Monday, October 11, 2010

Stepping in

"Have you noticed a gold car parked on our street?" my neighbor asked me one day last week.

"A gold car?  Parked where?"

"Down in front of my mom's house. It's been parked there for about two weeks, on and off." 

"No, I don't think so.  None of our neighbors have gold cars." 

"Yeah, I know, that's why this one stands out. My mom noticed it a few weeks ago." 

"Is it parked there all day?" 

"Yeah.  And all night." 

"Oh.  Do you think someone is living in it?"

"Yeah, we think it's a woman, with a couple of kids that go to the elementary school [half a block away.]"

"That's awful." 

"I know.  We are trying to figure out what to do.  She's not there today though.  We don't want to call the police because we don't want to get her in trouble or get her kids taken away, but it seems like we should call someone." 

"If there is a family living in a car they obviously need help."

"Right, that's why we don't want to call the police.  We don't want them to just chase her away." 

"Well, I'll let you know if I see the family or the car." 


Today, as I was pulling out of the car and heading to the library to pick up some books on hold, I noticed the car.  It was about 20 minutes before school let out, and there it was; a gold car, parked in front of my house, with a woman sleeping in the driver's seat.

I called Nelson (who was home for the federal holiday) and told him to look out the window.

"Yeah, I see her, but she's sitting up now." 

"Maybe it's just someone picking up their kids.  Let me know if they leave." 

When I got home 20 minutes later, the car was still there.  My neighbor was outside, also off for the federal holiday, and I walked over to ask her if the car in front of my house was the same car she'd been seeing for the past few weeks in front of her home.

Before I could even ask, she said, "That's it.  That's the car." 

"That's what I was coming over to ask.  I noticed it on my way to the library." 

The driver had gotten out, crossed the street, and was walking toward the school.

"Her kids go to that school.  I saw them there this morning.  She had her son go to the trunk and get something out.  There was a lot of stuff in there." 

"How many kids does she have?"

"Two, I think." 

"Wow.  I can't imagine living out of my car with my two kids." 

"I know.  I don't know what to do.  I don't want to report her and have her kids taken away.  She's obviously trying to do the right thing, getting her kids to school and all.  But they can't just live out of a car.  That's not good." 

"No, that is not good."

"Do you remember how cold it was last week?  I looked out one night and the windows were all fogged up.  It looked like they had a little TV in there or something." 

"It was cold.  We turned on our heat. We should do something, don't you think?"

"Yeah, but what?  I was thinking I would offer to let her in my house, but I don't know her, you know?"

"No, no, I don't think you have to do that.  But there has to be someone we can call.  There are services for people who are homeless, shelters and things like that.  I have a friend who works for social services.  I will call her and see what she says." 

"Alright, let me know." 


I called my friend at DSS and she suggested I call the abuse and neglect hotline and make clear that while I am not calling to report abuse or neglect, there is a family living in their car that clearly needs aid.  She assured me that my state does not remove children from their parents for being homeless (though she did say if there were signs of abuse the kids would be removed.)

So that is the right thing to do, right?  To call DSS?  They will send someone out to talk to her and offer her services.  


"They are still out there, Nelson.  School let out over an hour ago." 

"She probably lost her job or something." 


"Should we go out and offer them food or something?"

"No.  I don't know.  Maybe. I should call.  Should I call?  I should call." 

"Yeah, I guess you should." 

"I'm going to call." 


I still haven't called.  The car is still parked outside of my house.  The woman and her two children are still sitting in the car.  It is 88 degrees out there.  They have to be hot.  It is clear this family needs help.  I should call.  

However, there is a part of me that feels like it is none of my business.  Like, she is living in her car and that is not my business.  I should not intervene.  It would be...nosy of me? try and help her.  Something like that.  Like I should not be getting all up in her business and calling DSS to come and help her.  Like it is not my place to step in and tell her what help she needs.

What if she does not want help?  

What if she feels angry that someone called? Or, worse, what if she feels embarrassed?

