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Lose – Lose – Lose – Lose: Tanya McDowell’s Homeless Plight

Lonely BoyHow important is it to end homelessness in America? Please see the information from House the Homeless on how the Universal Living Wage can save millions of Americans like Tanya McDowell and her young son.

John Nickerson reports on the situation in Norwalk, Connecticut, where McDowell faces a huge bill for reparations, and a 20-year jail term. The charges are grand larceny and conspiracy to commit first-degree larceny. The thing that was stolen, allegedly, was education for McDowell’s son, who was enrolled in the “wrong” elementary school for less than six months. They actually say that the attendance of A.J. Paches for that period of time amounted to more than $15,000 worth of educational services, which is astonishing. There are still colleges you can get into for less. The reporter tells us,

McDowell said she divides her time between an apartment on Priscilla Circle in Bridgeport, where she is not allowed to stay when the lease holder is away, the Norwalk Emergency Shelter and her minivan.

The address McDowell used to enroll her boy in Norwalk belonged to a friend in a public housing complex, who was subsequently evicted as punishment for her part in the alleged deception. (See our helpful article, “How to Become Homeless,” for more tips.) Emotions run high and hot on both sides of this controversy, and citizens have added many comments to the online coverage. If only people would become as excited about ending homelessness, as they are about a little boy going to school.

Part of the tragedy is that A.J. really loved going to school, and any parent knows how rare and precious that is. The Connecticut Parents Union has started a bottle-and-can drive to raise money to help McDowell pay the fine. The reporter talked to the group’s founder, Gwen Samuel, who said:

You would figure that a school district such as Norwalk would put the child first. Saying we had the child this long with no fixed address and you would think they would do anything to ensure that this baby is safe and stable. Instead they arrest the baby’s mother, knowing she has no fixed address. The system has failed this child because of what they did to his mother.

An even stronger reaction comes from Dr. Boyce Watkins, a Syracuse University professor who founded the Your Black World Coalition, and who sees not only homeless-bashing but racism in the Connecticut story. Dr. Watkins is still angry over a similar case in Ohio. Dr. Watkins characterizes McDowell’s crisis as sad and sickening, and says,

Simple logic implies that whatever resources were saved from him not being enrolled in his home district (whatever that might be) could be applied to the secondary district. So putting parents in jail for sending their kids to schools outside their district is simply a legalized way of fencing out those that the community deems to be undesirable… Beating up on a homeless woman who is doing all she can to get her child into school is a shameful microcosm of the kind of greed and selfishness our country has chosen to embrace. There was once a time when slaves were arrested for trying to learn how to read, and now poor mothers are being arrested for trying to send their children to the school of their choice.

Apparently, this is the first case of this kind in Connecticut that has actually been turned over to the police. (And let’s hope it’s the last.) The strange coincidence that McDowell and her son happen to be homeless, inspires some people to say “selective enforcement.” A homeless woman and child are easy victims.

But for the state to win is a Pyrrhic victory. It’s doubtful whether a woman with no address or job will pony up that $15,000. Say the going price for soda cans is 30 cents per pound. That seems to be about 37,000 pounds of redeemed metal. Or 300,000 cans at 5 cents each. Plus, how much will it cost the state to keep Ms. McDowell in jail for 20 years? Plus, a family is broken up. Plus, a kid who loved school will probably form a different opinion about that subject. Sounds like lose-lose-lose-lose, all the way around.

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Source: “Homeless woman’s arrest for sending son to Norwalk school stirs debate,” Stamford Advocate, 04/21/11
Source: “Another Mom Jailed for Sending Child to Wrong School District,” DrBoyceWatkins.com, 04/19/11
Image by Nisha A, used under its Creative Commons license.