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Homelessness is a difficult problem to solve

By ELAINE WILSON-REDDY

Contributing columnist

I received a phone call yesterday from a former student who is now an attorney in the area. One of her clients needed a place to sleep last night. She wanted to know if I could help solve the problem.

The young man (I’ll call him David) has been in foster care for most of his adolescence. He and his siblings have been shuffled through foster homes for years. They were removed from the family home because of parental opioid addiction. He was without a place to sleep last night because he hasn’t had a family home, or anything that resembles one, since he was removed.

In the short amount of time I was with David, I could tell that he’s intelligent. He quit school because it no longer served his needs. His needs went beyond learning to read and write. He needed a stable, consistent adult in his life to keep him steady. Instead, he got the usual adolescent foster treatment: He would get placed and life would settle down for a time; eventually, something would set off his temper, he would yell, slam a door, maybe throw something; the foster parents would send him off so his problem would no longer be their problem.

There are too many children whose lives mirror what I saw last night. Children are removed from family homes in order to keep them safe. Once removed, they are committed to the state foster care system. These children have been traumatized over and over in their family homes, but it’s home to them. They must now rely on strangers to guide them through past and future trauma. It’s daunting for all involved.

David got in the car with his worldly possessions in a small bag, not even a suitcase. It was more like a soft-sided briefcase or small carry-on. He was soft-spoken, said yes ma’am and no ma’am, and told his story to me the way we would relate our day. He told us about the places he had recently stayed. Some friends in another county would let him sleep on their couch but he didn’t have transportation to get there. This particular evening, he spent the afternoon with someone he knew but wouldn’t be allowed to sleep there.

My friend and I learned that he had spent the previous night out in the elements. I think the temperature got down into the 30s that night. He said he slept for a while on a bench in the library parking lot. A policeman eventually came by and made him leave. He never did say where he ended up.

My attorney friend contacted a local service organization in hopes of getting David a safe place to sleep. She was told it was after hours and too much paperwork would be involved and to contact them tomorrow.

Homelessness isn’t something that happens only in places like New York City and Los Angeles. According to their district report cards, Danville schools have 39 homeless students. Boyle County schools reported 48 homeless students. Those are the ones school officials know about. Rest assured, the actual number is higher.

Imagine trying to learn after spending a night, or many nights, sleeping on a friend’s couch, in a car, on a bench, or even in a hotel room that serves as a temporary home. The problem is overwhelming. These children need stable adults who will set boundaries and love them through their trauma-induced rage. Teachers do the best they can. Social workers, court workers, social service organizations all do the best they can within their individual systems.

What is answer? The immediate need is to have a shelter that can accommodate children. Easier said than done. Shelters are a huge undertaking that require money (of course), safe facilities and staff, in addition to the obvious: beds, sheets, pillows, a place to wash the linens, electricity, food, water, etc. Like I said, it’s huge.

Until then, you can help. Become a CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) volunteer to help children make their way through the court system. I suspect if David had had a CASA, he likely would not have spent the night in the cold. If a CASA had been available, David would have had someone to make sure the foster placement was appropriate for him. He would have had an additional layer of support and protection that could have helped keep him from being homeless.

 

We found a local organization that paid for a hotel room for David last night. He was in a safe, warm, clean place for one night. He is fortunate to have an attorney who threw out the law tenet of not getting emotionally involved in her cases. She made sure he was safe. It’s not the first phone call I’ve gotten from her about a client. Thank goodness for rebels.

If you would like more information about becoming a CASA volunteer, contact CASA of the Bluegrass at 859-936-3510, or visit their web site at www.casaofthebluegrass.org. I’m a CASA. It’s important.

 

  1. Elaine Wilson-Reddy, JD, is a professional educator, consultant and advocate. She lives in Danville.