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Stop. Stare At Homeless Mom. Deny or Act? KAPOW!

family plea for help

Long traffic lights are good/bad, giving me time to read the sign held by a woman standing on the corner in affluent DuPage (IL) County. Plight printed on her poster: desperate, 5 kids, trying to avoid living on the streets. Drive-by “charity,” I gave her a few bucks and a smile. She graciously thanked me and returned to her post. 


Her sign had hidden what appeared to be bruises on her face. Standing on a street corner in this county, or anywhere, also has to bruise one’s self worth, especially as a parent. Having worked in this area for decades, I didn’t bother to tell her about the resources available to her because they’re scarce: 

  • One overnight shelter in a onerous system of rotating sites spread out in this public transportation-deprived county abutting Chicago and Cook County. And space is limited, first-come, a logistical nightmare for anyone much less a mom and 5 kids.
  • Domestic violence shelters are even harder to access, especially with 5 kids in tow.
  • Social services, drained by demands, struggle to survive, reeling from federal, state and county funding cuts.
  • Public housing waiting lists are a sad joke. Even sadder for families with more than a couple kids. Five? Forget it.  

Having just read WRAP’s article about decades of unenlightened federal housing priorities, this family’s plight haunts me. The astute Paul Boden,WRAP chief, points out,  “We do $34 billion in affordable housing funding for poor people and we screen the hell out of who’s eligible for it. We complain about it all the time, and we set up systems for oversight for review that would put the IRS to shame. We do $144 billion in subsidy for homeowners and we call it ‘Economic Stimulus’ and we put no cap on it whatsoever. The government didn’t stop investing in housing. It stopped investing in housing that applied to poor people.” 


As if further proof is needed, it oozes out of the U.S. House of Representatives, case in point, the Child Tax Credit. Policy wonk Kathryn Baer describes the latest assault on poor families, the proposal to eliminate the one federal tax break aimed at low income families. “A single mother with two children and that $14,500 a year income would lose $1,750. Parents with somewhat higher incomes would lose as well, since their credits would, as now, be calculated on the basis of how much they made over the threshold.”


Homelessness among families is by no means unique to DuPage County. I follow this issue nationwide as part of my work with HEAR US Inc. Communities of all income brackets grapple with skyrocketing numbers of homeless families. Asheville, NC, well, at least they’re talking about it, following plenty of media confirming the problem. Pittsburg, KS is losing their homeless shelter to state funding cuts, in a state where abundant tax cuts for the wealthy increase. Communities nationwide struggle for adequate solutions with inadequate resources for record numbers of families seeking help to avoid/escape homelessness.


Poverty/homelessness deniers seem to be cut from the same cloth as climate deniers. It’s an expensive route, as documented in the latest report by the Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness, “Homelessness…has become an epidemic, affecting every school district…threatening the chances for a generation of poor children to succeed in their academic and adult lives. On practically every measure of achievement, homeless students perform poorly, signaling a cost…in both lost potential and dollars spent.”


So, look this mother in the eyes and tell her that the (bogus) federal plan to end family homelessness is on track for 2020. Then what? 


Which is why I handed her a few bucks, with my best compassionate smile, and drove to my little camper, pulled out my computer and began whacking away at this blog. 


Faced with some version of the same issue, here are a few other suggestions that might ease the suffering—yours and the family’s.


Now go out and enjoy a Happy 4th. Just don’t stop at any traffic lights.