Sunday, December 21, 2008

A Job and an Education

This new job that's got me all energized is proving to be really difficult to write about. I'm working in a preschool for homeless children as a Something-or-other Coordinator, but really I do a little bit of everything: play with the kids in the classroom, clean up messes, handle sobbing parents in the middle of all kinds of crises, build and administer the database, and help to ensure the children get the therapy and counseling and medical care they need.

One thing that's easy to say so far is that I didn't know crap about the face of the homeless problem in this city or this country. Oh, I thought I did in some sort of statistics-quoting, liberal, middle-class, I work in non-profit so I have do-gooder cred kind of way, but it's so much uglier and more complicated than I realized.

I knew that domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness among women and children, and I found it sad and regrettable. But, actually seeing the walls behind which so many women live in secrecy and fear because the men they loved and trusted brutalized and terrorized them, I feel so impotently furious I have to avoid thinking about it.

Hearing the stories of young mothers who were abused and rejected by their own families, left to grow up the best they could in one foster home after another until they aged out of the system with no one to count on, but who are struggling to do better by their own children, I actually feel hopeful.

Knowing how many families end up on the street after a lay off or an illness or one of a dozen other reasons outside of anyone's control, I feel so unreasonably lucky to have the family and the education and all the support and resources I do.

And unfortunately, dealing with parents who seem so lazy and resistant to help for themselves and their children, I feel disgusted. I want to have empathy and respect for everyone we serve, but I don't know how to be understanding of someone who can't be bothered to say a couple of words to me to authorize free services for her child. Hell, she didn't even have to sign a piece of paper, just say, "OK."

I want to write about what I encounter and be fair and honest and maybe even kind of educational, but I also don't want to violate anyone's privacy (or get myself in trouble), so I'll have to fudge some details and invent others to make a true point but respect everyone involved. That's going to be a lot harder than posting pictures of my vacation and telling stories about my cat, and I don't know if I'll be any good at it.

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