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Doing Something About Homeless Families--With Paul Ryan and You

Paul Ryan
I’m not a policy wonk. Nor am I a bureaucrat. I’m just one woman trying to give voice and visibility to homeless children and youth frankly because I can’t tolerate knowing that so many millions of moms, dads, infants, toddlers, little and big kids in this country are experiencing various forms of homelessness.

A couple weeks agonI issued this invitation: to visit Congressman Paul Ryan and invite him to ride with me to meet with his homeless constituents.

Well, I’m going. I can’t not go.  Here’s my petition to urge Mr. Ryan to at least meet with me, if not take a ride through the beautiful but poverty-stained Wisconsin countryside.

I cringe when I hear stories of bazillionaires getting more while an unfathomable majority of our sisters and brothers struggle to survive. Things are precariously perched to plunge more people into deeper poverty, paving the way to homelessness.

I’ve seen too many bedraggled and jam-packed homeless shelters. I’ve been in too many shabby motel rooms. I’ve sat with too many parents and kids talking about how they’ve bounced from one couch to another, with fear and vulnerability keeping them awake as they nestle together on floors, doubled up or worse, with a host family that will inevitably insist they leave. I’ve fought for and alongside too many families and youth trying to enroll in school when their homelessness becomes a barrier.

Recent news coverage about courageous women and kids sleeping on the streets outside a Philadelphia housing office may have garnered a blip of national attention.

Another story out of bucolic Eau Claire, Wisconsin illustrates the depth of the crisis. Their tiny shelter can hold 5 families at a time. They’ve turned away hundreds in a part of the country where shelters are scarce. According to WEAU-TV,  “Last year the Beacon House had to turn down more than 200 families because it did not have the space. Western Dairyland, which has seven temporary living apartments across Western Wisconsin, had to turn down about 300 families.”

Multiply the turnaways just from these 2 shelters, 500 families, by 4 (guessing family); 2000 homeless parents and kids, in western Wisconsin, not far from Congressman Paul Ryan’s local offices. This mapby the folks at the Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness illustrates the scope of this crisis.

The Eau Claire situation is not an anomaly. And it’s not unique to Wisconsin. My 8 years of HEAR US travel confirm beyond my worst expectations.

The Beacon House and countless organizations across the land work tirelessly, not only providing shelter, but also desperately raising money to keep their operations open as the sequester cuts funding and causes more families to become homelessness. The ugliness spewing between parties in our nation’s Capitol just piles on the hurt on these most vulnerable—those with no power to influence the money-grubbers who tell us we’re broke as they pile up their riches.

Worse yet, many communities have NO facilities or services to help families or youth when they lose housing. They scramble to find places to sleep, and it often gets ugly for all involved. Abuse—physical, sexual, emotional—is common. Doubled up families jeopardize their temporary abode when landlords discover overcrowding. It’s hard on everyone’s nerves: no privacy, inadequate space for homework or quiet for sleeping, and uncertainty as the welcome mat wears thin.

So, that’s why I’ll be “crossing the line” next week, the Illinois-Wisconsin border, to meet with Congressman Paul Ryan and his staff about the plight of homeless families. To ratchet up attention to my visit I’ve created this petition urging him/them to meet with me.  Will you please sign it and share it with your network?

I’ll work with my sister Babe of Wrath, Pat LaMarche, to focus media attention on this visit. Paving the way with a respectable amount of petition signers will help. I’m also meeting with homelessness experts—families who’ve experienced homelessness—to gather and share their stories.

If those knowing families and youth who experience homelessness, or feeling vulnerable to losing housing themselves would rally behind my humble effort and sign my petition, I’d know I have millions of folks behind me as I face the “Goliath” of the budget. Now all I’ll need is a slingshot.