The Intermittent Volunteer’s Weblog

Befriending People in Dallas Who Are Homeless

Pregnant and On the Street August 19, 2008

Current Journal

Tuesday, 8/19/08

 

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.

 

KS

 

This article is linked to the following:

http://larryjamesurbandaily.blogspot.com/2008/09/pregnant-and-on-street-reality.html#comments

http://www.everydaycitizen.com/2008/09/pregnant_on_the_street_and_don.html

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15 Responses to “Pregnant and On the Street”

  1. SoupMan Says:

    Karen,

    Wow, you aren’t afraid to tackle the hard issues. You go girl.

    You are absolutely correct. Its very difficult to get housing for a man and pregnant woman who are NOT married in the traditional sense. But life on the streets is different from so called ‘normal’ society. There is a thing called a Street Marriage. No the couple does not appear before a minister for the saying of the marriage vows, but the on the streets, a street marriage is considered completely valid and happens more often than one might think. Sometimes life on the street doesn’t allow for conventional solutions. Hence the existence of the Street Marriage.

    Karen, you are correct that the pregnant woman is usually very reluctant to leave her man to go into a shelter by herself. But why are people so surprised about that. Homeless men and women fall in love and bond just like non-homeless people. Just like you or I would not want to seperated from our loved ones, the homeless feel the same.

    As all the issues you tackle, there is no easy solution. Possibly we can start with us so called normal people getting out of our comfort zone and starting to look at life on the streets, ‘as it actually is’ instead of trying to make it fit in our own narrow view of what we think it should be.

    Signed, David Timothy, a.k.a. The SoupMan
    SoupMobile, Inc.

  2. Karen Shafer Says:

    David,

    As usual, you go way beyond the surface of things and show us how well you understand the hearts, minds and lives of people who are homeless… and how much you love them.

    God Bless you,
    Karen

  3. Bridgette Says:

    Wow, Karen.

    You’re an amazing writer.

    I would love to get a chance to chat with you.

    Sincerely,
    Bridgette Bryant
    Christian
    Doer of the Word
    Advocate for the Homeless

  4. Karen Shafer Says:

    Thanks, Bridgette! I’ll email you.

    Karen

  5. Trey Says:

    I have to confess, when I first read this, a part of me sympathized with the shelters big time. After all, surely people would take advantage of them and use their shelter when they werent really committed to each other or the baby. The shelter would be opening themselves up to all kinds of stuff. However, after thinking about it more, Karen is right, its not about the couple as much as it is about the unborn child. Cant the shelters make an exception for just 9 months until the baby is born? Who cares if they have a piece of paper saying they are legally married, its not about them, its about the baby, and how easy that is to overlook. In fact, it took me 24 hours to realize that point even after reading your article. Wow, sometimes its tough to see and hear what is being said to us! Great post with great points!

  6. Karen Shafer Says:

    Trey,

    You do more behind the scenes for homeless people in Dallas, without asking for the limelight, than anyone I know. Your heart is like no other!

    If everyone were as open-minded, thoughtful and did as much as you, the problems of the homeless in Dallas would be greatly diminished. Thanks for you comment and for considering all viewpoints.

    Karen

  7. ll Says:

    “might as well go ahead and appall my fellow feminists here [ah, yes, the ‘f’ word — I came of age in the sixties, after all] and say that I hold a pro-life stance”

    I would just comment that as a feminist — I am happy to have you hold whatever view you would like. That’s why it’s called Pro-Choice.

    No one is Pro-Death — It boils down to whether you believe that someone has the right to make their own choices based on their own beliefs or you don’t.

    So the actual words should be “Pro-choice” and “Anti-Choice”.

    I am a feminist and simply believe it is not my place to make that choice for someone else whose shoes I haven’t walked in.

  8. Cheryl Says:

    Great post! Thanks for bringing this to light. It is frustrating that so many who are Pro-choice will then turn away from a pregnant young mother such as this one. Pro-life should mean just that, that you have a deep concern for all life. That should include the lives of the parents and the child.

  9. Karen Shafer Says:

    Thanks so much for the two thoughtful comments above. Both are well written.

    In response to II, I’ve been told this before by fellow feminist friends… “I am happy to have you hold whatever view you would like…” And then, in the next breath … “Just don’t call yourself a feminist.”

    In reality, though, when we get down to nuts and bolts, there really is a fundamental difference in the way we view the life that is being carried within a woman’s body.

    I was also told this recently by a feminist friend, as you say… “So the actual words should be “Pro-choice” and “Anti-Choice”.”

