If you've been watching my blogs on careyfuller.com or my tweets, you'd know that the homeless mothers I've been working with in the city of Kent need a lot more than flowers or a nice Sunday brunch. What they need is permanent housing and a support system that does more than send them through a revolving door back into homelessness. All of the women I've been working with have been trying to get help and have documented how many numbers they call looking for any kind of help they can get. Even Betty, an older woman with a disability, has tried to find work after losing her job in retail. Betty is in her 50s and has one adult daughter that can only help when she's in town. When Betty can't find a place to stay or a shelter is too full, she sleeps outside behind abandoned buildings.
Then there's Amanda, who has a 2-year-old daughter and another child on the way. Her boyfriend Steve works but hasn't been getting enough hours to put a permanent roof over their heads so they both have been calling local agencies and meeting with homeless youth programs until they finally found one that said they could get them into permanent housing but ... in a few weeks. In the meantime, where are they supposed to go? Amanda then went to a list of churches, all in Kent, who either said, "Well, we helped you once already" or "We just don't have the funds to help you." Amanda went to one particular church in downtown Kent to see if she could use the phone to call me and the people there told her, "We're trying to have a meeting here, so you need to go somewhere else." Amanda said, "That's mighty Christian of you all." The woman who told her to go away gave her 50 cents and shooed her away. Amanda went to another church across the street that let her use the phone so she could tell me where she was. Amanda and her boyfriend spent all day taking turns pushing their 2-year-old in a stroller from place to place just trying to find help. They told me that this is what they had been doing from day to day.
Now add Nicole, who has a 12-day-old baby. Nicole had a job, a home, a husband and a car that ran. When she lost the job, she also lost her home and her iffy spouse, and could no longer afford to make repairs on her car. She was staying with an acquaintance of her spouse but that acquaintance doesn't understand how long it takes to get out of homelessness once you're in it and with a newborn. Therefore he told her that she and the baby have 10 days to get out because "he has his own things going on" and doesn't need them there. Nicole says that all she can think of to do is sleep in her car with the baby or ride buses at night to keep warm. Nicole asked for help from her church and was told that "We aren't that kind of church. We don't do charity giving." Nicole then tried to go through the 211 system and found out that although they say they've streamlined their intake system as of April 23, they still can't guarantee there's room in a shelter or that there aren't indefinite waiting lists.
When I called 211 myself I asked the representative who took my call if their new efficiency has any bearing on the fact that shelters aren't adding any new names to their waiting lists or the fact that there aren't enough emergency housing units available. Her response was, "Well, we can't change that but this new system simply streamlines the process when applying for help." Section 8 is still closed to apply for and good luck with any other support services while you're homeless in Kent. Did I mention that even with everything falling down around her, Nicole is grateful to be alive? Maybe that's because her cancer has been in remission for the last fourteen years. She named her baby girl Miracle.
As I am writing this, I am on the phone with a frantic mother of a 20something-year-old son with learning disabilities. They made the mistake of trusting a friend's promise of letting them stay there until they get on their feet but turns out that once their food stamps and cash ran out, so did their friend's patience and the two were thrown out this morning with all their clothes and a tent I gave them months ago piled up by the side of the road. Even if I came by to pick them up, where would I take them?
If I were rich, I'd take all the homeless moms I know to a nice Sunday brunch or dinner somewhere just so they could have a break from their everyday struggle to get to a better life but the truth is I can't. Sooner or later the donations I get to directly help them get rooms, bus fare, prescriptions, diapers, or other immediate needs will run out and a bouquet of flowers won't put a roof over their heads. They need permanent housing and they need it now.