UNCENSORED, American Family Experiences with Poverty and ...

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UNCENSORED, American Family Experiences with Poverty and ...

UNCENSOREDon theHomefrontDatabank21,749@ 44 students per busthe number of school buses needed to seat the 956,914 homeless children attending public school in AmericaNO VACANCYColleges, Condos, and Correctional Facilities Turned into SheltersParents are out of work, out of funds, andas a result out of their homes. Homelessshelters have become the only option forsome families, but increasingly sheltershave no vacancies. Homeless servicesagencies throughout the country havebeen looking for ways to respond to thisincrease in need. Finding space quicklyenough that fits the bill has not been easy.But a few clever cities found unusualspots to call shelter during the recession.Salt Lake City, UtahThe Catholic student center at the Universityof Utah becomes a home to areahomeless families during the school’ssummer recess. Through a program sponsoredby Family Promise of Salt Lake, anThese luxury condominiums were convertedinto shelter for homeless families.interfaith alliance that assists facilities inhosting homeless families, study areasare transformed into living space andclassrooms become bedrooms. By thetime the students return to school in thefall, the space looks like a regular studentcenter again.Brooklyn, New YorkWalk-in closets and granite countertopsbecame everyday amenities whenhomeless families were placed in luxurycondominiums that had an asking price of$350,000 before the economic downturn.Evansville, IndianaA minimum-security jail is undergoingsubstantial renovation to shelter homelessfamilies. Once home to 205 maleprisoners, soon 32 families will freelycome and go at this revamped, brightcoloredfacility. ■page 2


on theHomefrontFall 2010Animal MagnetismVolunteers and Homeless Connect over Pet CareAfter graduating from veterinary schoolin the early ’90s, Wendy Kohn beganinformally volunteering to care for thepets of the homeless and extremelypoor in Portland, Oregon. Today, she isexecutive director of PAW Team, PortlandAnimal Welfare Team, which has grownrapidly in recent years to offer monthlyA young boy shares a hug with his cat after receivingservices at an outdoor PAW clinic.veterinary clinics for about 150 pets. Theclinics, run by two part-time employeesand 70 volunteers, offer vaccinations,basic care, licensing, and coupons forspay and neuter services.For Kohn, the most rewarding part isconnecting with a homeless or extremelypoor person over a pet. “It’s an exchange.Everybody bonds over the pet,” she says.“When you both are focused on the careof a pet, it’s easier to negotiate socially.It’s why we attract so many volunteers.”Kohn believes some homeless peopleare wary of government assistance andPAW Team offers a way to build trust. Aperson may come to PAW Team for petcare and leave also learning about a servicethat can help them personally. Manyforgo shelters because they do not wantto abandon their pets. Kohn emphasizesthe need to train the pets and to push forhomeless shelters and low-income housingto accept people with pets.One quarter of the pets PAW Team helpbelong to families. “We have been seeingmore families over the past six monthsbecause we have been in a consistentPAW Team members perform a routine ear examwhile giving some TLC to the cat of a homeless family.indoor location for that long,” she said.Once she establishes a relationship witha family, Kohn is able to encourage andtrack their progress. Recently, a family,who had previously brought their rednosedpit bull mix for routine shots andflea treatment, returned for their pet’scheck-up with the news that theyhad entered transitional housing. ■on the NetPoint, click, and make a differenceDisagree with a policy affecting homeless people? Want to promote your organization’sproject or one that you admire? Make a point and get support at change.org by starting apetition or adding your name to another. Or just check out blogs on homelessness,poverty, and other social causes.page 3


HomecomingServing Homeless Women Veteransby Carol WardEarlier this year, the staff and supporters of Connecticut’sHomes for the Brave were rejoicing at a major milestone fortheir organization. The city of Bridgeport approved an applicationthat will allow for a transitional supportive housingfacility to host homeless female veterans and their children.Down south in Cocoa, Florida, a similar milestone wasachieved when the Center for Drug-Free Living, in partnershipwith the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA),announced plans for a facility called Operation HomeFront. The facility will offer 28 beds for homeless womenveterans and their children.The planned facilities will join the recently opened HollyCharette House, a six-bed residence for homeless womenveterans in Johnston, Rhode Island. The house is namedin memory of Marine Corporal Holly A. Charette, thefirst Rhode Island woman to give her life in duty to hercountry. The new home is the fourth provided by OperationStand Down Rhode Island, and the first specificallyfor women veterans.The Holly Charette House and the new planned facilities inFlorida and Connecticut will be a small step in filling a gapin the offerings of transitional housing for veterans. Untilrecently, such housing has been geared almost exclusivelyto men, with few beds open for women and even fewer forveteran women with children.“About three years ago, we became aware that there wasa growing need for women and women with childrenbecause there were no beds for them available in this state,”says Joy Kiss, executive director of Homes for the Brave inConnecticut. The women’s facility will offer 17 beds to servehomeless women veterans and children up to age two.“Our experience in dealing with not only female veteransbut also with children is very limited,” Kiss says in explainingthe age parameters. “We didn’t want to jump in fullforceso we opted for younger kids.” Kiss says the goal isto be not only a residential program, but a rehabilitationcenter for those with substance abuse issues and a job andlife guidance facility.Babette Hankey, chief operating officer for the Center forDrug-Free Living, says the group is finishing up a 32-bedfacility for men before officially embarking on this latestproject, but the group has obtained the site and is solicitingbids for construction. The planned 28-bed facility will beable to accommodate up to four children living alongsidetheir mothers.According to Hankey, that population is currently woefullyunderserved. “There is no program currently” dealing specificallywith women veterans, she says. “There is a programin Tampa that we can refer to, and if they have an abuseproblem, there is a treatment facility we can refer to. Someof the female veterans do have substance abuse problems,but after we treat them there is no place to put them.”That reality hit Caroline Contreras directly a few years ago.The Army veteran who served from 1977 to 1979 entered aVA hospital in Connecticut in 2006 for a month of treatmentfor substance abuse issues. Upon her discharge from thehospital, she was struck by the lack of ongoing services tobenefit women veterans.“One of the things that was very difficult for me was thatwhen it was time for me to be discharged there wereseveral transitional housing, supportive housing, and longtermresidential care places for all of my male peers, butthey couldn’t find anything for me because I am female,”Contreras says. Noting that the caregivers at the VA were asA formerly homeless veteran and her family attend an Independence Day picnicin Denver, Colorado. Despite the support being offered to homeless female veteransand their families, they are still experiencing financial and emotional hardships.page 8


