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10 Lessons From My Idol: 'Stacy'—Teacher, Role Model, and Courageous Champion


So much more to “Stacy’s” story…and it needs to be told. I saw her just a few weeks ago, stopping by with my friend/travel-mate Pat LaMarche, as we trudged along on

 our Babes of Wrath tour. Visiting Stacy and her boys provided the spark I need to keep slogging as an advocate for homeless families and youth. I’m humbled about how much I’ve learned from her.

My AlterNet Hard Times story just touches the surface. The series of events that connected our paths amaze me; we met on one of my HEAR US cross-country treks to chronicle the plight and promise of homeless families and youth. Here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned:

1.      Anglo-middle class values limp, badly. We think we know it all when it comes to how to approach life’s challenges, and we let Congress shape our programs and policies as if they’re enlightened. It’s cramming a square peg into a round hole, thwarting families. Stacy steadfastly maintained her values—taking care of her family, no matter what the shortsighted rules said.

2.     The system sucks. Not to give myself credit, but without a ton of behind-the-scenes advocacy, Stacy and her boys wouldn’t have made it. I had to call in tons of favors from the mayor, lawyers, housing experts, and beyond to not let this family fall through the Grand Canyon-size cracks in our safety net. They’re still on the edge.

3.     “Family values” suck. If we valued families, we wouldn’t have a system that penalizes parents when they try to do right by their children. HUD’s inane regulations came close to barring this family from subsidized housing because of bad credit. Grossly inadequate family support systems push families into hunger, homelessness and more.

4.     Stacy’s amazing. Her determination has seen her through when the beleaguered systems (education, welfare, housing) have let them down. She’s pursued every support she can, finding much benefit from the counseling she and her boys continue to receive.

5.     Family support was minimal. It was not because her mother didn’t want to help, but because she is financially challenged herself. The more we ignore poverty, allowing it to fester for generations, the harder it will be to turn this monster ship around.

6.     People don’t understand poverty. As I’ve blogged about Stacy/Tina, the typical reaction is, “why did she have so many kids?” It’s complicated, including a rape. Besides, she was married for years, in an abusive situation, never planning for homelessness. What responsibility does her (ex) husband bear? Why do people feel entitled to judge?

7.     Inadequate resources imperil millions of families. What about the need for adequate and affordable housing (nutrition, child care, health services, and counseling) assistance does our bone-headed Congress not understand? Punitive bootstrap mentality needs to go. How many legislators could get through what Stacy and others endure?

8.     Things were different in the old days. It’s harder to get any substantial help. Poverty is at a modern high. Government resources, never adequate, are being slashed to balance our budget. Safety nets are shredded. Sneaky regulations, like requiring good credit, have crept in to form impenetrable barriers for struggling families. Legal assistance is nonexistent. Legal pitfalls abound.

9.     Hunger and other health issues create long-lasting, life-changing vulnerabilities. Stacy, pregnant, and her kids often lacked nutritious meals. A cloud of infirmities hangs over all of them as a result. These problems are our problems. The new documentary, A Place at the Table, shines a spotlight on the combined issues of hunger and poverty.

10.   Stacy is a champion. She allowed me to invade her life 3 years ago, neither of us knowing where that would lead. She’s trusted me. I treasure her. And I will continue to share her ongoing story to inspire, cajole, and poke those in power to use their power for the good of the masses.

No easy answers exist for these growing problems, but I guarantee that if we could assemble a panel to address Congress, the participants would teach more than the above 10 lessons. Whether or not our lawmakers would be able to learn, and to break their addiction to money and power long enough to respond in a compassionate manner remains to be seen. If we don’t try something significant soon, most of us will find ourselves in this sinkhole known as American poverty. And we’d better hope for the experts like Stacy to show us how to survive.