By Don Allen, Senior Editorial Columnist – Our Black News (MN)
If you believe in the Holy Trinity; the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, then you know the current state of our cities are in chaos – void of a moral compass, and all consumed by a political rat-race that has overlooked the “least of thee,” said Martin Luther King, Jr. The people in the middle, and on the bottom have been hit hard, and we are expected to treat elected officials and the petit-bourgeois (Fanon) of our BIPOC and LGBTQ communities like celebrities? I haven’t written an editorial opinion in over a year because in today’s social media era, people don’t usually read your stuff past the title and first paragraph – if that. It doesn’t matter if you have textual evidence of challenges that are deep-rooted inside a cast of people; it doesn’t matter if research and science data back up your claims, ideas, and solutions. Humanity is operating too fast, too soon, and the sent and received messages from the media to the masses have been deliberately crafted to increase revenue for media conglomerates that pay news anchors based on style versus integrity, moral compass, and being objective. I mean really, how can we ignore homeless children? I don’t profess to be the smartest person in the room but I have sat in the room and listened to great men and women speak about ideas, people, and economic justice for BIPOC communities in the Twin Cities. From elementary school teachers, college professors, and a host of celebrities, and community members I understand it’s important to check the logic of a situation, more so the policies and people that sit in decision-making roles who are fully aware of the challenge that should sit on their shoulders every day. However, still today, the Twin Cities have not solved the life-altering challenge of eliminating homeless K-12 scholars and giving homeless families a chance for self-actualization.
Okay, the first argument: It’s not the nonprofits, government agencies, schools, and elected folks to solve the problem. It starts with the family unit; what are the parents doing right? What are they doing wrong? Have they looked for the assistance inside and outside their families first? How can someone with children in school be homeless? What did they do? This argument puts the blame squarely on parents and their familiar units for not abiding by Western standards of culture. If one were to look at this from an intercultural communication lens vis-à-vis intergroup problems via ethnocentrism, this argument is an evaluation of other cultures according to preconceptions originating in the standards and customs of one’s own culture – dismissing the variables and derivatives associated with homelessness and political-lensing of BIPOC communities. Ethnocentrism is established, fixed, implanted, and deep-rooted in white supremacy (modernism: Jim Crow; postmodernism: ‘the evolution’ – Ethnocentrism).
According to Wilder Research (St. Paul, MN), there is an estimated 13,300 Minnesota youth who experience homelessness over the course of a year. This includes an estimated 5,800 minors age 17 and younger on their own, and 7,500 young adults age 18-24. This estimate is considered conservative; the actual number of unaccompanied youth is likely considerably higher (Wilder Research: Homeless Study, 2018). More importantly, from the report: African Americans, American Indians, and youth who identify as LGBTQ are particularly over-represented among the homeless population. Again, this represents the political lensing of BIPOC and LGBTQ communities as part of an ongoing war to enforce standards within another culture’s moral compass about what is valued and not valued. If Black (African Americans), American Indians, and youth who identify as LGBTQ are at the core of this issue and have been for a long time, then does that mean society and its political or human-needs systems of checks and balances tell us this undisguised disparity is acceptable? In 2020, because of the pandemic, local community stakeholders feel the number of “homeless” minors and 18-24-year-olds has increased exponentially.
The Criminalization of our K-12 Scholars and Families
We have not done enough research to figure out a way for early detection of imminent homelessness or to identify the generational trigger-points of when a family or individual will fall into poverty if not born into it – both man-made. Today, when a K-12 scholar misses days at school (somewhere between 2-7 days), it sets off a punitive system that first alerts county officials and law enforcement that a child and family are somehow doing something wrong, and a full investigative service must be deployed formally, distinctively – operationally tenured in some cases by the same people that are paid to solve the issues of homelessness. Both Hennepin and Ramsey county is heinously indigent when it comes to paying first and last month rents for people that do not have a job or that might be on county assistance; the current system finds ways to penalize families for having nothing. This has never solved the problem of family homelessness only adding numbers that increase the need to reevaluate policies that keep people static, poor, homeless, and criminalized. A few years ago, a single mother of 8 in Birks County named Eileen DiNino was sentenced to a 2-day jail term for failure to pay more than $2,000 in fees and fines related to her teenage sons’ truancy. DiNino was found unconscious in her cell and later died at the hospital. Since 2000, more than 1600 parents in Birks County (CA.) have been jailed for failure to pay truancy fines (Kennedy, 2020). In Minnesota, a child is legally considered to be a “continuing truant” if they have 3 unexcused absences in elementary school or miss 3 or more class periods on 3 days in middle and high school, and a “habitual truant” if they have 7 unexcused absences in elementary school or miss 1 or more class periods on 7 days in middle and high school (Ramsey County Attorney’s Office).
