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Super Mom Slammed by Homelessness

It’s hard work being a homeless parent.

Ask Lupe, the super mother, as dubbed by her teenage son. To afford the bare-bones mini-suite she and her family, including grandkids, stay in, she works a typical 16-18-hour day doing the thankless, gruelingly gross, low-paying job of a motel housekeeper.

If you look at her face, you see both the deep circles under her eyes and the determination of a mama bear-type mother who will do everything to protect her clan.

For the past 5 months, they’ve lived in this nondescript motel on the fringe of Los Angeles. Their apartment was shuttered by city officials for structural problems. They had 3 days to find another place to stay, decide what to take, and put their stuff in storage. She found this motel, a combination of long-termers and passing-through tenants, none apparently vacationing. The huge drawback—the astronomical $460-a-week tab—the going rate for a larger space to accommodate her family and her homeless grandkids.

I asked where they’d be if not here, in this high price spot. Deep fear blazed in her tired eyes. Skid Row, the miserable setting where the discarded individuals and families receive marginal assistance, was the other option. A friend, she shared, had stayed at a family shelter in Skid Row. “I cannot take my family there,” Lupe strongly stated. “I have a 10-year-old daughter. I don’t want anything to happen to her.”

The “anything” was quite chillingly clear.

Our interview last night, which I filmed and will edit into a YouTube piece, was what we wanted as we continue our EPIC Journey. Lupe spoke strongly, both about her plight and her determination to move forward. But it rendered both of The Babes of Wrath into a deep funk on the way back to our parking place.

How many of these faceless motels along our route are “homes” to how many families? Having been in more than just a few over both of our lifetimes, we know countless families suffer the same fate. Sadly, HUD’s point-in-time census omits families like Lupe’s.

This otherwise stalwart mother teared up twice during our interview. Her kids were playing in the other room, so they didn’t have to see their super-Mom cry. She spoke of the moment she faced reality of being homeless—with no place to go (her extended family’s saga is an incredible tale of way too much suffering), and being unable to do anything except cram into a motel room, with the accompanying label, “homeless.” Lupe lamented, “I let my kids down. They think Mom’s going to take care of it. I battled with that a lot…I’m responsible for these kids.”

The other tear-inducing topic was stuff. When they scampered to this motel, she thought it would be just a few days. Everyone only took a few items of clothing and minimal personal belongings. The rest went to storage. But soon the time came, as it does to many families in similar straits. Pay the storage bill or pay the motel bill.

Her agony was palpable. She listed the irreplaceable items lost: kids’ pictures and drawings, homemade blankets, family records, identification records, and heirlooms. The china cabinet she saved for, filled with special china for holidays, gone. Furniture, nice stuff, she said. Two flat-screen TVs. As she inventoried her losses, more tears flowed. Her personal stuff was tossed out. The furnishings were auctioned off by the storage facility, ala the sick-o TV series, “Storage Wars.” She got nothing. Storage space owners got everything.

Pat and I fumed on the way home. The least we could do as a nation where “liberty and justice for all” concludes our Pledge of Allegiance, is to figure out how families would have an opportunity to claim their insignificant belongings and get their share of the proceeds from these auctions. But, with greed as the underlying principle, and clueless legislators steering the good ship America into the rocky shoals, we’re not going to see justice anytime soon.

Next time you stay at a motel, imagine that the housekeeper is Lupe. Leave a big tip. It might be the best investment you make for the day.

Our Babes of Wrath tour, which you can follow on our EPIC Journey Facebook page, will give voice and visibility to homeless families, youth and individuals. HEAR US Inc., my nonprofit, sponsored this tour to, well, inspire the wrath that needs to fuel a compassion epidemic.