Friday, May 22, 2009

Suffer The Little Children ... Tristen Clarke

Probably most of you have never heard of this little boy, or recognize his face, but he is 11 years old, he is in grade five at school, he loves to play soccer, he has a pet turtle, and he is homeless. CBS news interviewed Tristen the other day, and the report was shown last night on CBS news. Here is the text of the whole interview:

"How is life for you?" asked CBS News correspondent Byron Pitts.

"Pretty bad," Tristen said. "Everything has gone down the drain. We don't have enough money to pay, we can't afford food."

At schools teachers describe Tristen as a sweet boy: smart and innocent.

"I feel lucky about my life because right now I'm not really on the street or in a cardboard box," Tristen said.

Instead, he and his mom live in the El Dorado Motel on a busy street in a tough neighborhood in Salinas, Calif. There are 22 other homeless families here.

They landed here after she lost her job in January as a job coach for people with disabilities. That means a cramped space, no car and no health insurance. There's just a bed for her, an air mattress for him, and a plastic bowl for Tristen's turtle. Last week Rhonda's $90 weekly unemployment check stopped.

"I try to save food," Tristen said.

"What do you mean?" Pitts asked.

"If we're going to run out of food I'll only eat a little of it and save it for later," Tristen said.

His grades have dropped - he'll have to repeat 5th grade. His self esteem is falling. And he is often afraid.

"I thought I was going to lose everything yesterday," Tristen said. "I thought we were going to lose everything."

"That scare you because that's a possibility?" Pitts asked.

"Yeah," Tristen said.

"Because you've lost things before?" Pitts asked.

"Yeah, I have," Tristen said.

Behind his Harry Potter face is a child in crisis. With his mother's permission, Pitts and Tristen kept talking.

"Find the words for me," Pitts said.

"Life and death," Tristen said.

"You think about life and death?" Pitts asked. "Why do you think about things like that?"

"Because I gave up," said Tristen, crying.

For the homeless children at the El Dorado Motel, life is often bleak. But there are a few bright spots. Like many school districts across the country, Salinas has a homeless children's advocate. Cheryl Camany helps identify homeless children and provides resources and free supplies.

As for Tristen Clarke, he says he has one real friend - 8-year-old Gus Hernandez, Jr. They're neighbors. Gus is also homeless.

"Me and him share the same life," Tristen said. "He understands me and I understand him."

They also share the same risk. Even a simple game of soccer can be dangerous ... when the ball rolls right into traffic. For their safety, the boys were ordered back to their rooms by the motel owner.

Anger and frustration brews in Gus every day. He lives with both parents and 4-year-old brother. They owned a house until Gus Sr. lost his job as a mortgage loan processor. The bank foreclosed on their home.

"My life is dumb," said Gus Jr. "We have to live in a motel, have to be in at a certain time. Can't play anywhere, and most of my friends are there."

"That must be hard?" asked Pitts.

"Today was a worse day, tomorrow may be better," Gus said.

"That makes you an optimist?" asked Pitts.

"Yeah," Gus said.

Later, Pitts went to talk to Tristen.

"What do you want Americans to know about you, what it means to be a child and homeless in America?" Pitts asked.

"We need people to help," Tristen said.

Children of the recession - for whom childhood has all but past them by.

Where you can offer help if you're able, or receive help if you need it.

I felt heartsick when I saw this little boy being interviewed, and when he cried, I wanted to put my arms around him and give him a hug. This should not be happening.

The other night I watched Donald Trump being interviewed, and he was incensed -- incensed -- because someone had implied that Trump was not a billionaire, only a millionaire, and Trump insisted that he was indeed a billionaire. To me, there was something vaguely obscene about that. Oh, I know, Trump creates wealth, he creates jobs, he pays taxes, and I'm sure he gives to charity. But perhaps at a time like this, with so many folks in such desperate situations, people with excessive wealth can give just a little bit more. As Tristen says, "We need people to help". Out of the mouths of babes... Ever since I watched this news report, I have been thinking, "What can I do to help these people?" There but for the grace of God goes any one of us.

I'll never forget the sight of that little fellow, trying so hard to be brave, but finally breaking down and sobbing into his hands. He's only a little boy. How can this be allowed to happen in some of the wealthiest countries in the world? He lives in Salinas, California, and if there is anyone out there who reads this and can help him, or any other child in distress because of the recession, I think you will have earned your angel wings.

