Monday, August 30, 2010

[PDI] Update on Mom in DuPage falling through safety net

I had several inquiries regarding the recent request for help from a DuPage County woman for herself and her daughter. I would like to clarify that it was not a request for donations so much as a desire to connect this family to an agency or entity that could offer a helping hand.
Kudos to everyone who inquired and became involved, especially Siobhan, it seems, with a little help from Facebook.
As I expected, one thing led to another and someone stepped up to assist. Read on...K
To donate go to the bottom.
Not So Simple Once You Fall Over the Edge
by Diane Nilan Hear-us<> on Monday, August 30, 2010 at 9:06pm
Ironically I was working on our new documentary, "on the edge," with my colleague Laura Vazquez ot at NIU when D'Ann called me. Earlier I received a desperate plea from my FB friend Siobhan and I agreed to try to help a homeless family. The grandmother, D'Ann, was my first contact.

The story D'Ann gave me, a summary about her daughter's plight, was familiar, but still sad. The short version--daughter with her 5 kids under 10-yrs. old are in a motel in DuPage County, trying to escape "real" homelessness. They are already homeless by my standard and by education standards. But that's another story for another day. The bottom line, this family had till the next day at noon to get out or get money to extend their stay at the extended stay hotel.

Leaving DeKalb and pondering this as I drove back to Lisle, my temporary place of parking, I decided to see if I could stop in and meet the family. If I'm going to get involved I want to know a little more than I did at that point. So I called D'Ann and she checked with her daughter. Sure. Come on over.

Got to the hotel and stood outside the room, hearing the relatively minor murmur coming forth. I had to knock twice, but Mom answered, with 5 little children in various stages of getting ready for bed. The 2nd youngest, a typical two-year-old, bolted about butt-naked, fresh out of a bath.

The chaos was way below what I would consider normal for a family of 5 in a small room. Mom was obviously and understandably stressed, trying to keep the kids politely under control, with moderate success. I'm sure she had her misgivings, a strange white woman with shiny silver hair offering to maybe help. I had mine, based on years of working with families in crises. Wonder what is behind this story I am going to hear?

The saga came out slowly, in between her dishing out her pasta-sausage concoction she impressively whipped up on the stove smaller than mine. The 4-year-old little guy wanted to dive in the bowl, but was shocked into reality by the heat emanating from the sausage. The other kids got their bowls, and proceeded to try to eat, some with spoons, the only implement available from the desk clerk.

Not unusual at all, the family's story resonated with 21st century homelessness paterns: single parent with a decent job, family renting a decent little house in overpriced DuPage County, job loss, shreds of family support dissolved, unemployment complications, minimal income, desperately turning to the only homeless "shelters" accepting large families--extended stay motels--and the struggle to keep even this meager roof over her family's head.

This young mother, in her early 20s, I'm sure has more to her story, but the pieces that would have concerned me--obvious drug/alcohol abuse, unsavory characters hanging around, or kids swinging from the ceiling with her chasing them with a stick--were absent. Phew. She signed a make-shift release of information permission slip for me, and we discussed a few options, slim as they are, even for wealthy DuPage County.

Being Sunday night, I lacked any options or bright ideas, so we agreed to talk in the morning. I walked out to my borrowed van, drove not far to my humble abode, Tillie, and pondered....then tried to sleep with the heat and humidity trying to keep me awake.

I beat out the elements, and awoke knowing that I'd need to get the jump on this situation. In my previous emergency service days, I called it "dialing for dollars." Now it's emailing, Facebooking, and texting for dollars. And the vast resource canyon, the Internet, lay before me.

First, I started the way a desperate parent might start, googling "homeless assistance, DuPage" or something like that. It led me to the County's official website for information/referral, proudly introduced by Bob Schillerstrom, DuP County CEO. Following the prompts, entering the Mom's info, I pushed the magic button and was given 2 referrals: Naperville Humane Society and Chicago's Red Cross office. Not such a good start. And annoying, too.

So I called the CEO's office, spoke with a lowly assistant who was quite nice, offering to connect me with the case worker to help with human issues and to inform the techie that some adjustments were needed.

That began my foray into crisis assistance in DuPage. Too many calls to mention them all, but here are the highlights:
a.. Pretty well, all the folks I talked to actually sounded like they cared. They also sounded frustrated about the Grand Canyon-sized gaps in the safety net.
b.. Run-around was inevitable, and common. Call here, no, call there, no...the kind of stuff I didn't want a Mom with 5 traumatized kids to have to hear. I was glad I decided to screen the system.
c.. I did get call-backs from those who got my message, and long-time friends in this work proved to be invaluable, a tool that the Mom wouldn't have.
d.. The system is difficult to navigate. It requires calls that assume access to phones (how do people afford cell phones?) and you have an edge if you are computer savvy and have one at your disposal. This Mom did, many don't.
I called the Mom, saying I'd come over to pay for another night. In my mind someone would offer to cover that expense because I turned to my FB friends and asked. By the time I got over to the hotel it happened. Went from the desk to the room, minus the oldest girl, my namesake. It was still chaotic. Mom's on her last nerve. She had made some fruitless calls too.

I started giving her the lowdown, and she bounced between antsy kids and then back to her own angst that must be innate to parents. Failure. Screwed. Hopeless. Can't quit. Going crazy.

We got into a good mode when I offered to drive her to People's Resource Center for food. She finished getting her kindergartener ready for the cab, fed the little kids, re-diapered the littlest ones, grabbed bottles and other survival gear, and we were off. In between everything both of us got calls. I got several emails/FB messages about donations. Calls at least gave us some of the resources we desperately needed to get breathing room.

She navigated her storage bin, the one that tempted this crises-struck Mom with their tempting $1 for the first month rental. Silly her--she thought she'd just need it a month. Now she's paying $250, which she doesn't have. We got lots of food from PRC in the most humane pantry operation I've seen. Kudos to volunteers there!

And we got to the Public Aid office at 4, supposedly in time for their posted 5:00 closing, so she could check in with her caseworker to make sure she's still on track for food stamps. The worker evidently doesn't answer her phone or return (listen to?) messages. So trekking across the county is the only way to contact, unless you come at 5 after 4.

Up until then, the kids had been amazingly good. I provided an extra set of hands and a patient state of mind to balance the Mom's deteriorating patience and state of mind. But then the baby decided that a bottle would be essential. And diapers needed to be changed. And the other 2 toddlers were getting predicatably antsy. And the Mom's mettle was melting. And I was praying that we'd make it back to the motel before this all imploded.

Tears streaming down Mom's face told the tale. We shared bits of our life stories as I sludged through DuPage rush hour traffic. Wimpers, howls, and sibling poking didn't get too bad. We got to the hotel, unloaded, and she went in to fix dinner on this little stove, in this little kitchen, in this miniscule space called a "room" that will be their home for the next week or so, thanks to my FB friends.

And I drove off, promising to call tomorrow. We're too stubborn to quit. But it's not that simple. We'll need an ongoing stream of miracles. And Mom will need to somehow absorb the reality that she's a precious creation, deserving of enough to keep her family's bodies and souls together. Or she's screwed.


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