Local Voices – Melissa

Melissa Chapman, Homeless Liaison, Amarillo Independent School District, Texas, and Stephanie Clayton, MEd, LPC Intern

“As a Homeless Liaison at Amarillo ISD, I continue to work with a growing number of families living in motels or doubled up because of various reasons who are excluded from assistance with programs because they do not qualify as “Homeless” under HUD’s definition. Many times the families are not able to stay at a shelter for reasons such as: working night shifts, or they have a large number of children and therefore the shelter does not have a family room big enough for them. Or, they have teenage boys and the shelter cannot accommodate them. Others may not have the appropriate documentation needed to stay in a shelter such as identification, birth certificates or social security cards. Others have used their time up at the shelter or been kicked out because of stringent rules.

Many times families who are staying with friends or relatives in a doubled up situation are in a very vulnerable situations and do not know how long they will be able to stay. They may be told a month or longer; however things often change when the individual they are staying with starts struggling in their own living situation, or it become too much of a hassle or nuisance for that individual. It is many times impossible to get documentation from the individual with whom they are temporarily staying because they are afraid they will lose their own housing.

I am a social worker in a school district with approximately 1,500 homeless students at the moment. Several families with whom I work live in motels. They live in these motels because they have income that is not reliable, and they are not able to save any money for a deposit or first month’s rent for a place of their own. One family has been in a motel for over 5 months now. She does not meet the definition of homeless for HUD assistance through the city because she has been at the motel for so long. She works a less than minimum wage job as a waitress and makes very little off of tips. She continues to struggle to make ends meet, and is desperate for housing to move her daughter into a safer environment. She has gotten to the point of tears and wanting to give up several times, because no one seems to be able to help her. She does not understand why she is not qualified as homeless according to HUD definition.

This family is far from the only family we see in these types of situations. It is next to impossible to maintain a family in a motel situation, where there may or may not be a kitchen. Food stamps only go so far, especially when the family is forced to eat out because they cannot cook. It is very difficult for the children in our school district to focus on their education and goals when they are unsure about where they will sleep at night. The children in our school district need a stable place to rest, so that they can meet the academic standards placed on them daily. Unfortunately, I see too many parents become frustrated with the system and give up. They feel like failures and return to drugs or other unhealthy coping mechanisms because it is just too difficult to receive the assistance they need.”

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About the photos: Photos of children and youth experiencing homelessness provided by Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc., used with permission. (c) 2012, Diane Nilan, HEAR US Inc.