Thursday, July 07, 2011

Shed family say poverty cost them their kids

From the Houston Chronicle:

Inside the 12-by-25-foot shed are hand-built shelves where children's clothes are folded neatly next to canned goods, boxes of cereal and a stack of family photos. On another shelf, beside two king-size beds, textbooks lie next to board games.

Despite the cramped conditions, it overflows with love, said Charlomane Leonard, 35, as she stood in front of the shed that she, her husband, Prince Leonard, and six children have called home for years.

"That's what makes it comfortable," she said.

But to Child Protective Services, the shed is an unsafe environment for the children. After receiving a phone call about the Leonards' living conditions, agency caseworkers removed the couple's children last month.

The Leonards said their children were safe and happy and felt they were targeted by the agency because they are poor.

CPS spokeswoman Gwen Carter said poverty was not an issue and that the agency does not remove children from their parents' custody based on the family's economic circumstances, but on other factors such as unsafe living environments, abuse and neglect.


While it's small and can seem crowded, the Leonards said the storage shed is the safest place they've lived in a long time. Prince Leonard said management is aware the family lives there, as are others who rent space at the facility.

"No one can get in and no one can get out without the remote," Charlomane Leonard, a stay-at-home mom, said as she pointed to the automatic gate at the front entry.

The couple said they have done their best to turn the shed into a suitable living environment for their children — Sabrina, 12; Prince Leonard II, 10; Raheem, 8; Saleem, who turns 7 today; Abdullah, 4; and 2-year-old Jamil.

Prince Leonard built all the shelving and a makeshift loft. There's a refrigerator, an air conditioner and wood-burning heater. On land behind the storage units, the children and their mother plant a garden every summer, harvesting squash, tomatoes, okra and peppers.

Lacking in the shed is running water, but Prince Leonard fills a 55-gallon barrel daily from a spigot at the end of the storage lot so the family can take baths. They fill jugs of drinking water at grocery stores and use a "compost" toilet, Charlomane Leonard said.

More here.

Without addressing whether CPS is doing the right thing here, it is impossible for me not to note that such a story is an unpleasant reminder of one of the many reasons I'm a liberal.

In a country as rich as ours, a country that can spend hundreds of billions destroying and killing Muslims abroad for years and years, a country that rewards the bankers who nearly ruined our economy with hundreds of billions in bailout money, a country that hands over by way of mandate hundreds of billions of citizens' dollars to private health insurance companies, which may or may not provide adequate health care for such extortion, a country that refuses to tax the wealthy elitists who sit on the lion's share of our bounty, nobody, nobody, should have to live in a shed, no matter how nice or safe it is.

This situation simply should not exist.

Republicans and Libertarians falsely justify our tolerating this bullshit by attacking the poor, calling them stupid, or lazy, or both, or even daring to suggest that they actually drive Cadillacs while getting fat on food stamps. Democrats like to talk the talk but do nothing. Same difference. So-called Christians disqualify themselves from using the word for self-identification by doing nothing. Or, at least, what charitable efforts they do make amount to nothing in the long run, except for the self-aggrandizement and satisfaction that comes from tossing a few dollars in the direction of the poor, who remain poor because charity cannot change the unjust and entrenched economic system that guarantees chronic poverty.

Only the government has the power to end such injustice. Indeed, we've done some good on this front before: LBJ's Great Society programs went a long way toward reducing poverty, but they hit a massive road block in the Reagan era, when the Gipper successfully introduced racism to America's conceptualization of poverty. Sure, there were problems with housing projects and such, but that's a reason to reform and retool, not to give up.

It makes me sick to my stomach that poverty is not the number one priority for this nation. Indeed, it is our great moral failing as a people that we do not emulate Jesus by embracing his profound compassion for the poor. Some Christian nation we are.