Alas, not every child finds a safe home and sparrows do fall. A child fell while in the nest of a car, the shelter the mother could provide when she could not afford the inn.
According to the report by Julie Manganis, Mother facing charges after 2-year-old child dies of an apparent drug overdose, Vanessa Jeising carried the lifeless body of her two-year-old daughter, Lilly Iorio, to Lahey Hospital in Peabody, after they spent the night in her car. The mother has been arrested on charges relating to her daughter’s death.
Was anyone watching the sparrow fall? The homeless parent did not act; Gina Magoon, the grandmother, tried; friends of the mother tried; the agency needed approval from the court. The Commonwealth, obligated in law and morality to safely house every sparrow, had not invested the resources to create safe nests.
“It’s not fair that everything is falling on my daughter,” [Gina Magoon, the baby’s grandmother] said. “Everyone else walked away and left her alone with that baby.” —Julie Manganis, The Salem News, January 27, 2023
Blaming the mother is less painful than accepting our responsibility as a society. Thomas Gately, Jeising's defense attorney, tells of a mother who had gone through detox and was struggling to provide for her child.
Gately, who has obtained funds to hire a social worker and an investigator, said his client was failed by DCF, telling the judge that the agency knew she was living in her car on and off between August and January, and yet failed to ensure that she and her child had proper housing... "She had been working up to three jobs at a time. She did the best she could," said Gately.—Julie Manganis, Salem News, February 5, 2023.
This is but one example of the gaps in our tattered safety net. We aren’t providing enough homes, homes and services that are suitable for each specific challenge.
Resources are needed
The agencies and volunteers charged with helping the homeless and the migrants lack resources.
The existing shelter system is operating at capacity. And Massachusetts has a legal obligation to immediately provide emergency shelter to homeless families due to a 1983 “right-to-shelter” law. —Mike Damiano and Samantha J. Gross, As emergency shelters overflow, Healey’s push for funding comes up against a slow-moving Legislature, Globe, January 30, 2023
There is a shortage of affordable, accessible housing and supportive services to enable people to stay out of a nursing home, or to be able to get out and live on their own.
For people with disabilities, living in a community with essential support services is much better than living in a nursing home and that right was affirmed by the Supreme Court in Olmstead v. L.C., 527 U.S. 581 (1999). The Americans with Disabilities Act requires that people shall be enabled to live in the community, and not be segregated in institutions.
...a federal class action lawsuit filed in October in Boston that contends the state of Massachusetts is allowing thousands of people with disabilities to languish and often deteriorate in nursing facilities, even though they could be living independently. The lawsuit seeks to compel the state to expand existing programs and set up new ones to help people with disabilities transition out of nursing homes.—Meghan Smith, WGBH Morning Edition, January 26, 2023.
One of the plaintiffs in this suit, the Mass Senior Action Council (MSAC) is a statewide, grassroots, senior-led organization that empowers its members to use their own voices to address key public policy and community issues that affect their health and well-being.
The complaint asserts that
"Home and Community Based Services (HCBS) fails to provide adequate and appropriate residential services to all qualified [disabled] persons."
Alex Green and Bill Henning argue that we must "avoid unnecessary institutionalization in nursing homes"—Dignity Alliance, January 30, 2023.
The Stop Bullying Coalition endorses the position of the Dignity Alliance, urging the Commonwealth to settle and resolve the lawsuit and affirm by action the stated goal of inclusion in the community for all.
People with certain allergies and chemical sensitivities living in subsidized or public housing do not always receive the reasonable accommodations they require to be safe. Laundry products can trigger asthma, and smoking in nearby apartments can make a vulnerable person ill. A similar challenge confronts the elderly and disabled person who is highly vulnerable to severe illness or death from COVID. Unless the landlord establishes protective protocols, including the use of N95 masking to provide a zone of safety, the tenant remains at risk. These tenants can be forced out for their safety when their landlords cannot or will not enforce the rule against smoking or make the needed changes to protect the person with the disability. But where can they go? An elderly woman had to move out of subsidized housing because of uncontrolled smoking, and with her money running out, sleeps in her car. Will she survive the cold?
Shelters do not provide the safe environment needed by people with chemical sensitivity or COVID vulnerability. Housing vouchers may seem to offer a solution, but they are hard to get, and may not cover actual market rates, and finding a landlord who is willing to wait for days or weeks for approval and assurance of payment is hard when other renters stand with cash in hand.
In subsidized and public housing, a tenant can be bullied and mobbed so badly that they choose to become homeless rather than endure the torment.
A law to create a Tenant Advocate with enforcement power to hold the landlord accountable would provide protection, oversight, and justice including in public and subsidized housing.
The solutions to each of these challenging problems will be hard-won; we must all innovate and advocate to provide safety and services to fully support independent living and safety in the community and housing.
Let the sparrow find a home, and the swallow a nest for herself in which to set her young.
A version of this article was published on January 8, 2023 in the Salem News.