HomecomingFall 2010helpful as possible given the circumstances, Contreras saysshe was “outsourced” to a traditional homeless shelter.“It somehow didn’t seem right to me that all my male peerswere able to get services — they were continuing on to theirnext phase of treatment and I was stagnated with no placeto go,” she adds. Contreras eventually recovered, finding ajob and a place to live, and is now working at a private facilitythat provides inpatient treatment for people with mentalillness and substance abuse issues.The Changing Face of Women VeteransContreras is part of the previous generation of women servingin the military, when women soldiers were relatively rare.Contreras, like many of her military peers (both male andfemale) from that time frame, never was on active combatduty. But the landscape is changing. Women veterans makeup about 7 to 8 percent of all veterans but account for about15 percent of veterans discharged from the military in thecurrent decade, according to Pete Dougherty, director ofhomeless programs for the VA. But perhaps more importantthan the overall numbers is the different needs beingdisplayed by the newer group of women veterans.“We’re seeing a woman veteran today unlike those thatwe saw 20 and 30 years ago,” Dougherty says. “These arereally combat veterans we’re seeing today. The womenveterans we were seeing 20 and 30 years ago were largelyin support roles.The veterans we’re seeing from Iraq and Afghanistan,although they’re not kicking in doors on combat mission,they’re driving trucks, they’re military police — the explosivedevices along roadsides and mortar attacks are farmore prevalent in this war than what had been seen in thepast,” Dougherty adds. “We’re finding women that havemore real combat-related experience. They’re coming inwith higher levels of some effect of war, whether its posttraumatic stress disorder or others.”One PTSD that is experienced primarily, but not exclusively,by women is what is known as military sexual traumapage 9


UNCENSOREDHomecoming(MST). According to the VA, about one in five women veteransseen in Veterans Health Administration (VHA) facilitiesrespond “yes” when screened for MST.According to VA estimates, about 107,000 veterans experiencehomelessness on any given night. Of those, approximately5,000 are women and 1,300 are individuals withdependent children. A 2009 CHALENG (CommunityHomelessness Assessment, Local Education and NetworkingGroups) report found that eight of the ten most pressingneeds among homeless veterans are classifiable as family,legal, or financial concerns. Topping the list was child care,followed by legal assistance for child support issues, legalassistance for outstanding warrants or fines, and long-termpermanent housing.Deborah Burch, a veteran living with her ten-year-old sonin Vancouver, Washington, can relate to a few of thosepressing needs. Burch found herself homeless in the summerof 2010 after her husband cleaned out their joint bankaccount prior to his arrest on domestic abuse charges. Asof October Burch had a restraining order protecting bothher and her son from the man, who is an Iraq war veteran.Burch herself is a former Marine who left the service in2004. With her husband gone and bank account empty,Burch found herself homeless because her salary alonewould barely cover the rent on the house they once shared,with little left for child care or living expenses. She andher son were forced to vacate the house in July. After morethan a month of couch surfing, Burch turned to the YWCAfor assistance.“I actually didn’t even think to access veterans’ programs,”Burch says, “Through the VA we know about the MontgomeryGI bill (for education) and we know about VA medical,but we don’t know about other services that are out there.”The YWCA could provide only limited assistance due tofunding issues, but it was through that organization thatBurch learned about the Veteran Women Program atPartners In Careers, a Vancouver, Washington-based mentoringand advocacy group. Partners In Careers providedfinancial support so Burch could rent an apartment and ishelping with ongoing expenses. In addition, the group isproviding mentoring with the hope that Burch will be ableto continue her education and/or find a job that pays betterthan her current position.New Funding, New EffortsThese efforts, as well as several other programs around thecountry, are attempting to respond to the growing nationalproblem of homeless women veterans and veterans withchildren. Recent funding increases have allowed for a newfocus on this underserved group, although many say moreis needed.Within the VA, Dougherty says there is a new cognizanceof the growing need for unique services geared towardwomen and veterans with families. He points to theHUD-Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing Program (HUD-VASH), which provides Section 8 housing vouchers forlow-income veterans.“This program is very attractive to veterans who have beenhomeless, because it gives them their own place to liveand also gives them a place with their children,” Doughertysays. “ Of the first 20,000 units, it appeared that about 11percent of those units were occupied by a woman veteran,and among those units, about 4,000 children were livingwith their veteran parents. About 2,000 children were livingwith their veteran mothers.One future goal is to put more effort into preventing veteransfrom becoming homeless. “What we find among manyof the veterans who are homeless is you don’t come out ofmilitary service and become a homeless veteran,” Doughertysays. “It’s a downward spiral. We’re trying to preventmany of these veterans from becoming homeless by engagingthem with community partners who will help to seekservices on behalf of the veteran.In this coming year we will come out with supportiveservices grants for low-income veterans and their families,”he continues. “We will be offering funding to communitygroups and organizations that will provide a variety ofservices to veterans and families.”Alongside the VA programs, other efforts are being made toassist homeless veterans, with varying success.A bill sponsored by U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) toassist homeless female veterans was blocked by SenatorsMitch McConnell (R-KY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) insummer 2010. The bill would have expanded assistancefor homeless women veterans and homeless veterans withchildren and would have allocated $50 million over fivepage 10


