Barb Caffrey's Blog

Writing the Elfyverse . . . and beyond

Homeless Youth in Racine Finds Tough Sledding

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This past week, I’ve been trying to help a homeless youth in Racine who I’m going to call “Allan.”  Allan is eighteen, African-American, polite to a fault, well-spoken, well-intentioned . . . and completely without any place to lay his head.  The reason I’ve become involved is that I have known Allan, on and off, for the past two months; he used to stay next door with a friend.  However, his friend was put in jail on an armed robbery charge (fortunately, Allan was not involved), and Allan was consequently evicted.

At this point, I learned that Allan’s situation was desperate.  He actually had been staying in this friend’s garage (some friend, hey?).  Before that, he’d lived with his grandfather, until his grandfather became homeless.  Before that, Allan was in jail on a minor weapon’s charge (carrying an unlicensed weapon).

As for family, Allan has adoptive parents who live up in Milwaukee County.  But they basically turned him out when he turned eighteen, saying they’d “done enough,” and are not willing to help him now under any circumstances.  He has his grandfather.  He has a few friends, most of whom seem to be of little account.

In any event, none of these people are either willing or able to help Allan.  So he’s still stuck.

What disturbs me is this: Allan has been homeless now for a week.  He hasn’t slept well, or much, in a week, because he mostly has to move from place to place.  And he’s not eaten well, or much, aside from whatever my Mom and I have been able to do to feed him.

Mind you, we’ve been doing this while trying to get someone, anyone to help.  We don’t have many resources.  Many times, we don’t have enough for the two of us.  But we could not let this young man, who’s skinny as a rail, go without food.

We just could not do it.

I can hear most of you now.  “Where are the advocates for this young man, Barb?  Where are the shelters?”

Well, this young man doesn’t have any advocates.  And the two shelters in town have thus far refused to take him.  Love and Charity Mission over on Douglas Avenue said that Allan is too young, because the minimum age for their services is twenty-one.  And HALO, which is the only other shelter in this area, at first refused to take him because Allan had no proof that he’s homeless.  And even though a policeman spoke with Allan on Saturday afternoon and actually took Allan over to HALO and said, “This kid really is homeless” (this according to Allan’s account), Allan is still in limbo.

Part of the reason Allan is in this trouble is due to state and federal cutbacks for shelter funding.  He was in a local shelter meant specifically for homeless teens, Safe Haven, once upon a time, and he’d probably be there right now except for one thing: They closed a few months ago, citing a lack of federal funding due to the sequester cuts.

This is a bureaucratic nightmare of major proportions.  And all the while, Allan continues to have no place to live.

This is just wrong.

I interviewed Allan at great length earlier this evening in preparation to write this blog.  I found out that Allan has no resources other than some food stamps (which he’s out of at present) and a small check that he’s to receive until he graduates from high school due to his adoptive father being a military veteran.**

Obviously, this is not nearly enough for Allan to get an apartment, or maybe even to rent a room.

High school graduation for Allan is a few more months away, as Allan needs to complete two more credits in summer school.  (I’m not going to name which school Allan’s been attending to preserve whatever vestiges of his privacy that I can.)  Allan told me he’s looking forward to graduation, as he has hopes to work with computers and make a good life for himself.

Yet how is Allan supposed to learn when he doesn’t have the basics every person in this country should have — food, clothing, and shelter?  How is he supposed to put all of his earthly cares aside under these appalling circumstances?

What I’ve observed this past week in trying to help Allan is that very few people, in government or out of it, seem to care.  I find that so disgusting that I don’t even have the words to express it.

We in Wisconsin pride ourselves on our compassion.  Well, where is the compassion for this young man?

I’m sorry.  When one person like Allan falls through the cracks, that means our whole system is a failure.

I do know this: every religion worth its salt in the history of the world has said to help the poor.  Protect the weak.  Heal the sick.  And help the homeless.

In other words, Jesus Christ did not believe that young men like Allan should be left to fend for themselves.  Gautama Buddha believed that compassion and mercy should be shown in all cases.  Confucius believed that those who had should help those who didn’t as a form of noblesse oblige, while more contemporary prophets such as Baha’ullah and even Joseph Smith believed that if you were to be one with God, you needed to act like God would want you to act — which means that you should give to those less fortunate, and try to help them get up on their feet.

None of these religions ever said that it’s OK to abandon a homeless young man who’s two credits short of high school graduation to whatever fate he can find on the streets.

I wonder what our Governor, Scott Walker, would think if one of his teenage sons was simply turned out one day and told to fend for himself without money or hope.  I wonder if the Governor ever once thought what it means when the state slashes funding — that someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s family member, is left on the streets because homeless shelters are filled to capacity.  And no one wants to be the one to take this young man in when there’s no guarantee they’ll get any funding to help him out.

I do know what I think, however.  And I do know how I will act, as I will continue to help Allan in whatever way I can.

I really hope that HALO will open its doors to Allan without further delay.  (They should, no matter how full they are.)  He is a young man who works hard, is respectful, and truly seems to want to better himself.  He’s the type of youth that anyone should want to help, as his potential is limitless despite the current exigencies of his situation.

Why no one else seems to care about that is beyond me.

———–

A note about the title: I used “tough sledding” to imply an ice-strewn path.  That’s what it seems like “Allan” is on right now — any step he takes could put him through the ice and into an even worse situation than the one he’s already in.

Besides, Wisconsin is known for our winter weather.  So “tough sledding” seemed a natural fit, under the circumstances.  (Yes?)

** A correction to the record: Allan’s adoptive father is the disabled veteran.  Allan said he does not know who his natural (birth) father was, nor his natural mother, either, when I talked with him earlier today.  All apologies for my earlier misunderstanding.

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