Update: I you want to make a donation to this young fellow, you can do so here:
Salinas City Elementary School District
District Outreach Consultant
Homeless Liaison
840 South Main Street
Salinas, CA 93901
ATTN: Cheryl Camany

Note: Please indicate on the check if you would like your donation to go directly to the Clarke and Hernandez families or to all homeless children identified in the Salinas School District.

To find out where you can make a donation in your area, look here.


Anonymous said...

I looked the story up on and there is an address where people can send donations. You can indicate that you want your check to go directly to the Clarke/Hernandez families or it can go into a fund for all the homeless children identified in the Salinas School District.

I'm sure that even a little bit would help. Now...if only Donald Trump would donate the money that he's NOT spending to get a good haircut...

Jo said...

Carla, or at least a good hairpiece. *heh*

Thank you for looking that up. I am going to send them a donation.

Russell said...

What an excellent post... one of your best in my opinion.

Tristen - who is only 11 years old - is, indeed, a much bigger man than Donald Trump.

I think Charles Dickins wrote about a gentleman named Ebenezer Scrooge (and Tristen's story would be one perfect for Dickins' pen). For some reason Donald Trump made me think of Mr. Scrooge. I wonder why?

Jo said...

Russell, thank you. :-) And yes, Donald Trump and Ebenezer Scrooge are sort of interchangeable, aren't they? What was Scrooge's quote -- "Are there no workhouses; are there no prisons?" Bah humbug!

The Bug said...

Ah Jo - now you've made me cry. My church is involved in helping homeless folks (in that some of our members are homeless or on the verge - I go to a VERY diverse church), and I often feel so helpless & guilty. I may have to make a donation myself - or perhaps one to a local organization for my town.

Jo said...

The Bug, oh, good for you! Just being involved is such a huge help. I'm so glad Carla found an address where people can send donations.

Leilani Tresise said...

We here in America are getting what we deserve. We as a country have made what you can buy with money more important than what you cannot buy, like compassion,empathy,strength of character, charity, goodwill etc. It is as history dictates the children who suffer the deeds of the adults. I am almost positive this country is getting ready for a big collaspe. It is a sad sad time for many of us who feel we are getting what we deserve.

Jo said...

Leilani, yes, I'm afraid I agree with you, and Canada is not far behind in many respects. But it breaks my heart to see a little boy bury his face in his hands and sob because of how the "big people" have screwed up.

Jeannette StG said...

So many of us are suffering right now, because we were encouraged to believe in the wrong values (the one who dies with the most toys, wins, etc.), and sadly these values are passed on to our kids.

We really need some attitude adjustments in this country, all of us, including me. I know, poverty will never be totally eradicated - and we never can give enough, but we each can begin with doing our part.

Jo said...

Jeanette, oh yes, absolutely! The children interviewed for this news special were from normal "middle-class" families who worked hard and lost everything. It's heartbreaking.

Country Girl said...

Jo! Put an update on this post where people can send the money and I bet they would!
I saw a blog last month where a photographer in San Francisco came across a homeless woman with two small children on the street. Through her blog she got them into a motel, then helped her find agencies to help.
Great post!

Jo said...

Kate, what a great idea. Thank you. I have now added that to my post. Cheers!

Nancy said...

You're an angel. Thanks for sharing this story. We have a huge problem here in the US and people like The Donald are not the ones people respect right now.

On another note - I watched Nightline last night about little children being accused of being witches in the Congo. They are badly abused and abandoned. There is a shelter you can contribute if you want to, go to the Nightline website. These tiny little children will break your heart.

Jo said...

LoverOfLife, yes I read about those little kids being accused of being witches. How much ignorance can this world tolerate?! How do people become educated against this stuff?

J9 said...

Another place you can point people to is Help a Mother Out:
They are helping people all over, had the family Country Girl refered to on a while back. What I am doing is contacting the people or agencies and then combing Craigs List Free and Freecycle for anything they could use - there is so much we just get rid of, or give to places that resell and make money from our cast offs. I'm giving directly to those who need it.

Jo said...

J9, thank you...!! I am so happy to see people stepping up to the plate here. You're amazing, I might add. :-)

the walking man said...

