Writing at the intersection of motherhood, feminism and my Latinidad

14 August 2007

When the lioness finally rears her head

A recent 'discussion' over homelessness on this site has gripped me like a tick. It won't let go. Not that I'm not reminded of homelessness every day when I pass the McDonald's on Ashland & Fullerton (?) or after work at the expressway ramp. But the homeless population I never see are the families and there's a good reason for that.


According to the report, "Family Homelessness in Our Nation: A Problem with a Solution", by the National Alliance to End Homelessness, families are the hidden homeless population. This is why the city of Chicago's recent 'survey' of homeless is a load of poopy diapers.Add to that, news from the Sun-Times that the Guv, G-Rod, considers homeless shelters 'pork'.

In their report, the National Alliance used Washington, DC, our wonderful nation's capital, as the example, but then also reports state and national data points. Here are some highlights to ponder:

  • 30% of children in the foster care system have a homeless or unstably housed parent;
  • A housing subsidy, at a cost of $6,805 per year, is a significantly more cost effective way of dealing with lack of housing than placing children in foster care at approximately $17,000 per year;
  • 5 million families receive federal assistance to pay for housing, but there are at least twice that many families eligible for such subsidies that do not receive them because of lack of funding;
  • In 1971 there were 300,000 more affordable units than there were low-income families who needed them;
  • In 2001 there were 4.7 million fewer units than families;
Abuse in the home is one reason families become homeless. Despite what naysayers may say, abuse is a very complex cycle to break. Mostly because those being abused are often broken of their will and separated from loved ones. One brave mama tells her story:

I left after a 'minor' beating, meaning no skin breaking/bleeding,and no kicking. He 'just' pushed me into a wall, smacked me really hard several times and knocked me down. This was in response to him coming home and finding me on the phone. He had recently stopped taking the phone with him when he left and allowed me to use the phone again, so I thought it was ok to use the phone when he was gone. I was wrong in that belief and I paid for it that day.


I say this was a minor beating because prior to this much worse had occurred. I had been thrown down a flight of stairs and lost a baby, I had my head banged on the sidewalk leaving me with multiple fractures to my skull, and I had been held hostage, duct-taped, and threatened with a hatchet in front of our child. So why was the 'minor' beating the trigger for me to leave? One reason is it was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.


A bigger reason was my daughter I-bop's response. Usually after he beat me he would storm out. I would cry and she, age 3 at the time, would rush to console me, hugging me and patting my face. I lived for those moments of kind touch from someone and felt my daughter was the only person who cared for me in the world. This time she looked at me sobbing and shook her head, and turned away. She actually turned her back on me, hunched her shoulders, and started playing with her toys. Her whole body language conveyed, You are a sorry woman and you get no more pity from me. It was like being doused with cold water. I saw clearly for the first time how it all was negatively affecting her. The hunched shoulders were a clear sign because that was how she was whenever he was around; all hunched over and afraid. It occurred to me that my child was also afraid of...me. and I understood why she would be, because she saw, at 3 years old, that she couldn't depend on me or trust me to keep her safe. She saw that I couldn't even keep my own self safe. I saw clearly for the first time that my child deserved better. My child deserved a chance.

Read the rest.


How fragile is the support system for families? So fragile that word got out that the only shelter for families in Massachusetts had burned down and the blogosphere was a fire with outrage. It wasn't, but it was the only one for a certain population.


Women are keenly aware, even if we live in a state of denial, that we are often living on the edge of poverty. Whether due to losing our job, getting so sick we can't work, losing our partner due to divorce or death, we just know. I have a good paying job, but I couldn't afford to stay here if my partner died (insurance will help). In today's tight economic reality, even couples are one paycheck or accident away from poverty.


Homeless moms and dads are a part of this community. To say that they don't deserve our help or respect is to deny that it could ever happen to us. We who are hard working. We who are highly educated. We who would never chose to be homeless.


As mothers we are even more aware that sacrifice ourselves on a daily basis for our kids. Whether we stay up a few extra hours to get laundry done, bake that last batch of cookies, or skip out on that much needed massage because well, someone needs to cuddle, we sacrifice. We want the best for our kids and society tells us that means two parents and a nice home. Why would we leave that?


I have a friend whose mother chose to be homeless instead of staying with someone who abused her and the kids. And for that, I thank her, because she saved three kids and herself. I thank the shelter who helped them get on their feet. But I hate to think that if she had to make that decision today, my friend and her brothers might be very different people.


X-posted from The Red Thread at Chicago Parent

Technorati tags: homeless, feminism, family

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