until the shelter reopened.  Even in extreme rain, snow and heat.  Surrounded by pedaphiles, gangs, criminals, prostitutes and drunks.   They had nothing to do but hang out.  No wonder so many joined gangs and/or became mules for drug dealers.  In the shelter, they didn’t even have a pillow that was their own.
  • That many of the children had to get their mothers (rarely fathers) up, dressed, fed and out the door almost every morning because their mothers were hung over or in a drug stupor or just plain exhausted.  Imagine, kindergartners having to feed and dress their mothers (and younger siblings if they were the oldest).
  • That many of the mothers had had many partners because they would find a man to protect her and her children from the rest of the community.  And when these men found someone else, the woman had to as well.  That these men often beat the mother, but she stayed wso the children would not be raped or attacked.  That is one reason why so many had half siblings from multiple fathers.  When I hear GOPers affirm that women have lots of children so they can collect welfare it makes me want to beat them.  Note also that many of these shelters are run by religious organizations who will not offer access to family planning counseling or contraceptics.
  • That almost all of the children I worked with had been raped, molested and attacked so often they thought it was just part of life.  A good day was a day without a beating.  They were numb to it.
  • That a mother (and her children) could stay 30 days in a shelter and then she had to find somewhere else.  Between shelters, they lived on the street.  Then the mother would find a shelter.  Her 30 day clock started ticking.  It took a couple days to register for the local school.  The child would start classes.  In 28 days, it was time to leave.  The children had learned not to bond with classmates or teachers because they knew they would not be able to stay.  There was no continuity to their education.  Most not only did not speak English fluently, they did not speak their native language fluently because they weren’t around people who did.  So they sat in class, but learning was nearly impossible.  Today I hear an even worse story – when they try to enroll in classes and the testing mandated by No Child Left Behind is happening, principals are in a dilemma – do they allow these children in and their test scores to ruin the school average and risk their school and staff being put on a watch list or worse?  Or do they deny a child a chance to be in school (which at least, even if they are not learning, is a safer place than the street)?

There is no way these children can get an education this way.  I talked to my state senator about it, but he said we can’t help everybody.  He also claimed that homeless children were children of illegals, of drug addicts and drunks.  Many were, but that was not the issue.  These were children.  What he left unsaid was that many are racial minorities – African American, Latino, Indian, Vietnamese, etc.  He was, of course, a Republican who wanted these mothers to snap out of it and be good mothers. (This is part of what made me stop being Republican.)

Since this experience, I have become, according to some, a bleeding heart liberal.  But there are also practical reasons for my concern.  Some of these parents were indeed bad parents – drugs, drinking, treating themselves and their children badly.  Some did not know much better, others had given up.  Today, with the unemployment rate skyrocketing and the high foreclosure rate, the many are families that have fallen through the cracks.  How do you find work and get back on your feet if you have to worry constantly about the safety of your children?  Our Republican corporate servants blame the parents for bad decisions or bad behavior (as if losing a job that causes one to lose a home is either a bad decision or bad behavior on the part of the one losing them).  But regardless of the parents’ problems, it wasn’t the children’s fault.  These children are truly being left behind by an indifferent society.

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