HomecomingFall 2010Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson forSenator Murray, says Murray will“keep working to get this bill passed.”If Republicans continue to objectto passage by unanimous consent,then the next step would be tobring the bill to the floor for a vote,Zupnick explains.A mother shares a moment with her daughter while her infant sonsleeps in a crib at a homeless shelter at Stand Down 2009 in SanDiego. Many homeless veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistanare showing up in homeless shelters around the country.years to extend federal grant programs to address theunique challenges faced by these veterans.The proposed Homeless Women Veterans and HomelessVeterans With Children Act would have extended grantprograms through the VA and the Department of Labor.The bill noted that female veterans are between two andfour times as likely to be homeless as their civilian counterparts,and that female veterans make up about five percentof homeless veterans, compared to three percent a decadeago. In addition, the bill said homeless veterans withchildren are seeking help from the VA and veterans serviceorganizations in increasing numbers.The bill was introduced in June of 2009 and passed theSenate Veterans’ Affairs Committee on January 28, 2010 withstrong bi-partisan support. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY)objected to the legislation on the Senate floor on behalf ofSenator Tom Coburn (R-OK), preventing it from passing.Senator Coburn’s office did not return calls seeking comment,but news reports said he objected to the spendingauthorized by the bill.While the defeat was a disappointmentto many, other funding streamshave opened up. In June, for example,the U.S. Department of Labor’sVeterans’ Employment and TrainingService announced more than $5 millionin grants to aid homeless womenveterans and veterans with families.The 26 grants in 14 states and theDistrict of Columbia will provide jobtraining, counseling, and placementservices in an effort to expedite thereintegration of homeless women veterans and veteranswith families into the labor force through the HomelessVeterans Reintegration Program (HVRP).One grant recipient is in Murray’s home state. Partnersin Careers located in Vancouver, Washington, received a$173,000 grant that will allow the group to launch HomewardBound. Geared toward homeless male and female veteranswith dependant children, Homeward Bound will helpveterans find safe permanent housing, find employment,assist with child care, and gain access to other services.Pam Brokaw, executive director for Partners in Careers,says the first goal is to get veteran families stabilized insafe housing. She adds that several local housing providerssigned a letter of support in the group’s grant proposal. Notingthat it can take three months or more for a veteran witha housing voucher to get placed under the current federalHUD-VASH voucher program, Brokaw says it is crucial toprovide a more timely response.She’s also looking to expand the parameters of who qualifies.“The federal definition (of homeless veterans) doesnot include couch surfing,” Brokaw says. “That means a vethas to be in her car or a tent or a shelter before she is consideredhomeless. We want to intervene a bit earlier thanthat while they are still safe.”page 11


