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Double-Dog-Dare to 2016 Prez Candidates: Travel With Me to See Homelessness (Pt 1)

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Even though we have a long 46 months till our aspiring candidates duke it out for the highest office of the land, I’ve been practicing what I’d like to see happen before November 2016—to have a presidential (or vice presidential) candidate ride shotgun with me in Tillie, my motorhome-office to be exposed to homelessness and poverty in non-urban areas of the country.

For the last 5 weeks, the Green Party’s 2004 Vice Presidential nominee, Pat LaMarche, has accompanied me on our EPIC Journey to call attention to invisible homelessness. Pat and I, “the Babes of Wrath,” traveled over 6,000 miles throughout the southwest in a coast-to-coast venture, with a grand finale last week in Charleston, SC.

Now, Pat, author of Left Out in America: The State of Homelessness in the U.S., knows much more about poverty and homelessness many political figures. But Babes of Wrath have learned lots on this sojourn.  What we’ve seen and heard needs to be injected into the brains and hearts of aspiring candidates, for sure!

How did I get an esteemed political figure to take a 5-week homelessness journey? For that, I will always thank Sarah Palin. Yup—THAT Sarah Palin. A few years back, Pat wrote a column about the GOP VP candidate that, well, tickled my funny bone. We connected. Kindred spirits.  Pat wrote a flattering column about me. The rest—our EPIC Journeys and other escapades, we hope, will be history.

A little background:over the past 8 years, I’ve been traveling mostly backroads of this country, chronicling family and youth homelessness. I sold my home and stuff in 2005 to pursue my dream—create a video giving voice and visibility to homeless kids, My Own Four Walls, under the auspices of my nonprofit organization, HEAR US Inc. This came about following 15 years running shelters in Joliet and Aurora, IL, and providing technical assistance to 305 school districts outside Chicago on the McKinney-Vento Homeless Education law which I helped shape and get passed.

My first trip exceeded my wildest expectations, and I’ve been on the road, living in Tillie since then. I usually travel solo, but Pat and I have now successfully completed 2 trips together. It was along our latest cross-country trek that I hatched my double-dog dare yascheme to taunt potential candidates. Pat’s experience, depicted herein, is a good example of what they’d be signing up for--a homelessness/poverty tour. How exciting!

January 21, 2013, Little Rock, AR. Pat clambered into Tillie with her small suitcase and netbook. She’s traveled with me before, EPIC Journey 2010’s Southern (Dis)Comfort tour. (Note to 2016 campaign event planners: No room for campaign-style wardrobes.)

Our first stop was a stimulating visit to Fort Smith, AR, where we learned of their collaboration to assist homeless individuals and families. We had the honor of visiting a Marine veteran “guarding” a bleak encampment of men and women on the banks of the Arkansas River, and we shared the HEAR US poignant documentary, My Own Four Walls, with genuinely compassionate folks.

We followed, for the most part, Route 66, the Joads’ route, from John Steinbeck’s brilliantly penned Grapes of Wrath. (Note to 2016 candidates: Read it.)

We crossed deserted stretches of desolate Oklahoma backroads, spoke to a lone live body staffing a ghost town post office, gazed at Great Depression-like drought-dried fields, mused about which rivers the Okies would have camped next to, and captured scores of photos to remind us of this formerly prosperous oil belt and agricultural disaster zone which sent thousands of sharecroppers in search of the California promised land.

We lumbered westward, across the arid TX panhandle that offers an olfactory, um, experience as we passed seemingly endless holding pens of cattle awaiting their trip to McDonalds, et al. The natural but rugged beauty of northern New Mexico and Arizona would have been daunting for the Okies and other migrants in their jalopies. 

Pat and I went to jail,a youth facility in Flagstaff, where kids spoke bluntly of what landed them there. Staff defied stereotypes of cruel jailers. Again, we shared MOFW and addressed community members, finding tons of compassion. (Note to candidates: compassion is alive and well. Deal with it.)

Our Los Angeles stop was eye-opening: Skid Row is the poster child of failed local efforts to provide humane options for homeless adults as well as kids. Listening to the terror in a mother’s voice as she described her fear of Skid Row—for her and her kids—was heartbreaking. This stalwart mother desperately turned instead to high-priced motels, and lost all her possessions in the too-common version of “Storage Wars.”

Later this week I’ll share our observations about the return trip, which ended up in chic Charleston, SC. In the meantime, give this post a bunch of loving! LIKE, share, and comment so my “double-dog-dare” gets some traction. I'll need time to get my house in order before any big-wig company knocks on my door!