[Hpn] Shelters see increase in homeless men with kids

coh coh@sfo.com
Mon, 02 Jul 2001 11:12:23 -0700


The Kansas City Star

Shelters see increase in homeless men with kids

By MALCOLM GARCIA - The Kansas City Star
Date: 06/29/01 22:15

Paul Schenk leaves his job in North Kansas City at 2 a.m. five days a week
and returns to reStart Inc., a homeless shelter downtown. He pays the baby
sitter, a woman staying at the shelter, and then kisses his three children
asleep in their beds.

He sits in the dark, a thin, wiry man, lulled by the steady whir of the
ceiling fan, thankful for the quiet after a hard 10-hour day. Quiet is rare
when you're a single parent with three children, 9, 7, and 3. Even rarer in
a shelter. Then he crawls wearily into bed and sleeps.

But not for long. His children awake at 8 a.m. and clamor for attention as
sunlight strains through the thin curtains. Schenk stumbles into his
clothes, pours bowls of cereal and hangs out in the lobby, half awake,
trying to keep his children occupied until he leaves for work about 3 p.m.

Schenk, 34, is one of two homeless fathers living at reStart. His situation
is not unusual. Increasingly, social service providers say, single men with
children need the services of family shelters.

"I'm hearing from more dads," said Nancy Ashline, Schenk's case manager at
reStart. "I'm getting calls from men with two to five children who have no
place to go." 

The National Coalition on Homelessness says social service providers
nationwide are working more with single fathers.

A survey of 270 rescue missions across the country last year by the
Association of Gospel Rescue Missions in North Kansas City found that of the
1,413 families interviewed, 8 percent were single men with children, up from
5 percent of the 1,282 families surveyed in 1999.

"Women still predominate in family shelters, but we're seeing fathers on the
rise," said Phil Rydman, an association spokesman. "Now there is abandonment
on both sides of a relationship, and the men are getting left with the

Schenk and the mother of his children came to reStart in April after he lost
his landscaping job and then his house. He said he couldn't pay the rent.
Shortly after they arrived, the shelter asked the children's mother to leave
for breaking shelter rules. Schenk has not seen her since.

In May he found a job as a crane operator. He hopes to have enough money for
an apartment by September.

"If their mother was here, I could work two jobs and leave here quicker,"
Schenk said, "but I need time with the kids. Cooking, cleaning, laundry,
disciplining, taking them to the park -- you name it, I do it now. I have to
shop. Everything." 

He shuddered as 9-year-old Crystal banged on a piano in the shelter's
chapel, pigtails bouncing against her shoulders.

"Be quiet!" 

Schenk rubbed his face, pressing his fingers against his eyes, and urged her
to sit with him. He hugged her, pinching her sides.

"Sometimes they give me a hard time," he said, sinking into a chair with a
tired smile, an arm wrapped around Crystal. "But they're good kids. I'm
learning to have patience."

Schenk was fortunate to find shelter, said Nancy Loving, director of
Salvation Army/Crossroads, a homeless shelter in Independence.

"Homeless services for families have been geared for single women," Loving
said. "As a result there are few places for men to go."

Last year, Loving provided shelter for just four men with children. Since
January, she has housed eight men with children and has turned away two to
five single fathers a month for lack of space. Most have two or more

"Women are exposed to drugs and alcohol just like men," Loving said. "These
days, there isn't the stigma for women to abandon their family. They get
addicted, and the man takes the kids."

Besides Salvation Army/Crossroads and reStart, City Union Mission and Holy
Family Catholic Worker House, both in Kansas City, provide shelter for men
with children. 

So does the Salvation Army Johnson County Family Lodge in Olathe. Hillcrest
Ministries offers temporary housing to homeless fathers and their children
in Independence and Liberty.

Aaron Frye, a divorced father of four, has been living at the Salvation Army
Johnson County Family Lodge since March and struggles to maintain his job.
He recently was hired as a trash hauler and works 12 to 15 hours a day,
Monday through Friday.

"If I need to leave work because of one of my kids, I need to go," said
Frye, 29, from the Olathe office of Catholic Charities, where he meets with
his case manager. "I wasn't involved with doctors before. My wife was. Now
any time they get sick I miss a day of work. It makes it difficult."

Kathy Carlson, Frye's case manager, said of the up to four dozen families
that routinely make up her caseload, at least five are single men with

"I didn't see this happening at all until recently," Carlson said. "It was
probably happening before, but the dads somehow were able to cover up. Now
they are having to learn to pick up the pieces."

Frye became homeless when he lost his job as a silkscreen printer in
November. He said parenting four children ages 5 to 11 was an "overwhelming

"It's all on me," he said. "...Not just from a disciplinary standpoint, but
nurturing, too. If they cut or bruise themselves I have to be there, where
before I'd have said, `That's nothing.' "

The Homeless Hotline in Kansas City received 117 calls for shelter from
single men with children last year. In 1999, it received 97 such calls.

"Unfortunately, as the American family changes, so will the homeless," said
Dan Doty, executive director of City Union Mission, which operates the
hotline. "We'll be seeing more and more single parents -- including men --
come into our mission."

City Union Mission and the other family shelters offer parenting classes on
site or through referral. The classes provide information on caring for
babies, helping children with school, handling teen-agers and other issues.

"The classes are really important," said Shirley Kelso, director of Catholic
Charities in Olathe. "Children don't come with a set of instructions."

Schenk and Frye know that firsthand. They continue to work steadily,
anticipating the day when they will have enough saved to leave their
respective shelters.

"Some people commend me for taking care of my kids," Frye said. "I feel they
are my responsibility. I see what I'm doing as my duty."

To reach Malcolm Garcia, call (816) 234-4328

or send e-mail to mgarcia@kcstar.com.

All content  2001 The Kansas City Star

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