Friday, September 28, 2012

Calling all people of compassion

Rainy and cold this morning and I'm wondering how my young homeless couple fared last night.  They've been sleeping outside while their year old son stays sometimes with her sister, sometimes with his mother, both extremely tenuous situations that could end at any time because .  I've been trying to get them into shelter all week, but no luck so far.  They are "to blame" for their homelessness because a month ago, when the mom was living with her mom in Connecticut, they were evicted from private housing. I won't even try to explain all the hoops this family has been jumping through, trying to get qualified for shelter.  But in my last conversation with a DHCD worker yesterday, the worker said the Gram had been working 32 hours a week and the mom receiving cash assistance from welfare and they still couldn't pay the rent of $750!  Well, I'm calculating that at minimum wage, Gram was taking home about $700 a month, and mom's cash benefits were about $500, leaving them about $450 a month to pay all other utilities, transportation, clothing, etc. Maybe some families could have pulled this off, but my family couldn't; they gradually fell behind.    (Gram had 2 other children in the household, also.)  So it's their fault they were evicted, and they are therefore ineligible for shelter.

But what does it matter?  They are no less homeless.  Every morning my couple goes and picks up their son from whatever house he's been sleeping at the night before (both her sister and his mother work two jobs each) and then they wander the street.  But according to the DHCD worker, as long as the child has a place to sleep at night, that's all that matters.  And if the situation falls apart, and the child is out on the street with them, they still won't be eligible for shelter-- but most likely they will then lose their child to the custody of the Dept. of Children and Families.

More bad news for my couple-- when I told them that at least they, themselves, could get beds at Worthington St. Shelter, I found out that the shelter has changed its policy from taking all comers to the development of a waiting list.  You have to call at 9 am. and 5 pm. each day to see if a bed has opened up.  (There are only 36 beds for single homeless women in all of Springfield.)

This is scarcely the worst case of shelter denial I've heard in the last six weeks, since DHCD's new regulations went into effect.  Not surprisingly (to us, anyway), many housing and shelter providers choose to say these regs are good for the families, that shelter is a bad place, and what they have to offer, instead, is a housing benefit with a $4,000 maximum.  You can use it for first month's rent and a security deposit, but if my family can even find an apartment that is less than their monthly income (which is zero, at the moment), how far will $4,000 take them?  The thinking on DHCD's part, such as it is, is that before the $4,000 runs out, families will be able to increase their income and stabilize their lives to be able to carry the burden of market rate housing on their own-- at a time when market rate rents have never been higher, when there's a ten year waiting list for public housing, and when most jobs are part-time and low-paying.

I could go on, but let me come to the point of this blog post:  I am asking readers for two things:

First, who would be willing to open their homes and take a family in for a couple of days at a time?  We promise to send you only families who literally have nowhere else to go, and who are not eligible for shelter or are still jumping through hoops.  This is a very short-term solution, I know-- sort of like evacuating survivors from a war-torn country-- but it's all we can think of at the moment.  We've been trying to get the attention of the Greater Springfield Council of Churches and Catholic Charities, but they've shown a remarkable lack of interest in the issue of homelessness so far. 

Second, we know there are some other solutions that are possible-- and I won't describe them here-- but we need more people resources. Can you help us strategize and bring these solutions to reality? 

Let me end by saying that we are really over the top here at Arise with the number of families who come to us needing help..  I even had a (now shameful) moment yesterday when I hung up the phone after talking with another homeless family and shouted to the ceiling, :"God help me!"    But it's not me that needs help-- except help helping others.  What can you do to help?

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