UNCENSOREDSurviving High School Alone and without a Homeenrolled students. In Rock County, in which Janesville issituated, there currently are no shelters that accept unaccompaniedminors. “I’ve been working with a group calledHEAT (Homeless Education Action Team) and others totry and create safe and stable living arrangements for thestudents,” Forbeck says. “We’ve been unable to get funding.These programs are very expensive, because the studentsare under age 18 and the supervision costs are very high.”The situation is equallyacute in Medford, Oregon,where 98 of the 3,900enrolled high school studentswere unaccompaniedlast year, and another 300 orso young people (up to age21) were on their own, according to Mary Ferrell, founderand executive director of Maslow Project, an outreachprogram and resource center.Fewer than one in five school districtsnationally received any support througheither the ARRA homeless educationfunds or the annual McKinney-Vento funding.McKinney-Vento Act ensures educational rights and protectionsfor children and youth experiencing homelessness,including unaccompanied youth. Funding more thandoubled to $140 million last year when Congress providedan additional $70 million through the American Recoveryand Reinvestment Act (ARRA) for the McKinney-VentoAct’s Education for Homeless Children and Youth (EHCY)program. Still, fewer than one in five school districtsnationally received any support through either the ARRAhomeless education fundsor the annual McKinney-Vento funding, accordingto a report entitled: “ACritical Moment: Child &Youth Homelessness In OurNation’s Schools,” preparedjointly by the National Association for the Education ofHomeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY) and First Focus,a children’s advocacy organization.In Medford, as in Janesville, the downturn in the economyis partly to blame. Noting that Medford has the secondhighestforeclosure rate in the state of Oregon, Ferrell saysteens are “dropping out of the family to stay in school.”“Families are losing their homes and the kids are stayingbehind, either squatting in their own foreclosed home orcouch-surfing so they can stay in the school they wereattending before the family became homeless,” Ferrellsays. “We’re also seeing 16-, 17-, 18-year-olds where thefamily is struggling and can’t afford another mouth to feed.They are just dropped off at our door. I wouldn’t call themthrowaway, but I was not seeing this four or five years ago.”Janesville and Medford are two of many communitiesnationwide that have seen a sharp rise in their numbers ofhomeless unaccompanied youth. According to data compiledby the National Center for Homeless Education, inthe 2008 –2009 school year the number of unaccompaniedstudents nationwide was 52,950, up 69% from the 2006 –2007 school year. That number includes not only teens ontheir own, but also children of all ages who are not in thedirect custody of a parent or legal guardian.However, the data include only homeless students servedin local educational agencies (LEAs, otherwise knownas school districts) with McKinney-Vento sub-grants. TheBarbara Duffield, policy director for NAEHCY, notes thatthe data only tell part of the story. She believes some ofthe increase in numbers of homeless unaccompaniedyouth has to do with better reporting from school districtsaround the county. Difficult economic times are also playinga role.“Kids are being dropped off at shelter, or the whole familybecomes homeless and there’s not enough room at thetemporary place for some of the kids,” Duffield says. “Theolder kids get shuffled off to different places. Tensionsare increasing because of the economy so some kids arebeing told to fend for themselves.”The Role of the EconomyThe increase in the number of unaccompanied youthin Janesville can be directly attributable to the sharpdownturn in the local economy. In 2008, the two-prongedclosure of a General Motors (GM) plant meant 1,200 wellpayingjobs were lost. In addition, supplier industries thatfed GM were forced to close as well.“It was just devastating to the local economy,” says RobertBorremans, executive director of the Southwest WisconsinWorkforce Development Board, noting that unemploymentinitially rose to the high teens and remains above thenational average. Of the smattering of new jobs created,page 14


UNCENSOREDSurviving High School Alone and without a HomeA Way Out, Through EducationKelsie, a Quincy, Massachusetts, resident, was one ofthose teens looking to keep her dire situation underwraps. Kicked out of her home by her mom’s boyfriendat age 17, Kelsie slept on friends’ couches and in carsfor months while she attended school. She confidedonly in a few friends, “generally I wouldn’t want peopleto know the situation I was in,” she says. “It’s like you’readmitting a fault or a failure, even though you can’tchange it.“Without the school psychologist, I don’t knowwhat would have happened,” Kelsie adds, noting thatthe psychologist set in motion introductions that wouldultimately lead her to School on Wheels of Massachusetts,an organization that provides support services to homelessand economically deprived students. Kelsie graduatedhigh school in 2010. During the summer she had ajob and an apartment, and she was set to attend SalemState University in the fall.Kelsie is one of many success stories from around thecountry— homeless, unaccompanied kids who defy theodds and not only finish their high school education butembark on a new, positive stage in their lives. CherylOpper, founder and executive director of School onWheels of Massachusetts, saysher group’s ultimate goal isto “provide stability so theycan graduate high school. Sheadds: “We help them if theywant to go to college. We’retheir address, we get them acell phone so we can communicatewith them, help withtheir books.They need a physical presence in their lives,” Opper continues.“It’s not about giving them a number, saying callhere for the food pantry, or whatever. They need somebodyto get involved. We’re their friend, we’re their mentorand we’re their cheerleader for education.”More than in decades past, today’s homeless youth seemto understand that education is their best avenue forchange. “It’s amazing how many of these young people doknow that education is the way they’re going to get out ofthis,” says Duffield. Ferrell agrees, noting that youth participatingin Maslow Project programs “see education as theirone ticket out.”According to data compiled by theNational Center for Homeless Education,in the 2008 –2009 school year thenumber of unaccompanied studentsnationwide was 52,950, up 69% fromthe 2006 –2007 school year.A Place To Call HomeMany communities are ill-equipped to handle the growingnumbers of unaccompanied homeless youth. Thosewho are 18 can access adult shelters. For younger teens,depending on the community, options range from limitedto non-existent.Janesville falls into non-existent territory, a situation thatForbeck and others in the community have been workinghard to rectify. They looked for funding for an emergencyshelter and a transitional housing facility but thus far havebeen unsuccessful.Forbeck says that only a very small amount of fundingfrom the federal government—in the way of Runaway andHomeless Youth program grants from the U.S. Departmentof Health and Human Services — comes to Rock County.The money is enough to fund a part-time social workerbut little else. Even with increases in funding nationwide,Forbeck says there is still a huge shortfall.“The increase in funding was only enough for one or twonew programs, even though the need is increasing andhas never been met,” she says. “The cost of running abasic center (emergency shelter)or transitional living programis about $250,000 a year,” she adds, in part becauseof supervision requirementsfor teenagers. “Local dollarsfor this amount on an annualbasis are just not available,”she adds.Forbeck and others in the community have temporarilyturned their efforts to finding “safe homes” that will gothrough the licensing process used for foster homes. Thegoal is to allow unaccompanied youth to stay in thesehomes for a few weeks at a time, for ten dollars a day.“This is only a Band-Aid, since many of the students willnot have the issues that caused them to separate from theirfamilies fixed in two weeks,” she says. “We really need atransitional living program to help these young men andwomen across the threshold into independent adulthood.”In Medford, a few shelter beds are available, but there arefew options beyond that. “We have a transitional living programfor unaccompanied teens but it’s fairly limited,” sayspage 16


