But Is the Speaker of the House Listening?
by Pat LaMarche
You know how you can tell when a kid’s been homeless too long? Ah, trick question. If you actually tried to figure that out then you’re worse off than anyone imagined and you may as well turn off your computer monitor and just walk away.
See, any amount of time — even a fraction of a second — is too long for a kid to be homeless.
But I guess you could’ve been lulled into believing that a certain amount of grief and pain on the part of our nation’s most important people is acceptable. Maybe that ignorance is why nobody took to the streets and shut the nation down after the U.S. Congress voted to hurt the poorest children and the grownups they hang with; even after continuing to give big tax breaks to multinational loser companies who operate with contempt for the people of the United States.
That said, let me tell you one telltale sign that a homeless kid has definitely been homeless too long. But you’re going have to wait for it because the lesson comes with a little story.
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, and she’s helped me sort the change when the time comes. With some pretty intense case management, she and her mom got an apartment last November. She’s really bright but she’s had some serious disadvantages on account of being homeless for three years.
See, homeless kids’ lives — quite frankly — suck.
Are you hearing me John Boehner?
Their lives really really suck. And I don’t mean some homeless kids’ lives suck. I mean every homeless kid’s life sucks; every last one of them.
So Boehner — I realize you may find my referring to you simply as Boehner disrespectful, but I figure it’s no less disrespectful than the way you treat the 1.35 million homeless kids for whom you’re Speaker of the House. So now we’re even. Anyway — where was I? Oh yeah, let’s just imagine you’re a homeless middle school kid.
First of all, you don’t have any friends. And you may even do that on purpose because if you had friends you wouldn’t be able to invite them over because, um, you live in a shelter.
You get off the bus at the wrong stop so that the few kids who don’t know you’re homeless won’t find out and start picking on you.
And by the way, if you’re not in a shelter then in most of this country — that you, Boehner, just happen to be two heartbeats away from running — someone will take you away from your parents. Unless you’re over the age of 12; then most shelters will just separate you from your family no matter what. Think of it as Sophie’s Choice for America: your mom can choose security and safety for her five-year old, but she has to give up her 14-year old to do it.
And Boehner, see, homeless kids can’t remember their teachers’ names because what’s the point. Two out of every five homeless kids attend at least two schools per school year, and a little more than a quarter of them attend three or more.
Up on Capitol Hill, how often do you have to make new friends, Boehner? I mean, can you imagine if your lobbyists changed on you three or four times a year? Or, if you even just had to move your office around that often, it could mess with your concentration.
Now, you might not be a school kid of course. There’s a 42% chance that you’ll be under the age of five. And then all of this life is just what you’re looking forward to down the road from now. And down the road in this country — with you, Boehner, and your selfish cronies running it — could be really bad for today’s homeless toddlers.
One last thing, Boehner: if you had been a homeless child and lived in and out of homelessness, you’d be dead by now. In fact, the life expectancy of a chronically homeless person is 13 years younger than your current age of 61.
And I know you’ve walked by homeless old people. But that’s all your doing of late, because an elderly homeless person is a newly homeless person. People who’ve lived their lives in that sort of poverty don’t get old.
So anyway, Boehner, remember, you’re my 12-year-old homeless friend who I asked to sort the change from my Buddha bank so that we could go to the movies. She did a fine job of separating the coins as I’m sure that you would have — you can just think of it like sifting through the $2,690,870 in PAC contributions you received last year.
After my friend was through, I asked her to let me know if any of the nickels were from the 1940s. 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 if for one minute, Speaker Boehner — and I’m back to calling you Speaker Boehner on the hope that you will see that cutting assistance to the poor hurts little people who are THIS poor — you could imagine being in her place, maybe you would embrace these kids. Being a good Speaker of the House, or any member of Congress, means knowing that no one is more important than our nation’s kids.
Pat LaMarche is the Vice President of Community Affairs at Safe Harbour, Inc. In 2004, she was the U.S. Vice Presidential nominee for the Green Party. During the campaign, she traveled the nation living in homeless shelters and on the streets; the book she wrote about those experiences is Left Out in America: The State of Homelessness in the United States (Upala Press, 2006). LaMarche writes a regular political column for The Bangor Daily News; contributes to the Huffington Post on poverty and homeless issues; and is a Contributing Author for New Clear Vision.