What if someone coming out chases her away and then the kids don't make it to school anymore because she's afraid to park around here?

Then, at the same time, I think, No.  I should call.  If her kids are going to the school down the block from me, then this woman and her family are my neighbors.  I should help them, do what I can to get them some assistance.  I believe in this, in helping our neighbors and fellow human beings.  

Calling is the right thing to do.  DSS can offer this family food and real beds for the night and transitional housing and financial assistance, all things they obviously need if they have been living in their car for (at least) three weeks.  I know that calling is the right thing.  So why am I writing this blog post to delay calling?  Why am I so nervous and reluctant?  

Whatever, that does not matter.  Calling is the right thing.  So I am going to call.  

I'm also thinking I am going to bring out some food at dinner time.  Or is that too much?  Would that be too embarrassing for the mom?  And, also, if I do that, she will know I was the one who called DSS.  For some reason I feel like I do not want her to know, like she'll be mad at me or something.

What would you do?


Martin said...

Talk to her. . .

Jan said...

I agree with Martin - I didn't even have to think about it. I'd go introduce myself, tell her she's been noticed and that no one wants any harm to come to her or the children. Then I'd ask her what she wants. If she didn't seem psycho, I'd offer to let her and the kids come in and shower while I called my friend.

Even if she turned down all offers of help, I'd probably still call my friend that works for DSS. That's no way for children to live.

Keely said...

Oh, gah. I don't know. I'm so cowardly about things like that, but, I think if it had been going on that long I'd go knock on her window and ask if she needed anything. If she wasn't crazy, I might tell her about the conversation I'd had with my friend and emphasize that her kids wouldn't be taken away. She's obviously not neglectful, if she's getting them to school on time etc., but that isn't a long-term solution for that family.

LStewart said...

Talk to her! She is staying on your street because she feels comfortable there, for whatever reason. She's reaching out and you should too. The very worst she could say to you is "mind your own business." Approach her kindly and let her know several people have noticed her car sitting on the street for long periods of time and you would like to help out anyway you can.

Pamela said...

invite them in for dinner.
new neighbor thing.

Pamela said...

that sounded shitty.
i wasn't trying to be shitty.

Sprite's Keeper said...

Definitely talk to her. There may be another reason not realized yet. Definitely a sticky situation, but you've got a good heart, Jenni, basing your choice on that will always lead to a good decision.

Strawberry said...

I would just call. I'm not big on talking to strangers. I'm also not big on seeing children live like that.

Amanda said...

Oooooh, tough one. I'm torn. I think whatever you do, the intentions behind it are good, and that is what matters. I'd probably talk to her AND call. Please let us know how it all turns out.

Kate said...

Go to the school and talk to the principal. They will know the family and more details about what their situation might be. I don't know about Prince George's County, but a lot of schools have social workers who deal with this kind of stuff all the time.

Michele said...

You and Nelson (if you don't feel comfortable on your own) should go out to talk to her. She may want help or she may not but by not asking you won't know.

It's scary to think that she is not alone in her homelessness. At least she is trying to keep her kids in school and do the right thing. I hope things work out for her and her family.

Veronica said...

Talk to her.

Then call.

Children die and neighbours wished they had called. Things happen and people who saw wished they had stepped in.

Not saying that anything bad will happen if you don't call, but likely nothing good will happen. She needs help, non-jugemental help.


Ms. Esquire said...

Talk to her and ask her what she wants. Let her know about options if she is curious about shelters. Let her decide what she wants to do about her situation.

Michele R said...

Maybe they had to move further from the school and are no longer in the school's district but she still wants the kids to go to the school?
I hope they are OK....been thinking of your post.

Kandi said...

What a predicament. I think that it would probably be wonderful for you to show her and her children some hospitality by giving her a meal and a conversation. Honestly, what's the worst that can happen? If she does get mad, she really can't get that far because her kids go to your kids school. I know its awkward and weird, but once you get over that, the situation might surprise the both of you.