Surviving High School Alone and without a HomeFerrell. “It serves about 20 kids a year, and they have tobe extremely motivated and self-sufficient to be eligiblefor that program.”Bloomington has a nine-bed transitional housing facilityoperated by Stepping Stones. As of the end of the2009 –2010 school year therewere 12 youths on the waitinglist. When openings aroseover the summer, Benhamtried to reach all 12, but 11were not reachable throughthe addresses and phone numbers they had provided.As the school year was about to begin again, Benhamsaid she expected vacancies to be quickly filled.“We get a ton of referrals when school is in session,because generally that is when kids go to their counselorsand teachers and say it’s not going well at home,”she says. The Stepping Stones program is designed toteach life skills, with the goal of independence. “Thekids have a life map, and we help with jobs, moneymanagement, health and wellness, interpersonal skills,”Benham says. “It’s a structured environment. We havea curfew and rules, but they get reduced rent and theyhave a community.”Fairfax County has also had some success, although notin the way organizers originally planned. The AlternativeHouse’s Homeless Youth Initiative was initially conceivedto offer housing in host homes. That strategy hasbeen somewhat successful, but according to Dittman,the downturn in the economy has left fewer families willingor able to help.Instead, the program consists of a hodgepodge ofoptions, including host homes, rent subsidies, and afour-room, all-female group house. With funding fromARRA running out in September, Dittman at press timewas scrambling for alternative funding sources.“ … this is a population where their veryinvisibility provides a challenge for schoolsand for communities.”The need is not expected to diminish. Dittman says thatFairfax County as a whole is experiencing significant economicrecovery, but some areas are struggling more thanever. “There are pockets in the community that were notdoing well before the recession and they haven’t comeback, they’re not even close to coming back,” she says.“Things for them are actuallygetting worse.”Janesville also is not likely tosee recovery any time soon.With no new industry tosustain the population, Forbeck sees more difficult timesahead. The school district is limited in its reach, meaningmany youth will remain alone and without a stableplace to stay.“We do everything to keep them in school,” Forbeck says.“We pay their fees, we provide school supplies, we setthem up with as many social services as are out there.”Still, the frustration is apparent. “We can’t provide themwith a place to stay even for one night,” she says, “but wecan’t give up.” ■Editor’s Note: School on Wheels of Massachusetts is a separateorganization from School on Wheels, Inc., which is located inLos Angeles, California, and Indianapolis, Indiana.The Community Foundation of the National CapitalRegion came through with a $25,000 emergency grant,which Dittman indicates will only allow the programto continue for a few months. “We are currently talkingwith Fairfax County on providing funding,” Dittman adds.“We point out that if we don’t get funding we will have 35youths that are homeless.”page 17


Camping OutFall 2010There are a few things the camp does differently from a traditionalcamp to make sure the summer is a success. “Wemake it very clear to parents that we don’t want them notto send kids to camp because they don’t have a swim suitor enough shorts,” says Anderson. “If they come to campand don’t have sufficient things, we have a ‘gap cabin’, akind of trading post where they can get things they need.And we’re at a pretty high staffing ratio because we dohave some kids that have some challenging behaviors. Butit’s not because they’re abnormal. They’re actually actingquite normally for some of the really tough situationsthey’re coming from. So we can offer some one-on-onetime if they need conflict resolution strategies, or just needsomeone to talk to.”Breaking Barriers to Participation at CampHomeward BoundAlso located in Harriman State Park is Camp HomewardBound, a sleep-away camp for homeless children operatedby the Coalition for the Homeless. Camp HomewardBound hosts about 300 children ages 7 to 15 for two weeks.Kids can hike and swim, learn to cook, and try their handat photography and video.Unlike some others, Camp Homeward Bound does notautomatically exclude children with physical or emotionalproblems. “About 60% of campers are either from, or werefrom, domestic violence shelters,” says Beverly McEntarfer,camp director. “We’ve made an effort to target those kids.”The camp has based staffing ratios on their kids’ needs.“Many kids have anger management issues or suffer frompost-traumatic stress,” says McEntarfer. “We have a nearlyone-to-one staff-to-camper ratio, so there’s more opportunityfor success.”And the camp has many success stories. McEntarfer tells ofa camper with challenging behaviors who tried but couldnot make it at camp last summer.Because of past domestic violence,he was just too worried for hismother’s safety to leave her at theshelter. “But this year,” says McEntarfer,“he came back. And insteadof disengaging if he has a problem,he is now able to go to a counselorand talk about it, and that is hugefor him. He even wrote on a survey,‘I know people care about me. I amhappy.’” About the story, McEntarfersays, “We get a number of kids likehim every summer. We figure thoseare the kids who really, really needus the most, so those are the kidswe target.”“It’s intentional that we don’t havea social worker or psychologist onstaff, although we have access tocrisis intervention if we need it,”continues McEntarfer. “It’s not atherapy camp. If they bring thingsGetting to see what it is like to use a doctor’sinstruments at Camp St. Vincent de Paul is alot more exciting than simply hearing aboutwhat a doctor does.page 23


