Thursday, January 17, 2013

‘Bring It On!’ Kick-off of Cross-Country Tour on Behalf of Homeless Kids and Families

Photo (c) Diane Nilan

[Naperville, IL, 1/17/13] Winter weather at its worst. Blinding dust storms. Scorn from unenlightened community members. Seemingly endless, stark drives wrapped around arduous events. “Bring it on!” two determined women (Pat LaMarche and Diane Nilan) dare Mother Nature. Traveling as the Babes of Wrath on behalf of homeless children, families and youth, these two women are about to embark on a grueling month-long, 5,000-mile awareness-raising tour of the southwest part of this country.

This tour, of their own free will under the banner of HEARUS Inc., Nilan’s Naperville-based nonprofit organization, begins Tuesday, 1/22 in Little Rock, AR. Beleaguered local service providers along the route are eager for the Babes to land in their cities and towns. “We’re so glad SOMEONE is doing advocacy,” one shelter director told Nilan. She bemoaned HUD’s ineffective “structure” supposedly addressing homelessness on a local level, known as the “continuum of care,” local agency representatives charged with translating inadequate U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) resources into services for homeless persons.

One critical issue in discussions with concerned local leaders is a dreadful one—how families with babies and toddlers are ignored, part of the pattern of abuse and neglect perpetuated at the federal level. The consensus: families have never been a priority. In fact, they are very low on HUD's homeless subpopulations served (and funded).

HUD says they’re allowing the local community to set priorities as they point out that there's enough federal money to go around. In this imperfect world, the “Littles” lose.

When the Littlest Nomads (babies and toddlers, with parents) are ignored, it creates a feeder program of homeless adults. Little kids, in their prime growth stage, miss out on nurturing, nutrition, developmental opportunities, and they absorb the toxic influences—emotional and environmental. They’re ill-prepared for school and they often struggle and fail. Chances are their family’s housing situation remains precarious. Poverty follows them everywhere.

When these kids end up as homeless adults, no one should be surprised. But everyone with the power to do something should be ashamed. The feds get left off the hook when local communities try to do things on their own. For every local community able to step up to the daunting challenge of providing housing and other essential services to impoverished families, hundreds—or thousands—cannot, or will not, do the job.

Pat (L) and Diane
on their 2011
Southern Discomfort tour
Pat and Diane, Babes of Wrath, will listen, learn and challenge communities large and small to bolster their local efforts and to let their elected officials know that this is very much like the Great Depression, with millions of people—babies, toddlers, kids, parents, and single adults—in need of life-saving shelter, food, heath care and other vital services. LaMarche will blog on Huffington Post, Nilan on Alternet.

Their message will make them as popular as the great dust clouds that continue to batter the southwestern part of the country. But, as history teaches, eventually Depression era officials caught on and implemented common sense dust-reduction strategies. With homeless people small and large rolling like tumbleweed across the land, this nation’s approach toward homelessness needs rethinking. Sooner rather than later, they hope.

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