Washington State is failing its homeless kids. I know because I’m a homeless mother who gets to deal with out of touch school superintendents, educators and principals. The so called homeless liaison from the Auburn School District introduced himself to me AFTER my child had been enrolled for three years! He had no clue about how to help us and the truth is, the McKinney-Vento Act is a bit of a joke in real time homelessness. Let me give you an example. The only “help” we can get from said Act is mileage reimbursement in the form of thirty cents on the dollar and said reimbursement doesn’t get paid until about two months later so in the meantime, transportation costs are being incurred that mileage reimbursement doesn’t even make a dent in. Not only that, after I had turned in a form documenting our mileage, the check sat in the school’s office for a month because none of the office staff knew what to do with it. If I run out of gas, I’m just plain stuck on the side of the road which might as well be a death sentence because when you live out of a car, if it breaks down or gets towed, you are screwed.
Here’s another reality for homeless kids, shelters are not an option for everybody. Welfare is a joke. Applying for Section 8 in a state where most of the time Section 8 is closed to apply for is a joke. Private organizations running their own programs neither have the funds or resources to help everybody so there are indefinite wait lists, if you can get on one or there just isn’t any availability. Living out of a car means we get sick more often than housed people. I work nights and because I can’t get help with childcare (even if I could find a daycare that runs at night), so every night I wonder if I’ll lose my part time job because of that. There is no regular address to send a bus or a taxi to to pick up my child. If I am too tired to drive after work, it is dangerous for me to drive as it is the same as being under the influence. So, as a result of daily realities, my kid is going to miss more days. Apparently the school’s way of “helping” is by threatening to report me to the state as if the state after all these years, has suddenly ended homelessness. I don’t think school districts realize that their hindering more than they are helping and that is the direct result of being out of touch with homeless life.
Because the only help I have is me, I can only do so much in a twenty four hour period and I do a lot! I have been homeless for almost nine years now and during that time I have worked two jobs to the point of a stroke. I’m not “supposed” to be working two jobs but here I am looking for a second one. I can’t exactly tell my current employer we’re homeless because I may get fired for disclosing that I am homeless. I will either die from running my body into the ground because there are no real options available when we need them or I will die from homelessness sooner or later. Either way, I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t. Being homeless means being in constant deficit. Last I checked, our state has over 30,000 REPORTED homeless students. I know for a fact there are more homeless kids out there than that reported number because not everyone will admit to being homeless. I talked to my child’s classmates who are also homeless and it made me sick to hear that they too have been stuck in homelessness longer than anyone should have to be thanks to slashing budgets on programs barely funded anyway. Many of your students have lived in tent cities because of waiting lists and no availability. Hotel stays are expensive. Rising housing costs means more homelessness and no hope of getting out of it anytime soon so I find it more than insulting when an educator or someone calling themselves a homeless liaison tries to threaten me with a Becca Bill that I will refuse to sign. Until we get housing, nothing changes and because of that, there is no escape velocity accessible to me. Right now, the only thing that trumps everything else is daily survival.
What you need to understand is that every negative event out here triggers a chain reaction. Who has time to mess around with your 211 system that doesn’t get people off the street? I’ve called it and guess what? I can’t wait for two weeks to get an appointment with some agency that simply enters my information on their computers then tells me what I already know, no availability right now but you’re on the waiting list or you’re in our system now. Everybody knows that that means they just wasted their time and who knows when they’ll get housed. In the meantime, you have to scramble for a place to sleep where the police won’t harass you or ticket you. You have to figure out how you’re going to eat or feed your kids without refrigeration or a place to cook. Eating at restaurants everyday kills a limited budget so you turn to eating ready made food from grocery stores which can get expensive. We are thankful for free school meals during 9 months out of the year because without them, food rationing and going hungry is the alternative. Since I don’t have reliable child care, once school is out in the summer, I am once again in danger of losing employment. It’s happened several times before and nobody is doing anything about that for working homeless parents. You have to qualify for subsidized child care and if you don’t meet the state’s requirements for whatever reason, you are just plain stuck like I am.
I don’t bother hoping that government will change anything. The reason social programs are stuck in status quo models is because their funders are stuck in status quo models and King County is great and funding themselves but suck when it comes to creating more affordable housing and getting people off the streets. Right now living wage jobs are also in short supply but there’s a catch 22 to that if you’re homeless. Without an address or personal references to list on an application, who will hire you? What happens if you can’t afford a cell phone? Those free “Obama phones” people refer to are great if you can keep their batteries charged. If you don’t have a regular place to shower or do laundry, that will affect your ability to get hired and keep a job. I am in touch with homeless reality because I’m living it and the grade I give to Washington state is a D- when it comes to ending homelessness.