I offer keen insight into the plight of the "hidden homeless" - families with children - and how government policies have failed them. Read more
This project's funding goal was not reached on June 4, 2012.
About this project
I am hoping to raise the funds necessary to spend three-four months writing about my experiences during a 30-year career as a social activist and social entrepreneur in what I call the Third World of America - and then to publish the book. A major goal is to help inform the public about "what is actually going on out there" in regards to homeless families and their children - and who they are. This is particularly vital in the continuing aftermath of the recent and ongoing recession, enduring unemployment, and the loss of so many homes to foreclosure. Families throughout the country are now "teetering" on the brink of homelessness. Another goal is to show that we don't have to "turn away" because we feel helpless to do anything about the great suffering in our world, often just outside our front doors. Instead, we can take action, each in our own way, to help improve the lives and alleviate the suffering of those who are unable to help themselves.
Another goal of the book is to show how we got to where we are today and various attempts to fix the problem. Within the context of my personal journey, I will offer keen insights into faulty public policies and practices over the past three decades that led to the development of a new subclass in America, a subclass we call the homeless. The book will include photographs and stories from real people whose lives were often made more difficult by "misguided efforts" to help them. My personal story begins 45 years ago in South Central L.A. just after the Watts Riots, and continues to L.A.'s Skid Row, travels to Washington, DC and the halls of power, and back and forth across the country to small towns and large cities to plea for the right to housing for homeless people - no matter what their personal problems might be. During this time, I coordinated the Roundtable on Housing and Homelessness for the Clinton Transition Team in Little Rock, Arkansas, and participated in international human rights efforts at the UN Conference, Habitat II, held in Istanbul, Turkey in 1996.
While the innovative work I have been engaged in has helped to dramatically change the approach to family homelessness in this country, all is not well, including the disconnect that I believe exists between human rights work and social justice efforts. I will be very grateful to finally be able to tell my story and ask: Can social justice be realized without a human rights context? Thank you.
Families with children comprise up to 1/3 of the homeless population in the United States, but they are the "hidden homeless." Primarily younger mothers, often with small children under 5, they "couch surf" between family and friends, stay in shelters temporarily, and find it difficult to work without stable, permanent housing and childcare.
Why don't these young mothers just move in with their relatives and families until they can get back on the feet again?
Many young homeless mothers have "aged out" of foster care and have no families to turn to in a crisis. Others cannot move in with relatives because the relatives are in rental housing which prevents them from additional people moving into the apartment. I often get calls from grandmothers pleading for help for their daughters and grandchildren who are "on the streets" or sleeping in their cars or in other very difficult and child endangering situations - and there is nothing I can do! I get emails from across the country from young mothers in similar circumstances...and they often describe efforts to get help that isn't out there for them - services and resources that are either completely inadequate or JUST NOT THERE.
Yes, the federal government, and state and local governments, all fund programs to help the homeless - some operated through local city and county programs and others through private, nonprofit organizations. But the funding has never been adequate to meet the need and many families cycle in and out of shelter programs for months and even for years at a time! Additionally, the majority of shelters do not take in pregnant women or women with infants; these babies are particularly "at risk" and there are higher rates of infant death among this population than in the population at-large.
While the conditions are different in many ways, they are often shocking for a country as rich and bountiful as we are. Over the past 30 years, as rents have risen and Welfare Reform has limited support for families with children, living conditions have worsened for families who have "fallen through the cracks." It is not uncommon today to find mothers and children "renting bunkbeds" in communal rooms of illegal "pay shelters," without privacy and living among other families with children to whom they are not related, sharing bathrooms and tiny kitchens, or simply eating from fast food franchises. Others live in their cars or vans, cleaning up in service station restrooms. Still others live in roach-infested rooms of transient motels, without cooking facilities or refrigerators, where children are surrounded by the drug trade, prostitution, and other child-endangering threats.
I read in the newspapers all the time that cities are taking the homeless off the streets and moving them into permanent housing. Aren't they doing the same for families?
The Bush Administration decided to focus on ending "chronic homelessness," which is the term used for homeless individuals with mental illness, substance abuse addictions, or both at the same time. The term "housing first" became linked to this segment of the homeless population, and public and private efforts have now become focused on helping chronically homeless individuals off the streets and back into permanent housing, unfortunately to the severe detriment of homeless families with children. Because homeless parents and their children do not "look like" the street homeless, they are invisible to most people, who are then unaware of their existence. We often call them the "hidden homeless". Rather than helping families who become homeless to move quickly back into permanent housing at rents they can afford, including access to move-in funds and rent subsidies while jobs are found - the lack of urgency in addressing family homelessness (by both the government and private sectors) has resulted in chonic homelessness for some families, including "generational homelessness" and Third World conditions, both in rural "pockets of poverty" and in urban centers throughout the country.
I am writing this book because I think it can make a huge difference in helping to transform both public policy and practice - not in some distant future, but NOW! My book will help to inform the caring public about the true state of family homelessness in America - and also help to promote involvement in helping young mothers in their struggles to provide their children a home....
In addition to time to write and editing support, funds will be applied to research, fact-checking, interviews with homeless parents and children and photo-documentation, and interviews with advocates, funders, and government leaders at local, state and federal levels.
- (30 days)