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Maine's Guv LaPage: Homeless Families--Go Away!

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no-tell-motel

Open for Business, Governor LePage’s comforting message as drivers cross into Maine should have read Open for Rampant Family Homelessness. But that’s bad for business…but true.

As Pat LaMarche and I (aka the HEAR US project, Babes of Wrath) headed toward Maine, I received an email from “Mindy,” a Maine mother of 2 small boys. Our Frost Bites tour was designed to call attention to the chilling reality of homeless families and youth, and hopefully inspire a heart-warming Compassion Epidemic.

Mindy:We have been homeless for over 2 weeks. And before that we were living in a house with no running water, sewer or electricity for over 4 months. The house which I had rented was condemned and we had no place to go.

In case you think that families in this situation merits help, think again. Maine, and most states, have slashed human assistance funding. Whatever help that theoretically exists is woefully underfunded, overextended and scarce, especially in more rural areas or small towns. Families like Mindy’s experience hard times (my list of causes of homelessness, PDF) because of common issues: divorce, domestic violence, job loss, natural disaster, health issues and more. She (I’ve changed the identifying details for privacy) shared with us …

We are currently staying at the “No-Tell-Motel”in Anytown, Maine. A cheap hotel I paid one week for on 11/8, and my week is up today. I am trying to pawn some things to be able to stay a few more days. But with no transportation it's hard. My middle son is diabetic and my youngest son has the flu so I don't like to leave them for too long.

Ah, motels. It used to be that motels were for vacationers and business travelers. No longer.  Even before the latest tanking of the economy, roadside inns, extended stay hotels, campgrounds and those charming rustic cabins dotting Maine’s (and every state’s) highways have become de facto homeless shelters for those lucky enough to scrape together a couple hundred bucks a week. How do they get the money?

I was able to pawn our TV and my youngest allowed me to pawn his iPad. (He is the most loving, sweet, helpful child I know.) We got $200 and gave her [motel manager] that for the room. We only owe $30 more for this week.

Family support, a massive myth, would prevent this family from plummeting down the homelessness rabbit hole, but alas, they tumble, with millions of other families, not to mention the unassisted youth and adults.  Maine’s homeless student count soared by 58% according to the latest report. Unbeknownst to many, including lawmakers, families do not get help when facing homelessness. Instead, families slink out of view, fearful of being split up because of their plight, which, by the way, was caused by domestic violence.

After losing their father, I don't want to split us up. But I have thought of surrendering the family dog to the shelter, and calling in DHHS (Dept. of Health and Human Services) to help find a place for my boys. I worried they will come take them away anyways, as they have not been in school this year.

As we headed to our film screening of My Own Four Walls, my documentary featuring stories of kids talking about their homelessness, I tried to wrap my head around what this (and too many other) families experience as their lives crumble with violence and other debilitating conditions beyond their control. Add, for one, the overwhelming gloom that comes with an uninhabitable living environment.