The Bible Story Looks Different in America
The Coalition coordinates all outreach workers in the community, and so we ask community groups to call NEOCH about homeless people instead of calling law enforcement. The idea is that law enforcement have enough work, and social workers should address problems surrounding homelessness. We get about one call every week at the office, but we do not usually deal with problems of homeless babies. There is a protocol for taking babies into County custody if they are living in a car or in an abandoned property. This happens on a regular basis in Cleveland and we never hear about these cases. The child is quickly taken into custody if the homeless mom makes herself known in the community or if her power or heat is turned off. The reality is that Children and Family Services act first and ask questions later.
This week we heard from a suburban official about a Mom-lets call her Mary- her boyfriend- let's call him Joseph- and a five month old baby who were living in an abandoned building. It seems that officials from a Cleveland suburb were preparing to tear down an abandoned apartment, and doing a walk through when they stumbled upon this couple and their baby. An outreach worker went out immediately to try to connect the family with a shelter. Unfortunately, the Mom was already arrested for child endangering and her baby was in the custody of Cuyahoga County. We have no idea what happened to Joseph. The woman from the suburban development office who called us was not the only one who had encountered this family, and they did what most do: call the County to take the baby into the foster care system.
After the initial shock of trying to get this family in a better place as soon as possible, I started thinking about how different the Bible would be if it were set in Cleveland, Ohio in 2008. The basis for Christianity was based on a story with all the indoor beds full, and so the founder of a religion was born outside among the animals. In Cleveland, the Biblical Mary would have lost her child to Cuyahoga County, and would have had a one year time limit to get her act together or the child born among the animals would be adopted by another family. It seems unlikely that the Biblical Mary would have been able to remain an important part of her child's development or be a part of his young adulthood while he was challenging authority figures or even to be a witness to his execution in modern day America because she had endangered this child with the birth in the barn.
Our own modern day Mary tried the shelters, but could not believe that she had to leave every morning with her baby and could not live with the father of her child. She was arrested and charged with child endangering. She now is fighting the clock, a criminal record, and a case with the County to get her child back. I am not saying that children who cannot speak up for themselves should not be protected. I just have to wonder how these policies have changed our society? How many families have been destroyed because Moms cannot find a place to live? How many children will never reach their full potential because of their 18 year struggle to find a place in our society? How many families make bad decisions because the shelters cannot bend their rules? How many world events have been altered because we are quick to split up families?
Posts by Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless staff and Board.