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Raining on Savannah's Parade

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HUD Secretary Donovan in Savannah
I stood in the rain today outside the Housing Authority of Savannah headquarters listening to HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan and other "suits" announce a great (according to them) Rental Assistance Demonstration program, RAD, kicking off in this peach of an impoverished southern Georgia city. Nice, but....

Part of my problem is I've been around to see HUD's "good programs" turn into disasters. And since I've worked with homeless persons for over a quarter of a century, well, I've become cynical. HUD provides the means, and what passes for oversight, for developers to create housing. Developers build and manage it for a set number of years. Their contract runs out. They evict income-challenged tenants in lieu of income-"blessed" tenants. Homelessness increases. Developers profit.

So I stood in Savannah's liquid sunshine and listened to mercifully short speeches about how RAD is the greatest thing to hit Savannah since Spanish Moss and how families will benefit. Uh huh...yeah.

Not one word was uttered by Mr. Donovan, Mayor Edna Jackson or housing authority Executive Director Earline Davis about homelessness. Not that I had any hopes that the H-word would be mentioned. Well, I did. 

I didn't want to rain on their parade, or their presentation, but if I did, I'd dump the thundercloud of reality that Savannah, and mostly every city and town nationwide, has tons of homeless families desperately holed up in all sorts of places while they await access to affordable housing that HUD and housing authorities are supposed to be providing. Where do families go during this waiting period?

Savannah, like so many cities and towns, has no emergency shelter beds for families in dire straits. 

Sure, they have the stalwart Interfaith Housing Network, which offers serious support for their 3 families. Salvation Army and Union Mission have a handful of beds for qualified families, unless they have boys over the age of 12, then things don't work out so well. This city of 140,000 or so, with hundreds of places of worship, has NO emergency shelter beds for families. 

"Lucky" families double-up with family, friends or strangers. That's precarious and never works well for long. Cars, vans and campers provide another alternative, albeit less that adequate, for those who can afford vehicles. Abandoned buildings and camps are out there for the totally desperate. Area motels are jammed with families scraping up every nickel to keep the overpriced motel roof over their heads.

They've learned to survive with hotplates, ice-filled bathtubs, one-pot meals with food pantry pickins, and lots of PB&J sandwiches. Kids in the sleazier motels learn the ways of the street and poverty-survival from pimps, ladies (and gentlemen) of the night, drug dealers and sex offenders. They give up childhood and tumble into the life their parents tried to avoid. 

HUD never prioritized families. They give lipservice to them now, barely. Their new family policies create a nightmare for both the families and shelters, choking them in absurd, pointless redtape. 

My standing in the rain is nothing compared to families who stress about where they'll sleep for the night, where they'll spend the day without causing problems, where their sick kids will be able to rest, where their stuff will be safe while they chase shreds of assistance, where their kids can run off energy and frustration, where they can access a computer for kids' homework and parents' job searches. 

That's why my dear friend Pat LaMarche and I are heading out on our EPIC (Everyday People In Crisis) journey through the southwestern states. Travel along with the Babes of Wrath via our blogs and our EPIC Facebook link. Chime in. Meet us if you're on our path. Stand in the rain, or drought, with us. We'll listen and give folks a chance to tell their sad, inspiring, infuriating, and un-ignorable stories. And we'll make sure HUD knows they can't stop now.