Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Day Four: the beginning of the birth pangs

For the first four days of my street retreat, I've been thinking a lot about the homeless families I've know over the years.

I have often heard stories of couples who are living on the streets because they are unable to get housing and in a heterosexual couple sometimes only the female is able to get housing.

Some chose to continue to wait, and live on the streets for four or five years until they can get housing together.

Many are unmarried, because they can't afford a marriage license or have been together so long living by street rules, that they don't always understand the need for the formality of civil marriage recognition. Others have a child whose biological patent is not the person they're in a relationship with and they're afraid they'll lose the benefits that barely keep them fed.

Regardless of the reason, if they are unmarried they cannot live together in low-income housing. You can imagine how this also affects same-sex couple who are unable to be married in California.

I had always told people that it was better if just one could be housed while we worked on getting the other indoors. But I had never met a couple that agreed to it, except one.

A few years ago when I was sleeping out in front of a church, I met a man who had housing in an SRO, who was only allowed to have overnight guests 10 days a month.

So, the couple would stay indoors for 10 days and then (so the female didn't have to sleep on the streets alone) for 20 days, the male slept outside with her.

Tonight my partner Alisa and two month old son will be joining me on my street retreat, and I now understand the ache of being separated by the streets.

Last night marriage equality historically passed in a few states. But what most people don't know is that these laws do not give same-sex couples the same family protections as marriage between a man and a woman. And while Graham is my son, the courts do not yet recognize our relationship and won't until I can adopt him as a second parent.

These precarious legal relationships have ramifications about who can be together in shelters and low income housing.

Regardless of my legal parental status I know, many of you may wonder why I'd bring a baby into this experience.

I say: the Tenderloin is the neighborhood in San Francisco with the highest concentration of families. Why is it ok for most of San Francisco's families to live here, but too scary for my own child?

Some might wonder about the reduced immune system of little babies. I'd remind you that the epidemic of HIV/AIDS an Hepatitis C in the homeless population might mean their immune systems are even more fragile than a babies. If it is ok for all thousands of children of God to live here, why is it not ok for my baby?

Over the past decade the homeless in San Francisco have called me "ma" and I have cared for them as if they are all my own children. I believe it is time for Graham to meet his brothers.

And for those who are still afraid, I remind you that your fear is an important part of this project. How much more should we be afraid and working to prevent all children from experiencing true homelessness?

There are hundreds of homeless families in San Francisco and over 2,000 homeless students going to school in San Francisco today.

I pray today, that all families who are separated finds ways to love across the boundaries of war, poverty, prison walls, bread lines and generational misunderstandings. May all children know they are loved, have their daily supply of breast milk and be safe and warm.

And, as I will do everyday of this street retreat I'll beg you, if you are able, make a secure online donation to Welcome, or participate in our reverse auction.


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