December 7, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Children caught in webs of homelessness

Shirley Vogler MeisterMy last two columns touched on homelessness. As already mentioned, I had never written on this subject before. Then, suddenly, it has been relentlessly in my mind and heart.

It began with a tour given by Emmeline Sparks, a special events coordinator with Horizon House in Indianapolis. This resource center is a focal point for services and advocacy that empower individuals and families to solve homelessness.

About the same time, my middle daughter, Diane, suggested that I read The Pursuit of Happyness by Christopher Paul Gardner. Now a self-made millionaire, entrepreneur, motivational speaker and philanthropist, Gardner struggled with homelessness while rearing his toddler son, Christopher Jr., in the early 1980s.

A film with the same name as the book was released this year. I have not seen it; nor have I seen another film about Gardner titled Come on Down: Searching for the American Dream, a Canadian documentary.

Then my youngest daughter, Lisa, loaned me another heart-wrenching, page-turning book titled The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. This author shares her upbringing with intelligent but eclectically dysfunctional parents who expose their children to strange experiences, extreme, and homelessness.

The Glass Castle was a New York Times best seller. The author overcame her circumstances to become a writer and columnist for Her book—in the thinking stage for 20 years—was a cathartic experience for her.

I recommend both books, especially the second, because in it the mother tries to hold onto Catholic traditions despite the severity of family conditions.

Recently, I came upon the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, created primarily to help educators identify homeless children not attending school and help them.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, children living in the following conditions are considered homeless: doubled up with family or friends due to economic conditions; living in motels or hotels; runaway and throwaway children and youth; homes for unwed or expectant mothers for lack of other shelter; homeless or domestic violence centers; transitional housing programs; the streets or abandoned buildings; public places not meant for housing; cars, trailers and campgrounds; those awaiting foster care; migratory children in uninhabitable housing.

In Indiana, more than 29,000 children experience such homelessness each year. In the U.S., the numbers are more than 1.35 million. This boggles my mind, making me feel helpless.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta said, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”

Unitarian clergyman Everett Hale said, “I am only one. … I cannot do everything, but I can do something, and I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

With God’s guidance, we can, too, in so many ways. Catholics are very resourceful, as we learn repeatedly in The Criterion.

For more information about the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, contact Christina Endres at or log on to

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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