Homelessness in any country is a disgrace, even in these tough economic times, but it is even more of a sin in what are termed “First World” countries, like the US. The statistics on homeless families in my state of Massachusetts alone are frightening: as of October 2008, there were 2,472 homeless families living in emergency shelters funded by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA, more commonly known simply as “welfare”); most of these families are headed by – you guessed it! – a single mother. In terms of individuals, 4,413 of the members of these homeless families are children or youths, and 2,379 of them are under six years of age. (Horizons for Homeless Children, http://www.horizonsforhomelesschildren.org/Statistics_Massachusetts_Statistics.asp) According to a 2011 article in the Christian Science Monitor (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Society/2011/1213/Homeless-children-at-record-high-in-US.-Can-the-trend-be-reversed), approximately 1.6 million children, most of whom were under age 7, in the US were (or still are) homeless.
So, what is being done to help? For certain, as mentioned above, my state, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has a program called HomeBase, run through the Department of Transitional Assistance. Other states and the Federal government also offer help. However, I’ve recently discovered that the eligibility criteria are scandalous. Why scandalous? Well, for example, in order to be eligible for a homelessness prevention program – that is, monies to perhaps help pay for arrears in rent (something that is occurring all too frequently with the record job losses owing to the economic downturn) – families must first prove that they are being evicted, and have gone through the entire eviction process down to the 48-hour notice to vacate premises, and landlords must agree to stay the proceedings and keep the tenants. This is scandalous because, if the landlord does not agree then the tenant has an eviction for non-payment of rent on record; what other landlord on Earth would want to rent to such a tenant? What impact does that eviction for non-payment have on an individual’s credit record – something that now many potential employers are consulting to determine whether a job candidate is responsible enough? Where is the prevention here?! Emergency shelters have been maxed out; so where do these families go? This leads to a vicious cycle of constant loss, a downward spiral…one in which an individual head of household loses his or her job (and economic stability), loses creditworthiness, loses the family’s shelter, becomes stigmatized as “irresponsible,” and loses the opportunity to regain full employment (and, therefore, to regain self-esteem, let alone his/her family’s ability to return to their previous position of stability). And the children? They, too, lose self-esteem, many lose their health and, perhaps most important for school-aged children, their friends.
This topic has always been important to me. (Indeed, if there are enough sales of my first (and, thus far, only) e-book for children, Bedtime Myths for Children of All Ages/Solar Stories, 20% of all profits will go to a local organization that helps homeless children in Massachusetts, Horizons for Homeless Children (referenced above).) But never in a million years would I have thought my daughter and I would be in danger of becoming homeless…and that is the position I find myself in today. Someone I met recently at the DTA office said to me, “I’ve always helped everybody. When I need help, because my house burned down last night, there is no one who can help.” I truly felt for him as he was in a worse position than even I find myself in…but I could relate; I’ve always been the first to volunteer, the first to lend a helping hand even if that meant putting my own needs last, and, now, when I actually need help, the doors are closed.
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