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We Pay Dearly When Kids Get Too Little, Too Late

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don't blame me child

Kids. Ya gotta love them.

And nourish them. And guide them. And educate them. And house them.

But some power brokers don’t get that.

Which is why our nation has let millions of kids (with parents and without) stumble into homelessness, and millions more into deep life-changing poverty.

If anything has been abundantly clear as Pat LaMarche and I have journeyed throughout the southwest on this 5-week long Babes of Wrath trek, kids receive the short end of the compassion stick. Extraordinary efforts continue, despite the odds, to give kids a chance. That’s good, because colossal cluelessness abounds.

Record-setting homelessness and poverty continues to ravage families and youth. Texas, home to Governor “Good-Hair” Perry, just announced their TX-size “accomplishment.” The Lone Star State is home to (at least) 10% of this nation’s homeless student population. Fortunately, a dedicated team of education leaders continues to work to ensure these kids have educational opportunities.

Speaking to high-visibility folks like Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose intemperate illiteracy about homeless children sticks out like a cactus thorn, work is cut out for those who care about the well being of all kids. He apparently doesn’t know anything about homelessness, including the reality that thousands of families and youth languish in his county, lacking a place to call home.

Compassionate and astute youth corrections staff in places like Flagstaff counter the tough-on-crime attitude of Arpaio and his posse. Dedicated homeless liaisons and shelter staff pursue the impossible: keeping kids in school, holding the hands of families and youth as they navigate the return path to stability, pulling rabbits out of their hats on a regular basis.

Blaming parents—for having children, for being poor, for losing jobs and housing—is a tired tactic signifying, well, ignorance. Homelessness happens for a variety of reasons, as my little one-page list illustrates. Sure, personal responsibility—something we assume should just happen despite human nature’s tendency to defy such expectations (how many of us have done what we knew was ill-advised?)—factors into the grand equation. But a level playing field does too. And our nation’s distorted preoccupation with fiscal responsibility seems to exempt it from making sure that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is an opportunity for all to achieve.

Parents we’ve talked to along our sojourn defy hackneyed stereotypes. None planned to become homeless. Nor do they want to stay. Most continue to fight the uphill battle for self-sufficiency and stability. Some have sadly given up. But these kids don’t just disappear because we’re tired of them.

Kids we’ve listened to make our hearts ache for a compassion epidemic. Yes, everyone can do something. Tutoring, mentoring, supporting…you know that.

Having shown my potent little film, My Own Four Walls, to a stream of audiences in our path, I hold the kids in this film up as our best hope for converting the clueless. I’ve spoken to countless kids in my years of working on the issue of homelessness. They all say the same thing: “It’s better to have your own four walls.”

Congress prepares to further upend the economy, Sequestration, an ill-advised response to the fiscal apocalypse created by the greed-meisters.  Directly in the path of this Okie-sized tractor crushing everything in its path are vulnerable children, families and adults.

It’s easy to feel helpless. I’m tired. Pat’s tired. We’ve seen more poverty and homelessness than we could fathom.

But we’ve heard from parents and kids who know that giving up is not an option. They fight like hell for the chance for their families to survive. They have no other option. They are our heroes and s-heroes.