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Friday, May 22, 2015

Thinking About Poverty and Law -- Part 2 -- Problems of Homeless Families


Hopeless Station, a fictional account based actual cases
The call came in to the Hopeless Motel reception desk at 2:45 p.m., a bomb would go off at precisely 3:30 - “Get them homeless out of there,” was the only further statement of the caller; there was no bomb, but because the caller had first asked for room 308, a family found itself summarily dispossessed the next morning. It didn’t matter to the management that Barbara was a victim of spouse abuse, nor that it was almost certainly her husband who had made the call to make trouble for her. He had been sued by Social Services (DSS) for failing to support his child. He beat Barbara and had threatened their child when she told DSS his whereabouts and signed an affidavit against him for DSS to use in Family Court. The management was concerned only that trouble was brewing and there was enough of that already in the letters to the management and the local newspaper. So, Barbara was ordered out the following morning.
For Barbara and her seven year old daughter Debra, it was back to DSS and on to another motel in another town, on another highway, in another non-neighborhood, amidst fast food restaurants, automobile sales rooms, automobile fumes, bags of clothing and more bags. Barbara was assigned to live with other homeless families at the Bull Moose Motel in upstate New York. She and the other homeless families must hike along a busy corridor to shop for food at a nearby shopping center.
With only a parking lot for a playground, Barbara and Debra faced a summer of heat and boredom. Barbara’s search for a place to live produced nothing but responses of “No welfare” and an occasional offer of an apartment at a rent far beyond what DSS allows. Barbara counted the days until school would start. Registration Day finally arrived. Barbara and Debra arrived a little before 8:30 a.m. at the front door of the Benton McIntyre Elementary School on Monday September 4th. Barbara expected no difficulty, after all, there had been no problem when she registered Debra in school in Hopeless Station. Debra had had a pretty good year there, so why shouldn’t she be able to adjust and do just as well in this new school district.
Mother and child were not prepared for the cold reception and rejection she received from the staff and then the principal at McIntyre. She was told that the school district did not accept motel children, that she was not a resident of the district and so, her child could not attend without payment of the tuition. Debra and her mother returned to their room only with the suggestion that they ask DSS to transport Debra back to her previous school district. DSS agreed to provide transportation, but despite the pleading of Barbara and her DSS caseworker, the previous school district also refused to accept Debra, saying that she was no longer a resident of the district and could not attend without payment of tuition.
Barbara appealed to the state commissioner of education, who issued a temporary emergency order directing the McIntyre school district to admit the child. The following summer, the commissioner issued a regulation which he hoped would solve the homeless problem, directing that homeless children have a choice of continuing in the school where they became homeless or attending school in the district where the motel or shelter is located. For Debra, this worked out well, but for many children living in motels far distant from their old schools and friends, it has meant a ride of an hour or even two hours by taxi or special bus each way, thus excluding all after-school activities.

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