Other Views: Congressman Ryan must hear call to revamp War on Poverty
Congressman Paul Ryan and I agree: The War on Poverty isn’t going well. That’s one reason I’ll visit his Janesville office Friday. I’ll share images and stories of the most vulnerable population in this failed attempt to eradicate the enemy, poverty. Homeless families and youth, the most invisible segment of our nation’s disenfranchised, must be seen and heard.
Probably a shock to most Wisconsinites in bucolic District 1, Ryan’s constituency, is the reality that at least 3,000 homeless children attend your public schools. That doesn’t include younger/older siblings, parents, or adults without children.
Despite best efforts, emergency shelters and services in your area are scarce, leaving vulnerable families and children to double up with others or bounce between cheap motels, campgrounds, cars and abandoned buildings. This dreadful lifestyle causes personal deterioration as hopelessness drags on and on.
This observation, far from being a criticism, is to alert Ryan that his constituents and millions more nationwide will be immensely harmed in the upcoming budget war. Practically speaking, the upheaval these families experience today will cost taxpayers more in the long run and jeopardize the well-being of kids with great potential.
The War on Poverty shouldn’t be a war on the people trapped in poverty. They don’t have bootstraps, or even boots. As households with more stability and resources struggle to keep their housing, jobs and health, those with unmet basic human needs fall deeper into the abyss of abject poverty.
Seeing young faces and hearing voices of the homeless is the reminder Congress needs to know that it’s time to reverse the dreadful trend of homelessness. To say we don’t have the resources is a shallow excuse while billions of unaccountable dollars are shoveled to corporations for war-related expenses and huge tax cuts are enacted for those with the money and power to make it happen.
The number of homeless students nationwide has increased a whopping 57 percent since 2007, the beginning of our economic meltdown. Last year’s count exceeded 1 million for the first time. This hardly is the time to further shred the safety net.
The standard I’ve used to gauge a person’s motivation is, “What would your mother say?” In addition to conflicting with stalwart family values of caring for your neighbor, Ryan’s political actions conflict with the Catholic faith he professes and the expressed purpose for which we have a democracy—to ensure that each person, especially the most vulnerable, has access to basics needed to survive and thrive.
I’ll bring gifts Friday. I’ll present Ryan or his staff with the recently released Almanac of Family Homelessness (Institute of Children, Poverty and Homelessness. 2013). I’ll leave copies of my documentaries, “My Own Four Walls,” and “On the Edge: Family Homelessness in America.”
My hope is to overcome the confusion that distorts decisions about how tax money needs to be spent. Until families without homes have roofs over their heads, neither Congress nor I can rest in efforts to make things right for our homeless brothers and sisters.
Diane Nilan is president of HEAR US Inc., which gives voice and visibility to homeless children. Address is 115 E Ogden Ave. 117-329, Naperville, IL 60563; email firstname.lastname@example.org.