A couple of weeks ago, several members of the Law Center’s staff attended a film screening of Alexandra Pelosi’s new documentary, “Homeless: The Motel Kids of Orange County.” The screening was followed by an engaging panel discussion on child homelessness in the U.S.
I was unable to attend this event, but recently watched the film for myself. I thought it did a tremendous job of highlighting just how tough it is to grow up with 5 people crammed into a motel room, with bedbugs and lice, and without a safe place to play or enough food to eat. And I appreciated the film’s focus on how these challenges outside of school make it extremely difficult for homeless kids to focus on learning when they’re in school. All in all – this was a job well done.
The stories couldn’t be more poignant, and even the toughest politician might not be able to hold back tears. However, despite the reality documented by this film and others, Congress last year determined that these motel kids aren’t homeless. That’s right – policymakers concluded that the very kids profiled in this documentary have a roof over their heads, so they’re only “at risk” of homelessness.
Why does this happen? Why can’t we make the connection between media coverage and changed policies? It happens in other areas – the Washington Post wrote about problems at Walter Reed, and made recommendations for improvements, and soon thereafter a ton of new money was thrown at the problem. You see, where these stories fall short is in their treatment of solutions.
We know what would pull each family profiled by Pelosi out of that motel – housing subsidies, some food assistance, and maybe some childcare help as well. And in the interim, we could really help by ensuring that they get transportation to the same full day schools that their housed peers attend – rather than sitting in a separate and inherently unequal school where second and fourth graders are forced to share a classroom. But when the media doesn’t talk about solutions, government never takes effective steps to follow up.
Alexandra Pelosi is of course the daughter of Nancy Pelosi – Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Speaker Pelosi attended the premiere of her daughter’s film, so we know she understands the suffering that these motel children and their families are experiencing. So to the Speaker, and her House and Senate colleagues – let’s move beyond feeling bad for these children and their families, and set to work providing the resources to get them out of motels and into stable housing and public schools.
-Jeremy Rosen, Policy Director