I've been wanting to write about the Jobs With Justice 20th Anniversary event last Thursday, and also about the death of one of Arise's founders, which I found out about at the JwJ event, and I will, but first I want to write about the two beautiful homeless children who had been sleeping in the girl's father's car before they came to Arise today.
I hope they will forgive me for calling them children-- legally they are, not yet being eighteen. But they just felt so young and fragile to me-- no flesh on their bones. I couldn't take my eyes off them.
They were brought to Arise by a friend, Carlos, who has been volunteering with us.
"This is Mia and Alex," he says. "They're homeless and they've been sleeping in a car. They're seventeen, boyfriend and girlfriend. . I told them to come to Arise because I knew you guys could help them."
My heart sinks. The last thing we can ever do is promise someone we can find them shelter. But we can at least listen and then do our best.
I talk to Alex first.
"Where were you living before you became homeless?" I ask..
I was in DCF custody." (That's the Dept. of Families and Children.)
"Don't they have a program for young people who are aging out of the system?"
"F**k them!" he said. "DCF totally screwed up my life. I don't wanna have anything to do with them." I decided not to push,, because I did once help a young woman to get back under DCF supervision (not easy) but now was not the time.
"Do you have any family in the area?"
"No, I've been in the system since I was one. " he says Long pause. "You just can't imagine. I've been beaten, I've been burned, I was almost molested. DCF totally screwed me."
Next I talk to Mia.
"How did you become homeless?" I ask.
"My mom's new husband-- my stepfather-- is very strict," she says. "He has a lot of rules, and I got kicked out."
We keep talking and she tells me that not too long ago, she was living in a domestic violence shelter with her mother. I can't help wondering if her mom is now in a similar relationship to the one that brought her into shelter..
"You guys have a car?"
"No, we've been sleeping in my father's car. He'd like to let us stay there, but his new girlfriend says no."
"Have you tried Worthington St. Shelter?"
"We did, but they told us we couldn't stay there because we're not eighteen, and they have lots of pedophiles there and stuff, and it wouldn't be good for us." Damn, I'd forgotten. (And where did Worthington St. refer them, if anywhere, I wonder?)
Next a couple of hours of leaving phone messages and getting callbacks. Might they be eligible for EAEDC, a small income of about $300 a month for Elders, the Disabled, and Children? Maybe if they can get into the educational programs at Mass Rehab. Food Stamps? Mia tells me that her mom is still receiving welfare for her, and she's still in the mom's food stamp budget-- is there any way she can get that money? Food stamps yes, cash assistance no.
Then calls to the only two teen shelters I know about-- SHINE at Gandara, but they are full, as usual, and the Safety Zone at the Center for Human Development, where there uis a glimmer of hope. The woman I spoke with says she'll make some calls and see what she could do. The teens CHD serves, those ages 14 to 17 are placed in a home with a family-- food, showers, a bed of their own-- but only for 21 days and, of course, not together. My guess (but I'll find out) is that they provide some case management, but she also asks me if we will continue to work with them. I say yes, and start wondering who might have a room in their house they'd let Mia and Alex stay in?
While Mia and Alex and I are waiting for CHD to call back, they make themselves something to eat in the back office (thank you, the person who brought the canned ravioli in today) and then they help staple copies of our Homeless Persons' Survival Guide. They get to talk to some of the people sitting around our big table, and help staple copies of our Homeless Persons' Survival Guide. I hear someone saying to Mia, "Well, at least you don't have any kids, and you're not pregnant. Stay that way!"
CHD calls back; the woman has found places for both of them. Thank you! Can I get them to West Springfield by 3:30? Yes, I can. Mia and Alex are happy but also apprehensive.
We drive first to their father's car, where they have a few bags of clothes in the trunk, and then toward CHD. Alex sees someone pushing a shopping cart full of cans. "That's what Mia and I were doing in Hartford, to get food," he says. The we arrive at CHD, where we wait a little awkwardly in the waiting room for the woman I've spoken with to come down. There's an older Latina also waiting, who I only realize later is probably from one of the host families.
"Do you guys speak Spanish?" I ask.
"I do," Alex says, "her, not so much." Mia smiles and shrugs a bit.
The CHD woman comes down. We introduce ourselves and shake hands. She shakes hands with Mia and Alex. Then she says to me, "We can take it from here."
I feel a both a pang and a sense of relief. .The three of us hug and they both say they'll keep in touch-- might even come see us every day. I've given them $10 each so they'll have a bit of bus fare and can call each other.
When I get back to the office, Carlos says, "I knew this was the right place to bring them! I knew you could help them."
"It was luck," I say. "I just made phone calls." And that's what it was, pure and simple-- luck. We know too well how easily it could have gone the other way.
Mia and Alex: struggling to overcome broken families, broken promises, broken communities, broken economy.. At seventeen they are pretty much blameless for the situation in which they find themselves. But in six or seven years, if life doesn't quite measure up to the dreams Mia and Alex have right now, if getting out of homelessness and finding a place where the ground doesn't move under them somehow continues to elude them, then there will be plenty of people to judge them and talk about all their bad choices and how they could get ahead if they really wanted to.
I hope we see them again. I hope they become part of our family. But whatever happens, I wish them well..