I want to thank everyone who follows me around on Twitter and Facebook because to me, it shows that others actually take an interest in what I do as a homeless person and as a homeless parent. Perhaps you learned something by seeing that I’m really not all that different than everybody else. Sure, I may get involved when others don’t, won’t or can’t. I might tell the truth even if it’s inconvenient for others to hear.
In turn I’ve learned a lot about people just from observation. For instance, when I first wrote a letter to change.org about what it’s like to be a homeless mother, it generated more hits than I thought was possible. To me, it seemed incredible that so many people were either astounded that homeless families were everywhere or didn’t want to believe what my experiences have been. So for those of you still “baffled” by us homeless parents, here’s a list for you to consider:
- How do you keep a roof over your head if child costs more than your rent?
- Just because there’s a child support order in place, there’s no guarantee you’ll receive it and if dad can only find minimum wage jobs, just how much child support do you think will be received?
- Don’t assume there’s family help especially if relatives are barely making it themselves or choose not to get involved because it’s not “their problem”.
- Don’t tell people to “get on welfare” if you don’t know what the current welfare system is or the fact that programs are being cut…permanently. In case you didn’t know, there’s a “process” to see if
you qualify and then you may be put on a waiting list. Section 8 for housing may not even be open to apply for in your state.
- Don’t assume someone can just show up at a shelter and get help. In case you haven’t been watching the news, many shelters are closing due to lack of financial support. If you have shelters still open, it’s possible there will be a waiting list after being seen by an intake specialist because not all shelters will take you. Not only that, the shelter in question may not be a safe place to be and you may get turned away due to not enough room.
- Don’t assume that just because your community has ample services available, things will be the same in other cities or states. Also, it may not be feasible for a homeless person to just pick up and move where you are.
- Get ready to have a family be split apart if local shelters take either men only, women only or women with kids up to a certain age only.
- There’s a time limit on how long folks can stay in a shelter so don’t assume that just because they’re in one, “they’ll be ok now”.
- Don’t assume that families are homeless because of drugs, alcohol, mental illness or being irresponsible with finances.
- Little things you take for granted that act as a “suspension system” for you simply don’t exist out here, like being able to shower every day or get to an indoor bathroom. Having a state id., driver’s license, mailing address, place to do laundry or a cell phone are things that can prevent a homeless person from being able to get work or have access to services.
- This is for educators: Homeless kids have to do their homework either at a public library (if there’s one nearby and they can get to it), a restaurant or in a car. If they’re too busy trying to survive, don’t assume they’re falling behind in school due to not trying hard enough. Also, it’s easier to get sick out here and it takes longer to recover without your own home so absences due to illness are common. When it comes to school functions, many times homeless families will opt out if they can’t afford nice clothes or uniforms for their kids, can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to deal with that even though schools were told we were homeless. My teen couldn’t join most sports because she couldn’t afford the costs involved with being on a team.
- For families living out of their cars, a minimum wage job will barely keep a vehicle maintained, insured and the tank full of gas. Gas is always a priority because there aren’t too many safe places to park for the night so sleep is a luxury that comes in naps or not at all.
- As far as food banks and public feeds are concerned, if you can get to them, they will help stretch a food budget especially if you’re a homeless youth who only gets $200 a month in foodstamps. By the way foodstamps won’t buy any hot foods from a grocery store deli so if you don’t have a kitchen or way to cook food, you’ll be eating cold items. The other thing is that even though you can buy groceries, if you don’t have a refrigerator to store anything so buying perishables is on a day to day basis. Also, if you’re in a heavy need area, public feeds can only bring so much food before having to turn folks away, the same is happening to local food banks. If you didn’t already know this, most food banks allow homeless folks to visit once a week and if you’re housed, once a month.
- Don’t assume homeless kids are necessarily anti-social because they don’t show up to birthday invitations or dances. They might be ashamed of their clothes or the fact that they can’t buy a gift. Homeless kids are acutely aware of the fact they can’t have sleepovers with their friends and some parents have a problem letting their kids visit their homeless friends at a shelter.
As for me, I will continue to post on Twitter and Facebook about what I deal with on a daily basis regardless of who might find it uncomfortable to watch. Homeless life is not pretty. It’s a day to day struggle that goes on whether you’re part of it or watching it from afar. Maybe you’ll get uncomfortable enough to go out and do something about it, maybe not. Either way, don’t say you weren’t informed….