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A pox on homelessness
June 10, 2013

Every parent in the world has experienced this: the realization that a child is coming down with something. You know how it goes. Your two-year-old comes to you, eyes a little glazed over, crawls into your lap, too quiet. You touch his forehead and feel the radiating heat. You wonder if he caught something from day care. You want to give him some medicine, change him into Spiderman pajamas and tuck him in with his favorite teddy bear into his tiny bed.  Nothing to panic over, you tell yourself.  You’ve been through this. It’s normal. Children get sick. 
Now imagine your child gets sick but you can’t tuck him into his little bed at home—because you don’t have a home right now.
One week into the Families Moving Forward program, 21-year-old Cathy came to me asking if we had any medicine for kids. I found some Tylenol and asked what was wrong. She wasn’t sure, but said her two-year-old, Derrick, was getting sick.
But Derrick’s fever did not subside with the medicine, and in the middle of the night, Cathy woke congregation volunteers at Calvary Lutheran Church in Golden Valley, where she and Derrick were staying overnight, to ask if it was okay to take him to the hospital. Little did she—or the congregation volunteers, or the Families Moving Forward program staff—know that little Derrick had come down with the chicken pox.
Chicken pox is a common childhood disease that can have serious complications for some people. Living in a cohabitating environment, all the families, the staff and the volunteers were at risk. So everyone sprang into action. A daytime room was designated for Derrick at the Program Center until the contagious period ended, an astounding period of up to 16 days.  Parents were reminded many times to wash hands and sanitize communal toys.
Cathy had little choice but to halt her housing and job searches to be with her sick child. She’ll  never know where he picked up the virus. In the two weeks before coming to Families Moving Forward, her family had spent time in so many public places – on the streets, on buses, at public agencies and other shelters that turned them away.
Derrick is fine now, and he’s so young he won’t likely remember being sick, being quarantined in a strange place. But his mother will never forget. 

Mai Choua Yang
Mai Choua Yang is a family advocate with our Families Moving Forward program.