UNCENSOREDCamping Outand analyzing hair and fiber to solve pretend crimes, suchas a puppy kidnapping and a sabotaged entry in a cakebakingcontest.The camp is a learning experience for both the kidsand the instructors, who are university students studying tobecome teachers. Explains Laura Henriques, chair of thescience education department at CSULB, “You can’t look ata kid and know he’s homeless. And as a teacher you can’tjust assume everyone walks in the door ready to learn.”Fun is definitely a priority at Kids’ University day camp, butmore often than not it is coupled with learning. Based atthe University of Texas at Dallas, 125 children from areahomeless shelters attend the week-long camp where theyare introduced to numerous professions, get a leg up onacademics, and get a look at what it is like to be a collegestudent.Camp Wakonda gives New York City’s homeless children a chanceto see what lives and grows outside city walls.up, we will talk about it. But we don’t focus on what theydon’t have or what the negative things in their lives are.Camp is about kids being kids.”Learning and Leadership as a Rite of Passage for KidsOften Left BehindCollege Campuses in California and Texas WelcomeHomeless Kids for CampMost summer camps include some academic activities toprevent learning loss over the summer. But the Young ScientistsCamp for Homeless Children is all about learning—and having a great time while doing it. California StateUniversity, Long Beach (CSULB) runs the two-week dayprogram for homeless children in kindergarten throughgrade eight.Younger campers study animals and insects. Olderchildren examine the physics of flight by experimentingwith hot air balloons, rockets, and parachutes. The oldeststudents are crime scene investigators, lifting fingerprintsRun by Rainbow Days, a Dallas-based organization thatprovides multiple services to at-risk and homeless children,Kids’ University aims to increase the aspirationsof all of the children who attend. “It’s not ‘will you go tocollege?’ It’s ‘when you go to college,’” according to KellyWierzbinsky, director of the camp, “That’s the message wewant to give the kids.”A graduation ceremony takes place on the last day ofcamp, where the children dress in multi-color graduationregalia and walk across the stage while their parents andfriends enthusiastically applaud. “My favorite part of thegraduation,” according to Wierzbinsky, “is when Dr. GeorgeFair, the dean of Interdisciplinary Studies at University ofTexas at Dallas, tells the children that he looks forwardto hopefully seeing them again in six to eight years asstudents at the university.”Summer Job Options for Homeless TeensUnlike their younger counterparts, homeless teens haveother things on their minds during the summer, like findinga job. The stakes are higher for homeless teens, because asummer job can make the difference in having new shoesor school supplies in the fall. But in the current economy,jobs for teens are scarce. A few helpful programs are availablefor homeless youth that equip them with the skills andknowledge they need to get hired.In Baltimore, the Y of Central Maryland recognized thathomeless teens needed a safe, fun opportunity to be pro-page 24


Camping OutFall 2010ductive and prepare for the workforce. By partnering withthe local school system, which provides the bulk of fundingthrough the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act,the Y of Central Maryland created Camp New Horizons.The three-year-old camp is well known in the area, maintainsa waiting list of interested teens, and each summerfills a couple of hours after opening enrollment. Eligibleyouth are homeless and enrolled in a Baltimore City publicschool for the upcoming school year.In the mornings, teens learn financial skills, like how tobudget and maintain good credit, and prepare for theworking world by writing a resume, completing a workpermit, and practicing job interviews. In the afternoons,campers take a bus to their summer job, for which theyreceive a stipend of $20 per day. Job opportunities includereceptionist, junior camp counselor, executive intern, preschoolteacher apprentice, and custodian.Marianne Reynolds, director of youth asset developmentfor the Y of Central Maryland, explains the goal ofthe eight-week camp is not to prepare kids for a certaincareer but for the workforce in general. “We work onbasic skills,” says Reynolds, “like dressing appropriately,getting to work on time, working the whole shift, anddemonstrating a good attitude.”On payday, the teens take a bus to the bank to cash theirchecks. “One of the really wonderful things we’ve found,”Camp St. Vincent de Paul has activities and theme days thatgive homeless children an exciting and unforgettable summer.says Reynolds, “ is that when kids cash their first checkit goes toward things like jewelry and games—they kindof waste it—but their other checks, they don’t waste. Weencourage them to pay yourself first and then put someaway to save, and we see them doing that. We’ve evenhad two brothers pool their checks to buy a computer.”Camper Bre’Shonia used her paychecks to buy her schoolsupplies and uniform and to help pay a bill for her family.She also used some of the money to start a checkingaccount for herself. “What I learned from the CitiFinancialand Wachovia workshops that I attended,” she explains,“was that when you have some money—no matter howmuch—if you can save it or invest it, then do so; becauseby saving money you make money. I also learned thatneeds outweigh wants.”The Value of CampThe camps not only take homeless kids outsideinto the fresh air and sunshine, they also helpthem gain independence, build self-confidence,and develop life-long skills. Giving homelesschildren and youth the opportunity to attendsummer camp is one way to minimize theimpact of homelessness. As camp servicescoordinator for Homes for the Homeless, DonaAnderson, puts it, “Camping is a type of culturalliteracy. As an adult, it helps you relate to yourpeers in many different settings.” ■Hands on experiments provide engaging and educationallessons at Camp Wakonda.page 25


