When I was a child, I was walking home from the store one Sunday morning and saw a car parked on the corner of my block. There was a family inside, sleeping. Two adults and two children. I was maybe 8 years old and I knew that I was looking at a homeless family. I ran home to tell my father what I’d seen. He went down the the corner, knocked on the window of the car and asked them to come to our home for breakfast. It’s one of my clearest memories of my childhood. I didn’t understand economics or what could force a family to live in a car but I knew it was wrong and I knew that we had to help, even if it was just a hot homecooked meal.
Things are different today. There’s a pretty lie that we are being sold. Three of them, actually, all bundled together. The first is that America is the richest country in the world. The second is that if you are not rich, it’s because you’re lazy and you deserve to suffer. The third is that conservatives give a crap about children.
But a new report from the National Center for Family and Homelessness crushes these fairy tales. In this report, we learn that America now has 2.5 million homeless children. That’s more than seven times the entire population of Iceland. That’s more than the combined populations of 16 different countries*. This is more than we’ve ever had:
This amounts to one in 30 children and an 8 percent increase in child homelessness between 2012 and 2013. Nearly half the children are under the age of six. While the problem is most prevalent in Alabama, Mississippi, and California, it exists in every city, county, and state in the country.
The nation’s high poverty rate, a lack of affordable housing, and traumatic experiences – especially domestic violence — are the main causes of rising child homelessness. Most of the children come from single parent households, and 20-50 percent of the mothers of homeless children have experienced intimate partner violence, according to the report.
The first lie destroyed by this report is “America the Rich.” America is not the richest nation in the world. We are the nation with the most money but that money belongs to a very few. For the rest of us, America is not rich at all. For these homeless children, America is little better than a third world country.
The second lie, that the poor deserve what they get, is dismissed by the very fact that these are children. There is no disputing that poverty is a crippling handicap to children. Homelessness acts like a multiplier, hurting them even more. The uncertainty and stress of not having a permanent residence is horrible for adults but infinitely worse for children. So when the majority of these children grow up and their prospects are bleak, did they “deserve” to be poor because they had the nerve to pick poor parents to be born to? Talk to your average right winger who has never experienced homelessness or hunger and they’ll tell you that these kids just need to “try harder” and possibly pray more. Jesus would vomit.
This brings us the third lie about conservatives giving two tugs on a dead dog’s tail about children. As George Carlin once said:
Boy, these conservatives are really something, aren’t they? They’re all in favor of the unborn. They will do anything for the unborn. But once you’re born, you’re on your own. Pro-life conservatives are obsessed with the fetus from conception to nine months. After that, they don’t want to know about you. They don’t want to hear from you. No nothing. No neonatal care, no day care, no head start, no school lunch, no food stamps, no welfare, no nothing. If you’re preborn, you’re fine; if you’re preschool, you’re fucked.
The right wing talks a lot about “charity charity charity” and how they’re so generous. And then they scream about taxes going to the poor. When a conservative talks about charity, what they’re really talking about is the “right” to choose who gets helped and who doesn’t. The sheer arrogance and narcissism of this kind of thinking is astonishing. There should be no mountain we wouldn’t be willing to move to keep even one child within our borders from living on the streets or going to bed hungry.
We have the means to put every child in a warm home, feed them, educate them and make sure they grow up to be whole and healthy. Instead, we have given control of the Congress to a group of people dedicated to taking away what little we already provide for these children so they can give more to the richest among us. Meanwhile, 2.5 million kids are living on the streets or in shelters or depending on the generosity of family or friends. Because how else should the “richest nation in the world” conduct itself?
A nation should be judged not by the wealth of the rich but by how it treats the most vulnerable of its citizens. By that measure, America is the poorest nation on Earth.
* French Guiana, Mayotte, Sao Tome and Principe, Samoa, Saint Lucia, Guam, Channel Islands, Curaçao, United States Virgin Islands, Grenanda, Tonga, Kiribati, Micronesia, Aruba, Seychelles, Antigua and Barbuda