Friday, February 23, 2007

Homelessness in suburbia, especially of teens

A few weeks ago I posted about the hiddenness of suburban poverty. Here's a follow-up - teen homelessness in the suburbs. A friend in Texas forwarded me an article, "Homeless in Suburbia" from the Houston Press, about the growing presence of homelessness in suburban Houston. Many teens find themselves homeless because they are fleeing abusive family situations or parental alcoholism or drug use, or have been kicked out. One student woke up to discover that his mother had killed himself, and her suicide note told him to live with his sister. There he was abused by his sister's boyfriend, so now he stays at a friend's house. The reporter writes,
The suburban homeless are largely hidden. They're more apt to sleep in cars or double up with friends than push grocery carts downtown. And the few existing programs to help them are severely limited. For instance, shelters serving domestic violence or sexual assault victims deny aid to hundreds each year due to lack of space, and families needing Section 8 housing assistance are put on a two-year waiting list.
What's most interesting to me is the denial on the part of suburban civic leaders regarding the issue. One suburban mayor claims, "There is no homelessness in Katy -- none whatsoever." Another says that his city does not need a homeless shelter or public transit. (Naturally, they don't want anything to detract from their images of suburban affluence. It would be bad for business and investment.) The reporter continues:

Social workers in Fort Bend tell a different story, of extended families crammed into trailers with no running water. And school social workers say they are overwhelmed by rising numbers of teenagers from even the most upscale communities camping out on sidewalks, park benches and school campuses.

So often the kids get sent on to Houston, where there's generally a waiting list and no room.

If we are to seek the welfare of the suburbs, Christians and churches need to partner with the nonprofit social sector and help local governments recognize the reality of the issues. What's encouraging is that churches have taken the lead when local municipalities have focused their resources elsewhere. May God raise up Christians who will be active in churches and in public service to minister to the suburban homeless, orphan and widow.


L.L. Barkat said...

I can't help but wonder why there's not a huge outcry in society of "What is WRONG here?!" Maybe the suicide and neglect is part of the cry. Mostly, I think we really need to radically rethink how we live.

Unknown said...

Hey this sounds like a noble $100 investment - wonder what could be done for a $100 for the suburban homeless?

Anonymous said...

Al, this reminds me of my years teaching in the suburbs. I made the mistake once of asking a student, "Why can't you do the homework? This is important!"

Turns out, she was working two jobs to help her family pay the bills. Her response helped me gain some perspective.

Many of these kids do not have the carefree childhood we expect of the suburbs.

I taught many teenagers who were raising their two and three year old children.

I taught several young married couples. I taught lots of alcohoics and drug addicts, some recovering, many not.

And many many many teenagers were living on their own, living in apartments, living with friends, or worse, like you say here.

As a teacher, I just tried to know as much as possible about my students so they wouldn't slip through the cracks. Now that I'm not a teacher, I don't know how I should help.

Al Hsu said...

Mark - I think public school teachers (and others in the social service sector) probably have a far better on-the-ground understanding of what's going on in a community than many folks. I think many of us that have office jobs (or church jobs!) find ourselves in little bubbles isolated from the realities of our local communities.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for continuing to point out the truth about life in the suburbs. Reality is so different from the perception.

Makes me wonder about a lot of the kids who walk on the street in front of my house. I always assumed they were heading home from work (I don't live near a school). Perhaps they are home while they walk.

Francois Rauch said...

Hey dude ..... thanks for caring and writing. Keep going ...I am a missionary deep the jungles of Africa and we have great programs for kids, orphans and teens. We need people to speak out ... and if God has given you the gift to write ... in GODS name ....keep on writing!!! Bless ya.