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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

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When a Homeless Kid Has Been Homeless Too Long

Posted: 04/22/11 11:34 AM ET

You know how you can tell when a kid's been homeless too long? Ahh, trick question.

See any amount of time -- even a fraction of a second -- is too long for a kid to be homeless.

Sadly the U.S. Congress voted last week to hurt the poorest children and the grownups they hang with; even after continuing to give big tax breaks to multi-national companies who operate with contempt for the people of the United States. You can read about these guys in Forbes Magazine.

That said; there are still telltale signs that a homeless kid has definitely been homeless too long.

I collect change. You know, at the end of the day I empty my pockets into a piggy bank -- well actually it's a plastic Buddha bank -- and at the end of a year I usually have enough cash to do something fun like take a few homeless kids to the movies.

So there's this one particular kid who'd been homeless for three years. I met her about two years ago. With some pretty intense case management she and her mom got an apartment in November. She's really bright but she's had some serious disadvantages on account of being homeless for three years.

You have to know one thing about homeless kids before we move on. Homeless kids' lives -- quite frankly -- suck. Their lives really suck. And I don't mean some homeless kids' lives suck. I mean every homeless kid's life sucks; every last one of the 1.35 million of the children that the National Coalition for the Homeless says exists.

Firstly, homeless kids don't have any friends. Maybe some of that's on purpose because they don't want to invite anyone over to play because they live in a shelter or worse place.

Homeless kids get off the bus at the wrong stop so that the few kids who don't know they're homeless won't find out and start picking on them.

And, if they aren't in a shelter, then in most this country someone will take them away from their parents. Unless they kid's over the age of 12; then most shelters will just separate them from their family no matter what - it's like a Sophie's Choice for America - a mom can choose security and safely for her five year old but she has have to give up her 14 year old to do it.

And these kids don't care to learn names or get close to teachers. Again, stats from the National Coalition for the Homeless tell us that two out of every five homeless kids attend at least two schools per year and a little more than a quarter of them attend three or more.

But not all homeless kids are school kids. 42% are under the age of five. And those Congressional budget cuts to public housing and fundamental necessities will effect these kids and their grownups even longer than it will their older peers.

Sadly, lastly, homeless children who remain chronically homeless have life expectancy thirty years less than the average American child with a home. Statistics provided by agencies from United Way to the National Coalition for the Homeless predict they'll die at 48 if somebody or some organization or some governmental body doesn't find a remedy to their living situation.

Now that doesn't mean there aren't homeless old people. But those elders are newly homeless. People who've lived their young lives in that sort of poverty simply don't get old.

So anyway, my 12 year old homeless friend who I asked to sort the change from my Buddha bank so we could go to the movies did a fine job of separating the coins; but when I asked her to let me know if any of the nickels were from the 1940's. She came over to me with a dime and said, "Pat is this a nickel?" Imagine that - having seen so little money that you actually couldn't tell the difference. That's an affliction that stigmatizes and limits these kids and the U.S. Congress is cutting assistance to poor little people that are THIS poor.