UNCENSOREDThe Historical PerspectiveCharles Loring Brace and the Children’s Aid Societyby Ethan G. SribnickIn the middle of the nineteenth century, New York Cityfaced its first epidemic of child poverty and homelessness.This crisis and the reaction to it had long-lastingeffects; it popularized the word “homeless” and led to thebeginnings of modern family foster care.children who lacked a nurturing home, reformers adoptedthe word “homeless.” By their definition, homeless childrenincluded those without shelter or family support, butalso those children who had a place to live but spent theirdays working on the streets.In 1849, George W. Matsell, the city’s chief of police,warned of the increasing number of child vagrants on thestreets of New York. Boys, according to Matsell, loitered atthe piers, stealing recently unloaded dry goods. Girls actedas crossing sweepers, demanding tips for sweeping themud out of pedestrians’ paths, and peddled small itemslike “fruit, socks, [and] toothpicks.” Some of these childrenlived on the street, sleeping in boxes or “occasionally incheap lodgings,” havingno homes or families toreturn to at night.Many of these childrenwere the offspring ofimmigrants, mostly fromIreland and Germany,who flooded into NewYork in the 1840s and1850s. These parents,struggling to survive inthe city, sent children outto work or worked suchlong hours themselvesthat their children wentunsupervised. At thesame time, a new generationof middle-classreformers believed allchildren, even the poorchildren of immigrants,should be sheltered ina loving home free ofthe burden of work. Todescribe the city’s poorCharles Loring Brace ultimately developed the mostinnovative and influential response to this midcenturyepidemic of childhood homelessness. Born in 1826,Brace found his calling in the ministry. While completingseminary in New York City, Brace ministered to the city’spublic poorhouse. This experience transformed him; by1850, he looked to apply his theological training to socialproblems. Accordingly, Brace founded the Children’s AidSociety (CAS) in 1853,dedicated to the “generalimprovement of the conditionsof the homelessand friendless childrenroaming the streetsof New York.” Unlikeother reformers of hisera, Brace asserted thatmassive institutions likeorphanages or juvenileasylums could not rearhealthy, virtuous children.Instead, he argued,asylums often led to “ahidden growth of secretand contagious vices.”Charles Loring Brace founded the Children’s Aid Society in 1853. His innovativeapproach to helping homeless children provided an alternative to institutionsand created the beginnings of modern family foster care.Rather than warehousingchildren in asylums,Brace and CAS developeda two-track strategyto alleviate childhoodhomelessness. On onetrack they openedschools, lodgingpage 26


Charles Loring Brace and the Children’s Aid SocietyFall 2010drafthouses, and trained a staff of agents to investigate andaid children in New York. On the second track theycreated a process to funnel poor children out of the cityand into rural homes. In developing his programs, Braceembraced the children’s independence and individuality.CAS opened industrial schools to teach trades togirls working on the streets. For the many newsboys whoworked long hours peddling newspapers often livingoutdoors or in temporary shelter, Brace built a networkof lodging houses. These lodgings did not overtly reformthe boys’ character, but cultivated positive characteristicsalready present in these junior entrepreneurs. The “planwas to treat the lads as independent little dealers,” Braceexplained, “and give them nothing without payment, butat the same time to offer them more for their money thanthey could get anywhere else.” Once CAS had securedthe boys’ trust, they would introduce “moral, educational,and religious influences.”This 1882 sketch depicts the interior of one of theChildren’s Aid Society lodging houses. These providedshelter for newsboys and other homeless children.Industrial schools and lodging houses provided intermediaterelief to homeless children, but they did little to reducetheir numbers. The solution to this crisis, Brace theorized,was to remove the children from the city. This led to “placingout,” finding rural homes for the homeless children ofNew York. Traditionally, orphans had been legally indenturedas servants or apprentices to work in farms and businesses.Brace, however, envisioned a different approach.Through informal verbal agreements between CAS agentsand potential parents, he hoped to create substitutefamilies, providing these urban children the loving homesthey needed in the country. Brace’s placing out system—grounded in the belief that the best substitute care for achild is a home not an institution—provided the foundationfor modern foster care.page 27


UNCENSOREDCharles Loring Brace and the Children’s Aid SocietyThe society first experimented with placing out in farmcommunities in upstate New York and then expanded theoperation to other northeastern states. Later, Ohio, Indiana,Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, and Michigan wouldreceive 90 percent of the children “emigrated” out ofNew York. This region, at the time, was the West— openterritory where, according to Brace, independent childrenwould thrive. By 1884, CAS had placed out 60,000 children,sending them out on so-called “orphan trains.”This 1904 photo depicts boys on a Children’s Aid Society Train bound for Texas.The society’s placing out program began in 1853 and would continue until 1929.Yet many of the children placed out were not actuallyorphans; instead, often one or both of their parentsstill lived in New York. These parents, perhaps not fullyinformed of what would happen to their children, sometimescomplained they were not given sufficient updatesor information on their offspring’s whereabouts. Removedfrom their familiar urban environment, many children stillthrived in their substitute rural families. Others, however,pined for home, and some were simply treated as cheapfarm labor. The most strident criticism of Brace’s systemBroadsides such as this one from the 1860s helped publicize thearrival of “orphan trains” in rural areas and find secure homes forhomeless children.came from Catholic institutions that believed CAS wasintentionally stripping Catholic children of their faith byplacing them with Protestant families. In spite of these difficulties,placing out proved influential as other organizationsin New York and elsewhere set up programs modeledon the work of CAS.Over 150 years later, CAS remains active, inspired by theexample of Charles Loring Brace. “What’s interesting tome about orphan trains and really the invention of modernfamily-based foster care,” explains current CAS Presidentand CEO Richard R. Buery, Jr., “is just what a radicalidea that was.” Today, CAS remains an innovator in thefield of foster care and adoption, as well as in confrontingsuch social dilemmas as intergenerational poverty,teenage pregnancy, childhood obesity and malnutrition,and the achievement gap. “We have just continued to tryto find new solutions for intractable problems,” concludesBuery. Brace’s solution alone did not end child homelessness.By the end of the nineteenth century, however, withmany poor children transported west or housed in institutions,childhood homelessness was no longer a majorsocial crisis. ■ICPH’s resident historian, Ethan G. Sribnick, takes anin-depth look at the history of family homelessness, poverty,and the development of social services in New York Cityin the second in this series of columns.page 28