In January 2021, both Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter outlined their priorities for 2021, lists that overlapped in the key areas of public safety, an inclusive economic recovery, and a regional response to homelessness. “Everything we do right now has to be done through the lens of helping our businesses and helping our residents weather the storm of this crisis,” Carter said. As both mayors made clear, it wasn’t a single crisis their cities faced in 2020. In addition to the pandemic and its economic fallout, both cities struggled with unrest following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day; upticks in homicides and other violent crimes; and housing crisis illustrated by encampments on both sides of the river. Pandemic-related strains on city budgets threaten their ability to respond (Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal story by Dylan Thomas ). Granted, the COVID-19 pandemic allowed many systems to stop working or be exposed for their lack of functionality, still – homeless K-12 youth didn’t just happen in 2020, and grandstanding with a sprinkle of hyperbole on the part of local elected officials continue to put the futures of youth that deserve stability are past at-risk for mental health concerns and suicide.
In an interview with STRIPES University founder and CEO, Mr. Marvin Sims says, “Why are we not stating the obvious? Why can’t people be honest – systems are designed to get the results they are getting. A wobble in any system, people throw money, time, resources, and energy. But the system of homeless K-12 scholars: Black, Native American, and LGBTQ being over-represented is part of a structure that employs people to address problems without addressing them. If somehow homeless K-12 scholars went away, many employed inside the system would be unemployed; continued static of this issue is monetizable; man-made, by design, neglecting the human need of those affected. In short, self-actualization is dismissed because policy, politics, and education have rejected accountability.”
What Mr. Sims speaks of – Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, allegedly stolen from the Black Foot Indians, is a motivational theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, From the bottom of the hierarchy upwards, the needs are: physiological (food and clothing), safety (job security), love and belonging needs (friendship), esteem, and self-actualization. (Background: In April of 2014, at the National Indian Child Welfare Association, it was presented that Abraham Maslow, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, borrowed generously from the Blackfoot people to refine his motivational theory on the hierarchy of needs. In short, intellectual theft from a caste of people that someone considers less.)
If the founders of humanistic psychology understood that for a human being to survive key elements in some type of formula for human development must be in place. If the elements of self-esteem and self-actualization cannot be actuated by families in the form of employment, education, food and clothing, and social circles, a substitution of chaos are immediately possible, which can be seen in the Twin Cities vis-à-vis the increase in crime including youth murders (north Minneapolis and St. Paul), violent carjackings, Metro Transit incidents, and the continued misdirection and alleged misappropriation of funds – already enough spent in the last 10-years (salaries and obviously failed programs) to house every homeless family with school-age kids, and homeless veterans in Minnesota. We buy what Minnesota gives us; hopes and dreams have been void of a solid foundation and we must quickly rebuild, re-fund, and rebrand every system inside recognizing the challenges with homeless scholars because we cannot really explain to a homeless scholar (and other students) how important it is to stay in school when they have to concentrate on their next meal and where they will rest themselves. Some do not understand consequences nor cause and effect and cannot deconstruct meaning because we (adult policymakers) are forcing Minnesota’s homeless student population with brains (higher-order thinking) that are not fully developed – but in a developmental stage making them live their life trying to navigate as adults without the benefit of growing up with meaningful naturing and nurturing.
Is there a Better Way?
It has been my experience that there are many different alternatives available to end student and family homelessness in Minnesota. The first would be to immediately stop penalizing families and scholars for living in poverty. The Ethnocentrism prevalent in social services, education, and employment is still waging a war against the outsiders meaning cultures outside the white savior complex; there are no Black saviors, or a pseudo-Black savior because the petit-bourgeois in the BIPOC and LGBTQIA communities are complicit in playing political sides and more concerned about social statuses and the church they attend. In closing, you would never come to me for dental work; but yet systems house policy and people that continue to have longevity in their jobs by making sure the status remains static for our homeless population in the Twin Cities.