Seedy Motels No Place to Raise Kids

Jim Palmer is president of the Orange County Rescue Mission Inc., a nonprofit organization in Santa Ana that addresses the needs of the poor and homeless

The word is out: Young children are living in seedy motels right here in Orange County. It is estimated that there are more than 2,000 children living with one or both their parents in motel environments infested with drugs, gangs and prostitution.

John and his daughter, Jessica, are residents of one of these motels and were recently interviewed on television. John said that he and his family needed a way to get directly into a home. John is right; what motel families need is a hand up, not just a handout.

The problems that lead to poverty so severe it drives families into these rundown motels are long-term with deep-rooted symptoms that do not just suddenly appear out of nowhere. For example, some of the parents of motel children have problems with addictions such as drugs, alcohol or gambling; some are dealing with sexually, physically and verbally abusive relationships; and others simply may have trouble managing their finances or holding down a well-paying job because of corporate downsizing or their lack of education. Families with problems like these need comprehensive programs that help them find long-term solutions and teach them a new way of life.

Hundreds of motel families are living without hope. This is tragic. Parents are working multiple jobs trying to survive. Many don't know what resources are available to them; they don't know where to turn for help. Most motel parents need true recovery programs that deal with their substance abuse and offer vocational training and career planning, along with help with finances and budgets. Parents need to learn appropriate discipline techniques and have parent education. We need to address the issues of the whole family, not just of the children.

The solution is threefold. First, community groups and agencies need to pull their resources together and coordinate their efforts to focus on solutions. This pooling of community resources will eliminate costly duplication and promote fellowship. And what better example can the Orange County community set for struggling families than to be a family itself?

Second, outreach programs and services need to be geared toward and provided for the entire family; we need to help prepare them to transition permanently out of the motel environment.

Third, the public and private sectors need to move quickly to develop community-based facilities to house these families during their transition from motels back into our communities.

The motel children and their parents want to leave the unhealthy environments as quickly as possible, but they must have somewhere to go while the parents get help and start to rebuild the family structure. The families need to know there is hope. I invite anyone interested to become involved to call (714) 258-4450.

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