    But what this actually means is that you want to frame my beliefs in your words, but you don’t get to do that. You may call it what you like. I will continue to call it Pro-Life.

    I’m not willing to have the pro-life, pro-death, anti-choice discussion here, although I welcome your comments. It’s way too complex.

    What really interests me is that so many women choose not to abort in such difficult circumstances as those involved in living on the street. Rather than parsing words about what to call their stance, I’d like to find truly constructive ways to help them, and, most urgently, their unborn children.

    KS

  10. ll Says:

    The problem is that you want to frame mine as “pro-abortion”

    I am unwilling to let anti-abortions claim the mantle of pro-life. I quite frankly don’t know anyone who isn’t pro-life.

    However, I also don’t think a discussion here is the appropriate place.

    I lament that so much political energy and capital are expended over what is basically a belief — not subject to factual discussion on which the two extremes will never agree. Most are in the middle — work to make abortion as rare as possible. Just think what problems we could solve if we could divert that energy.

  11. Lynellen Says:

    I’m glad that you spent a lot of time on the phone trying to find *other* people to help this woman and her child. And I totally see your point about how organizations have a very tough tightrope to walk in balancing service and ideals.

    You say we should not “fail to do every single thing in our power to facilitate its well-being “…yet, you didn’t invite this couple to live in YOUR home, so you didn’t quite do *every* single thing you could do to help that preborn child.

  12. Karen Shafer Says:

    II,

    “The problem is that you want to frame mine as “pro-abortion”. In truth, I don’t. You may be basing that assumption on certain generalizations of what ‘pro-life’ means to you. I try not to expend too much energy worrying about other points of view but rather try to focus on solutions.

    I was pro-choice in college. My sensibilities did a 180 when I had my children — that changed my point of view. I try to avoid judging others for what they believe, though I surely don’t always succeed.

    “I lament that so much political energy and capital are expended over what is basically a belief — not subject to factual discussion on which the two extremes will never agree. Most are in the middle — work to make abortion as rare as possible. Just think what problems we could solve if we could divert that energy.”

    I agree.

    KS

  13. John Says:

    Karen, as always, the commitment of your heart leads to cries of prophetic truth. Let me respond technically from a theological viewpoint. The difficulty you describe comes under an ethical discussion of cooperation with evil. If, morally, you consider the persons you are aiding to be committing some kind of wrong, by supporting them in this situation, are you cooperating with an evil action? In the case of street marriages, allowing street couples to live together to help them in their pregnancy would not fall under the categories of formal cooperation or immediate material cooperation. According to mainstream ethics, such formal or immediate cooperation would be morally problematic, where the “evil” action could not occur without your aid. However, the street couple will live together whether or not you allow them into your shelter. Aiding them while allowing them to live together would be considered a type of mediate material cooperation. In such cooperation, your actions are not essential to the problematic action. The goal of the cooperation must be proportionately valuable in relation to the action supported. And one must seek to avoid scandal. In the case you describe, such a consideration would be not only morally acceptable but almost morally absolute, given that your goal is protecting the life of the mother and the unborn child.
    The example of Jesus often demonstrates such an attitude, and his concern for scandal was not very highly attuned. He seemed to cause scandal wherever he went. If we only seek to aid people if and when they free themselves from their faults, we won’t have many people to help. From a Christian perspectiv, Christ came to heal the sick, not the healthy. The reality of aiding the homeless is that we have to help these real people in all their great strengths and weaknesses, without demanding that they reform themselves in order to be served. We can hope for their growth and rehabilitation, but we certainly can’t demand it as a contractual obligation. Like Mother Teresa, we must love the poor as they are, not as we would wish them to be. And we must love ourselves as we are as well and not expect that we must be perfect in order to serve others.

  14. Kevin J. Bowman Says:

    Karen, I was so blessed today by Larry’s link to your post on his blog. I truly think Jesus would care far more about reaching out to protect the child, and the mother during this time… than the perceived moral conundrum.

    Isn’t our (the church) moral responsibility to care for the least of these of greater importance than the moral responsibility of this family to conform to our notions of sexuality and family. That question seems most obvious, yet is seldom ever asked by those who claim to be Jesus people….

    http://www.kevinjbowman.com/2008/09/services-for-unwed-homeless-mothers.cfm

  15. Karen Shafer Says:

    Kevin, Well said! So glad you commented.

    John, Thanks so much for taking the time to provide the theological point of view. As always, you’re way beyond me, but I love reading it!

    Karen


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