More on Homeless Children

February 12, 2013 at 1:32 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Obdachlos - Homeless mother and children, 1883 or earlier.  From the Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883 (Digitalisat der BSB). Photographed by Fernand Pelez.

Obdachlos – Homeless mother and children, 1883 or earlier. From the Illustrirter Katalog der internationalen Kunstausstellung im Königl. Glaspalaste in München 1883, 4. Auflage, München, September 1883 (Digitalisat der BSB). Photographed by Fernand Pelez.

Petula Dvorak’s recent article in the Washington Post vividly draws attention to the cruel injustice to homeless families – and in particular, to the children in those families – that results from the present policies in Washington, DC toward homeless families.  The article is likely to apply to many cities.

Dvorak’s moving account nicely complements a post (Homeless Children at School) in this blog.

I won’t repeat here what is in the article or in the blog post, but I recommend that you look at both, if you care about what kind of world you live in, and about what kinds of people will be living in your world in the near and medium-term future.

Instead I’d like to draw your attention to something that at first has no relation to the topic, but is actually very relevant.

Zachary Karabell recently published an article that takes a fresh look at the deficit – which is topic A these days – and arrives at startling but convincing conclusions.

Zachary Karabell points out that deficits are debt, and, depending on what it is used for, debt can be either a prudent investment, with future payoffs, or can be spendthrift and dangerous.  He points out that the present discussion on the deficit incorrectly assumes that all debt is bad.  Historically, that is not true.  If well used, debt can bring us future prosperity that would be unattainable otherwise.  Historically, deficits have often been prudent and beneficial.  They can temper recessions, avert depressions, and provide infrastructure that is essential for future growth.

This brings us back to the topic of homeless parents, job seekers, and children.  For the moment, consider only homeless people who are either looking for work, or who will be looking for work when they grow up.  For the moment we are not considering those who are homeless because they cannot work now nor in the future, for reasons of physical or mental ill health.  We will consider them at the end of this post.

Both Petula Dvorak’s article and the blog post cited earlier point out the penny-wise and pound-foolish nature of the present policy.  Zachary Karabell’s findings greatly sharpen that point.  Providing resources that provide a stable, non-chaotic, respectful environment for homeless people who seek jobs, or will grow up to seek jobs, or who are raising children who will grow up to seek jobs
– will provide means for them to get off the dole, which they ardently seek to do
– will lead to more taxpayers in the future
– will reduce the number of the unemployable and the number of criminals in the future

That is, public expenditures of this type are an investment – an investment in the employability and character of people who will be part of our city in the future.  Think of it as an investment in infrastructure.  People are the most important infrastructure.

Now about those who are homeless because they cannot work now nor in the future, for reasons of physical or mental ill health.  Our policies to them are a more purely humanitarian issue.  What kind of people do we want to be?  What kind of world do we want, insofar as we can influence it?

Homeless veteran in New York, 13 December 2008, http://www.flickr.com/photos/josjos/3105382896/in/photostream/, by JMSuarez.

Homeless veteran in New York, 13 December 2008, http://www.flickr.com/photos/josjos/3105382896/in/photostream/, by JMSuarez.

Homeless Children at School

October 9, 2012 at 8:59 am | Posted in Fairness | 2 Comments
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Children sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890), Jacob Riis (May 3, 1849 - May 26, 1914)

Children sleeping in Mulberry Street (1890), Jacob Riis (May 3, 1849 – May 26, 1914).

This post was triggered by a recent article by Petula Dvorak in the Washington Post, about poor children.

Some years ago, I was the President of a local chapter of a major national and international scientific and engineering society.

The society was holding its annual meeting in a nearby city, and as the nearest local chapter, we were designated to host an Educators’ Day for the K-12 teachers in the area.

The teachers who attended were enthusiastic and interested.  They were eager to share their experiences and problems.  What they had to say was informative, and sometimes even shocking.

A significant number of the most interested teachers came from Washington, DC, since it neighbored the city (Baltimore) where the meeting was being held.

One of the teachers from DC mentioned that 85% of the students in her classes were from homeless families.  Those children mostly lived in city shelters.

The city thought that it had to motivate homeless families to keep looking for a job.  It thought that they needed additional incentive to try to cease being homeless.  It feared that they might become comfortable and rooted in a particular shelter.

So no family was allowed to remain in the same shelter for more than two or three consecutive months.  When that time was up, the family had to try to find another shelter with space for them.

What would that do to a child’s ability to learn?  To concentrate?  To make friends, and establish enduring relationships with other children and adults?

What would that do to a parent’s ability to find a job, and to get to it each day, on time?

The city’s bizarre thinking is a perfect example of ‘penny wise and pound foolish’.  Instead of transitioning families out of welfare, instead of helping the children of homeless families to become well adjusted, law abiding, well educated employable adults, the city’s policy undermined both goals.

Street Child, Srimangal Railway Station, Srimangal, Maulvi Bazar, Bangladesh.  Photo by Md. Tanvirul Islam.

Street Child, Srimangal Railway Station, Srimangal, Maulvi Bazar, Bangladesh. Photo by Md. Tanvirul Islam.
The Peachtree-Pine shelter in Atlanta, Georgia.  Photo byjramspott, 23 June 2009.

The Peachtree-Pine shelter in Atlanta, Georgia. Photo by jramspott, 23 June 2009.

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