[Hpn] Shelters see increase in homeless men with kids

Morgan W. Brown morganbrown@hotmail.com
Sat, 30 Jun 2001 16:48:15 -0400


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-------Forwarded article-------

Friday, June 29, 2001
Kansas City Star
[Kansas City, Missouri]
Shelters see increase in homeless men with kids
<http://www.kcstar.com/item/pages/story,local/3accca09.629,.html>

Related Sites:
 54 Ways You Can Help the Homeless <http://earthsystems.org/ways/>
 National Coalition for the Homeless <http://www.nationalhomeless.org>


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 kids."

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 children.

"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 children.

"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 experience."

"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.

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Morgan <morganbrown@hotmail.com>
Morgan W. Brown
Montpelier Vermont USA


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