Monday, November 3, 2008

Removing the Blinders

Bright before me the signs implore me
To help the needy and show them the way
Human kindness is overflowing
And I think it's going to rain today
-Randy Newman

My oldest son recently made his first solo trip to Chicago. With trepidation, we put him on an Amtrak and sent him off to his Aunt Tess in the Windy City. He arrived uneventfully and had a great time with my little sister- who showed uncharacteristic restraint, by the way, and wisely refused to allow him to get a tattoo.
After he came home, he related that one of the strongest impressions the city made was the many homeless families camped on each city block.
Statistics provided by the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless show that Chicago has over 80,000 homeless people and shelters serve 15,000 any given night. Chicago is one of five cities that collectively have over 50% of the nation's homeless population,many of whom are mentally ill -displaced after deinstitutionalization and a broken mental health system, but many are also victims of family violence.. There are more than 18,600 homeless students attending Illinois Public schools- a truly staggering number. The causes of homelessness are many and often complex and Chicago has a vast network of good people trying to help people find shelter, however,my son saw only the desperation and despair. He saw statistics in human faces and it was a revelation.
Through my work with the Illinois Family Violence Coordinating Council's 6th Judicial Circuit, I see suffering family violence creates and which often leads to homelessness for women and children. Last week, I participated in hosting a large conference in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Working in collaboration with the 5th Judicial Circuit, our own Piatt County Sheriff's Department, Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, HOPE,Dove,Inc, A Woman's Fund,Kirby Hospital, Piatt Probation, Safe from the Start,DCFS, and others, we were able to bring nationally renowned domestic violence speaker, Mark Wynn for a day long conference.
Mark is a 20 year member of the Nashville Police Department and served as a Lt. to the Domestic Violence Division. He is also a survivor and witness of years of brutal domestic violence. He brings his wealth of experience and training to law enforcement, yet the message that resonated with me-the image that will stay with me longest, is the same one that I have learned and witnessed throughout my years working with domestic violence; the image of children hiding under their beds, hands covering their ears, eyes squeezed tight- waiting for the violence to end. Mark related how he and his brother would hide under the bed and listen to their step-father brutalize their mother. They once even planned how they would protect their mother from further abuse by killing their step-father. They replaced the whiskey in his bedside bottle with roach killer and waited. The abuser drank the entire bottle, but fortunately for him and for the boys, he showed no adverse effects. Mark said they just kept waiting for their step-dad to flip over on his back with his legs up in the air, stiff like those bugs. Luckily, that didn't happen. I can't tell you how many times I have heard similar tales from child victims.
Contrary to the beliefs of wishful thinkers who profess, “we don't have those kinds of problems in Piatt County”- I assure you, we do. Sometimes we are blinded to the suffering of those around us, not by indifference, or because we have been hardened by the realities of suffering on our street corners, but by the absence of visible suffering. We are sometimes shielded by our own affluence. Immaculately groomed lawns are not violence proof. Although out most vulnerable citizens may not be living in cardboard boxes on our street corners, they are here. There are children in Piatt County who have become adept at finding hiding places and are waiting out the violence. We have domestic violence, child abuse, and even homelessness in this county. I have seen families without homes camped near corn fields. We must ask ourselves, can we do more to help in our own towns?


John Guzlowski said...

How old is your oldest son? Where does his Aunt Tess live? In the city itself?

I'm an old Chicago boy, and dream about going back there someday.

Christina said...

James is 15 and a freshman in high school. Tess is only 23- and a nanny. She loves the city...absolutely loves it.