UNCENSOREDKids are Left BehindHowever, even with organizations like Safe Horizon outthere, many families who have experienced DV are endingup in the general homeless shelter system. But why? Maybethere aren’t enough DV beds available or the servicesaren’t coordinated enough to meet the needs of these familiesso they are falling behind. Because of this, the traditionalhomeless shelter system needs to have extensive DVadvocates in place to better assess and provide referralsfor DV specific services.Once in the shelter system, victims need to be providedwith support and advocacy to help bring their DV to lightand assist them in breaking the cycle of violence. Asdiscussed earlier, many women do not initially identifyas victims of DV. With on-going mental health support,information, and education on what it means to be in aDV relationship,and peer support,these women maygain the courageto disclose theirexperiences. Withthis realization and disclosure, advocates can then providemore focused DV services for the entire family.All of this turmoil creates uncertainty in the lives of thechildren who are affected. According to the NationalCenter for Homeless Education (NCHE) at SERVE, childrenwho are victims of a violent home and face homelessnesssuffer an endless list of potential issues, including emotionaland behavioral problems, violent behavior towardpeers, adjustment issues, placing blame on themselvesfor the abuse, inability to concentrate and retain information,poor nutrition, inadequate sleep patterns, and severeemotional distress.These are only a few areas of concern for the childwho experiences DV. As a child grows older and has tonavigate the world in new ways, many more issues willsurface. These children may begin to imitate some of theabusive behaviors in their own relationships or take onthe role of the victim. The cycle of violence is in dangerof continuing on from generation to generation withoutadequate intervention.Often DV specific shelters are focused primarily on providingservices to the women involved. This is critical in helpingwomen develop the skills and confidence to succeedoutside of their dangerous relationships. Some DV sheltersmay have supportive services for children, but it is vitalthat these children also continue to receive supportive servicesin their schools, so the negative effects of the abusehave minimal affect on their development.According to the latest New York City statistics, there areover 14,000 homeless children in the public shelter systemin New York City. Many of these children are also victimsof family violence, whether or not the shelters officiallyrecognize them assuch. Thousandsmore are in DVspecific shelters,private shelters, onthe streets, or livingdoubled or tripled up with family and friends. Many moreare at risk of becoming homeless. We need to increasepublic awareness around issues surrounding DV. We needto educate providers and the communities at large todispel myths and reduce stigma. We need to educate theentire shelter system to better assess and intervene in situationswhere DV is involved. We need to empower survivorsto speak up to improve their situation. Increasing serviceslike job training, supportive counseling, and child care canmore effectively assist these courageous women in takingthe necessary steps to leave their tumultuous relationshipand improve their lives and the lives of their children. Keepchildren like Crystal in your mind and heart. We cannotleave her behind. ■However, even with organizations like Safe Horizon outthere, many families who have experienced DV are endingup in the general homeless shelter system.Editor’s Note: The views expressed in Guest Voices are theopinions of the writers and do not necessarily express the viewsor intent of UNCENSORED or the Institute for Children, Poverty,and Homelessness.Rich Lombino is an attorney, writer, and social work student. Elizabeth Lombino is a social worker andwriter. They are a husband and wife team effecting social change and working to end homelessness.page 30


Fall 2010draftPUBLISHERInstitute for Children, Poverty, and HomelessnessEDITORRalph da Costa Nunez, PhDEDITORIAL STAFFManaging EditorLinda BazerjianEditorial AssistantsStephanie HarzConcha MendozaCONTRIBUTING WRITERSLauren BlundinElizabeth LombinoRich LombinoEthan G. SribnickCarol WardICPHInstitute forChildren, Poverty& Homelessnesswww.icphusa.orgLetters to the Editor: We welcome letters, articles, press releases, ideas, andsubmissions. Please send them to UNCENSORED@icphusa.org. Visit our Web site todownload or order publications and to sign up for our mailing list: www.icphusa.orgis published by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness (ICPH), an independent non-profit research organization based in New York City. ICPH studies the impact of poverty onfamily and child well-being and generates research that will enhance public policies and programs affecting poor or homeless children and their families. Specifically, ICPH examines the condition of extremepoverty in the United States and its effect on educational attainment, housing, employment, child welfare, domestic violence, and family wellness. Please visit our Web site for more information: www.icphusa.org.Copyright ©2010. All rights reserved. No portion or portions of this publication may be reprinted without the express permission of the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness.


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