...and now that them who learned greed in the 80's and practiced it for two and a half decades have collapsed the middle class, them that are left with any sort of marginal wealth are being asked, told, begged, cajoled into helping in cleaning up the mess.

Fine. Good. Send a few dollars to the child's family or to the Salinas school district, and then a few more to the next and the next and the next and the next and the next and the next and the next and the next and the next until you have no more conscience, or stomach for, or wealth left to give.

Trump will still be on TV and The Hamptons will still be an exclusive summer community, where the real wealth resides behind walls and police forces designed to allow them to escape us, court systems designed to protect share holders and not workers and in the end what will you have accomplished?

A momentary feeling of "well I did my part" When the truth is you all you have done is successfully bought off your conscience.

You can not help this child with money. Someone in his community can help this child, a bank with an excess of foreclosed homes for example can let them live there for the cost of utilities and taxes.

Empty nester's with a house that has two or three unused bedrooms can help this child.

People with large lots that can be used for urban farming can help this child.

Opening up vacant urban high rise office buildings that are stagnating for want of occupancy to the homeless will help the problem.

Demanding that them who created the problem, them from the boardroom through the upper level of executives who prayed the mantra "greed is good", relinquish vast amounts of their wealth and property acquired through their greed on the backs of the middle can help the problem.

Aye send a few dollars away and you will help this young man or maybe even both young men and their families but for how long?

Money gets spent and if there is yet no work to replenish the money on their new start what have you accomplished?

Stand up, demand, act, tell your local city and town government what you are willing for them to do, you are willing to let your roads go a bit longer so others can eat aren't you.

You can hang two sentences together can't you? Write your legislators and take the power back from the 50,000 Washington lobbyists and them in Ottawa too.

Demand that they reduce their income, wealth, and benefits to be more in line with the people they are neglecting.

Or send a couple of bucks and think no more on it.

Kate Hanley said...

Thanks for writing this. I linked to it in my blog because it really got me out of my insecure funk I was in.

Leah Fry said...

Tristan & Gus' plight is extreme, but trust me when I tell you that many people are learning what it is to truly NEED things rather than merely wanting them. Many people who are fully employed are finding themselves in circumstances they could not have foreseen. I suspect it will get worse before it gets better.

Jo said...

Mark, in the long term, I agree with you completely -- 100% We have hired a bunch of idiots. But in the short term, we have to remember what we have been asked to do: "Feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, take in the stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick and visit the prisoners." At times when there are children in need, we have to act quickly and not question the politics of how they got there until we can really do something about it long-term.

Kate Hanley, Wow! Thanks great. Thank you. I hope you're feeling better. :-)

Leah, perhaps in a way that is good. I'm always amazed at how much "stuff" and "things" people have, and I wonder if they really need them.

Charles Gramlich said...

Very sad. we have too many of these stories right around here as well.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

You are really using your blog to powerful good with posts like this. Whatever help that can be given should be but I agree with Mark in that we have also to deal with the unjust system that allows this to happen. The solution and the resources are there but is not available due to a system that puts profit above people. I think we should also spare a thought to the parents. I cannot imagine the pain of not being able to feed and shelter your children. In some way, their anguish may be even greater.

Jo said...

Charles, yes we have stories like that here too.

LGS, oh, yes, we definitely need to deal with the problem in the long term. I can't believe it could happen like this. But in the short term, but have to stop these children from suffering. It broke my heart to see this little boy sobbing into his hands. He doesn't understand what the "big people" are doing.

Paula Slade said...

This is indeed heartbreaking Jo, and I thank you for bringing this to my attention.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

How heartbreaking this is, and in a country that has always been one of the world's wealthiest.

How ironic that Gus's father lost his job as a mortgage loan processor, which led to the loss of his own home.

This recession has created a huge class of homeless people who formerly worked and provided for their families.

If everyone gave even a small amount, it would collectively help where help is so desperately needed.

Edward Yablonsky said...

This recession has created a huge class of homeless people who formerly worked and provided for their families.

There is indeed a new class of homeless people referred to above and I have posted on this topic rather prolifically on my own blog
under Project Stay and Project Stay Orphans. I will donate to the Salinas Group to the families not to nameless bureaucracies,and I am glad I have a choice. Check out PROJECT STAY.

Anonymous said...