I had this experience two years ago. I befriended a young street couple; the woman was pregnant. I tried in vain to help them find temporary housing. The short version of the story was that I spent many hours calling every nonprofit I’d ever heard of on their behalf (they didn’t have access to a telephone), and the couple didn’t fit the criteria for any of the programs I contacted because they weren’t married and wouldn’t separate. They wanted to marry but couldn’t because the man’s identification documents had been stolen, and there were complications from his background in getting them reissued.
I didn’t know a lot about the different organizations who were helping the homeless at that time, and I could write a book on what I learned from that experience. Things are much better in Dallas since then, especially with the Bridge providing a central location for services. One thing that was evident then and still is: there were many groups helping the homeless in their own small and valuable way, few of them knew what the other was doing, and none of them could help my friends.
The couple ended up moving from the street into an abandoned building in Deep Ellum, then to underneath a bridge, where she miscarried. It was maddening, trying to put together a puzzle that actually did involve life and death — with many of the pertinent pieces missing. I simply couldn’t believe that in a city this size, with wealth this predominant, there wasn’t a housing program that would accommodate them together temporarily until the baby was born. Guess what? To my knowledge, there still isn’t.
Christian organizations do most of the ‘heavy lifting’ with the homeless and depend on church congregations for financial support. Since the church does not condone living together without marriage, service providers that are connected to the Christian faith community do not generally allow unmarried couples to be housed together in their programs.
I might as well go ahead and appall my fellow feminists here and say that I hold a pro-life stance, so I am going to proceed to call the living being within a woman’s belly a child. If we are going to address this problem of homeless women staying on the street while they’re pregnant and put the unborn child first — first above our ideas of the morality or immorality of conceiving a child out of wedlock — then we have to revisit housing pregnant street mothers who are unwilling to give up living with their street husbands and consider housing them together. These couples are often married in their own eyes but not married legally or in the eyes of society.
Here’s why: most of those women that I’ve known won’t separate from the man they are with while they are homeless. They will stay on the street rather than go into housing alone because, along with the emotional and physical attachment they have to ‘their man’, he has been and is their protection — in fact, often their very survival. The woman I spoke about in the first paragraph told me that, even when she was with her ‘man’ — and he was big, tough, and strong — other men on the street reached out and grabbed at her body frequently, pregnancy notwithstanding.
Another thing: I’m not a person who generally feels I need to be taken care of, but when I was pregnant, this changed. I felt particularly vulnerable during this phase of married life. Many other comfortable, middle-class women I know have said the same thing, and one can imagine the magnification of this if one were homeless.
People will say these women should think twice before they get pregnant while homeless. How about this statistic? I have been told that at least 25% of socially and legally recognized marriages are ‘shotgun’ weddings, and that’s a conservative number of those that are willing to admit to their situation. But in ‘polite society’, we can rush up the wedding or hedge the conception date. Unplanned pregnancies happen in all segments of society, but homeless women can’t hide theirs behind closed doors. Do I think it’s the world’s greatest plan to conceive a child while one’s living on the street? Of course not, but it’s happening, and that’s the reality.
It is all well and good to carefully screen the individuals we let into our nonprofit programs and then report marvelous numbers and statistics of success about how well we’ve served them. What about the people who don’t meet our narrow criteria? What if those people are carrying around a new life within them? What’s our priority?
Many years ago, my cousin, Lyn, whom I deeply admire, founded a pilot program for pregnant teens at an inner-city high school in a poverty-and-crime-ridden area in my hometown. She and her organization, the Junior League, built a day-care center on the school grounds for the children to be cared for while the parents finished high school, and required both the mothers and fathers to take parenting classes, which the center provided. The program was tremendously successful. Many young women graduated from high school who would have dropped out, attended college, raised their children and had successful lives because of Lyn’s program. It became a national model. The most important part to me was that much better mothers and fathers were created because of the parenting training, and all kinds of problems were circumvented because of those new skills. I was utterly amazed to learn later that some people in town complained that Lyn and her program were causing teen pregnancies!
I call myself a Christian, and I am a churchgoer at that. Still, call my viewpoint pragmatism or moral relativism if you will. But we cannot claim to honor unborn life and then fail to do every single thing in our power to facilitate its well-being because we do not approve of the lifestyle choices of the parents involved. Housing those parents together, regardless of paperwork, in order to give them some stability, guidance, protection and structure would be a start.
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