Thursday, December 18, 2008

Looking Beyond Main Street and Wall Street to Those Stranded on the Street: Pt 1

By Margaret DeJesus (

BOSTON--(Dec.18,2008) Kyla Middleton carried a heavy burden at a young age. When she walked the halls of her elementary school she appeared like any other fourth grader, but something gnawed at her beneath the surface.

“I felt like I always had something to hide,” said Middleton.

“It was tough seeing my classmates make plans. ‘Oh, you want to come to my house after school and hang out?’ ‘Yeah, sure what time?’” she acted out the scenario changing the inflection in her voice.

Like any fourth grader would, she longed to have her own play dates.

“I could never invite my friends over,” she explained.

Her “secret” was that she had no room to call her own and no home to live in. At nine years old she was homeless. Along with her mother and two younger brothers, she lived out of a small motel room in 2003 paid for by Massachusetts.

“There was always that little thing there that said you’re worse than everybody else,” she said dropping her arm by her side.

Middleton, who is now 14, stood tall before students at Emmanuel College on November 16 to educate them on how that nagging feeling of unworthiness can haunt so many homeless children and families.

“If the people that were actually homeless and know what it’s like don’t stand up and say anything, then how will anyone know anything about it?” said Middleton in an interview after her speech. “A piece of paper with statistics doesn’t tell you everything.”

Advocates say the number of homeless families has skyrocketed in Massachusetts, which has led many to once again be placed in motels due to overcrowded shelters.

According to Kristina Barry, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), approximately 640 families are currently housed in motels across the state.

“Homeless families are placed in motels only in emergency situations when there is no available shelter,” she said in an email.

The issue of homelessness in Massachusetts and across the United States does not seem likely to disappear soon despite well intentioned efforts by officials like Governor Deval Patrick to eliminate it. According to advocates, lack of affordable housing options, misguided public perceptions and the declining economy’s effect on the shelter system will make it extremely difficult to stop the cycle of homelessness.

“Hurricane Katrina showed that when a problem is so massive we, our governments, our charity systems, are not set up to deal with masses of people who have nothing,” said Michael Stoops, executive director of the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH), a nonprofit organization. “It was the initial red flag that our system for helping people is broken.”

The impact the foreclosure crisis will have on increasing the number of homeless may not be felt for some time according to Stoops. The people who have lost their homes “won’t become homeless overnight” and “may not join their ranks” for a couple of years, he said.

Stoops pointed out that along with the income they might be able to rely on, there is also the natural support system of family and friends. If that doesn’t work, the next steps could be living out of a car or renting a cheap motel room for a week.

“Their worst nightmare would be to become literally homeless or having to go to a shelter,” he said in a telephone interview.

BOSTON--(Nov.16, 2008) Cheryl Middleton and her daughter Kyla speak about how it felt to be homeless before students at Emmanuel College as part of the National Coalition for the Homeless' Speaker's Bureau.

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