Monday, June 18, 2012

Really?? Year 8 for HEAR US; Year 25 for Feds' Homeless Approach

I knew something was weird when I learned our HEAR US website was down recently. Emails bouncing back. Not good. What was the cause?

Well, 7 years ago, when HEAR US was born, the HEAR US website and email addresses were set up. My friend Ken Johnson, who took care of this task, asked me how long he should register it for. 7 years sounded logical.

We just re-upped for another 5 years. Maybe the world will end by then. Maybe not. Certainly homelessness will still be an issue, at least for families and youth.

In HEAR US' birth month of July, we also commemorate another anniversary: 25th year of the McKinney Act (now McKinney-Vento), the federal plan to coordinate homeless services.

My mentor/friend, Mitch Snyder, led the charge to get this mega-issue on the federal table way back then. Presidents have come and gone. HUD Secretaries have cycled, some into prison, and piles of plans and reports have received scant attention from the purse-holding Congress.

Homelessness changed from the visible scruffy guy stereotype, exploding across all populations as social safety nets were shredded. HUD has yet to catch on, resisting our plea to pay adequate attention to the millions of homeless kids, with and without families. (Check out our Help Homeless Kids Now website!)

HUD, stuck in their bureaucratic mud, continues to fight the essential move to align that agency's definition with other federal departments, resulting in a tragic skyrocketing of unsheltered families and youth.The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 32, could pave the way to change the way our nation looks at--and eventually deals with--homelessness.

So HEAR US has joined forces with like-minded organizations from across the nation to spell out what needs to happen a mere 25 years after Congress acknowledged homelessness.

Holding my breath? Nope. Turning in Tillie's keys? Nope. Quitting my efforts? Nope. 

I wish I could spend the time to list the impressive ways people have helped this improbable mission unfold and continue. It's amazing. The thoughts of your many kindnesses smooth the more than 148,000 miles of backroads and highways I've traveled.

Even more so, warming my heart and fueling my passion are the stories shared with me by courageous kids and parents experiencing homelessness. Yeah, those kids and parents who according to HUD don't exist.

I'm asking for something here...if you've read this far, kudos! HEAR US needs a modest influx of funding to keep going. A bunch of folks chipping in what they can afford will do the job. People buying our stuff helps too. We're one (we'd like to think worthy) cause among many. If you can help, please do so. And keep rooting for us.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let's Start At the Very Beginning...Simple as ABC

Crossing the miles, in Tillie, my road-weary motorhome, I've been heartened by countless courageous homeless families and kids willing to share their stories. HEAR US Inc., my unconventional one-woman nonprofit, gives me a venue to share what I've learned about homelessness, particularly that of families, across the land. What I have learned, the ABCs of homelessness, has come mostly from those who experience life without a home.

Recently I enjoyed a reunion with a family I met and filmed last June for Littlest Nomads, our latest short film on the all-too-invisible issue of homeless babies and toddlers. Yolanda, Ken and boys, a delightful Long Island family, had been housed after their catastrophic period of homelessness. Sadly, they're homeless again. But they proudly sat in the front row of our Littlest Nomads screening.

I can't imagine what it would be like to have your image, and that of your homeless family, splashed on the big screen in front of strangers. This family's courage, and others like them, gives much needed voice and visibility to homelessness. Unbelievably some, including our elected officials and policy makers, still don't understand that MILLIONS of homeless families and youth comprise the bulk of the homeless population.

Surging poverty continues to ravage families. It doesn't take much to kick a family into the homeless abyss of destitution. And poverty-creation is now imbedded in our dysfunctional "welfare" systems of government assistance. HUD, the main federal agency charged with housing people, continues to fight our efforts to improve the way they count homelessness.

I watched this family as their images came up on the screen. The kids were smiling. Dad and Mom were somber, and Yolanda's tears could not be hidden.

Sadly, as more families tumble into deep poverty and homelessness, resources to help them are being slashed. Federal poverty policies are pathetic, creating more poverty than they're preventing.  The rich are undoubtedly getting richer.   Proof abounds that homelessness causes severe problems in homeless babies and toddlers. And bureaucrats seem determined to perpetuate homelessness.

At the end of Littlest Nomads, Yolanda, Ken and kids belt out the ABC's song, an annoying repetitive tune I included for one reason. Ending homelessness is like learning your ABCs. It seems difficult, but if you try you can do it. Yolanda, Ken, and countless more families could point out the basics to our government's leaders.

If you want to do something to help, urge your Congressperson to co-sponsor The Homeless Children and Youth Act, HR 32. Simple, just go to this link. It will help HUD rethink their approach to homeless families. They can use the remedial lesson. Makes me want to do a Julie Andrew's Sound of Music version of Do-Re-Mi. That'll get 'em.