Daryl Brown Sr. couldn’t have predicted a year and a half ago that in 2010 on the eve of Thanksgiving that he’d be homeless, living in a Gardena motel with his two young sons ages 13 and 9. Black, male, high school graduate with steady employment, he took his baby’s mama to court and got full custody of his sons after she was unable and unwilling to care for them. But after being laid off from Home Depot following a back injury, unable to find another job because of a ten-year-old felony for possession of fraudulent checks, and having exhausted disability, he and his two sons are living in a one room motel in Gardena courtesy of a two week voucher from the County of Los Angeles.
So how does this happen?
Before reaching out to me via Twitter, Daryl told me that he’s placed dozens of calls around the county trying to find shelter and help for himself and two sons, only to find out that most of the services available are for women and children. He has yet to find housing for fathers with children.
His two sons, 13 and 9 years old and gifted, haven’t missed a day of school throughout this ordeal, something that Daryl is proud of. He says that he chose a motel in Gardena to be close to their school.
During the day while the boys are at school Daryl says that he goes to the public library to submit online job applications. He says that having a felony, ten years back, on his record has been a hindrance to him getting a job—although before being laid off from Home Depot he had enjoyed steady employment including for Southwest Airlines at LAX.
He gets approximately $690 in welfare and another $230 in food stamps—my bad—California Fresh electronic benefits. And even though the County has offered to pay up to $550 of rent on a new place, it’s hard to save any money for first and last on an apartment when you’re paying $59 a night for a motel room and $230 for three people, including two growing boys barely gets them through.
Daryl says that while he’s following all of the rules, the system isn’t designed for single fathers with children. There’s the belief that when it comes to Black fathers they are absent—in prison, on the streets, or simply deadbeat dads.
For Thanksgiving one his son’s school counselors gave him a gift certificate to Carrow’s so that they could enjoy a Thanksgiving Dinner because the motel room that they are living in doesn’t have a full kitchen to support cooking dinner.
There are a lot of things about Daryl’s situation that bother me—and yes I know that Daryl’s story is one of thousands of stories of how ordinary families who were getting by, are now slipping through the cracks. But Daryl’s situation clearly illustrates some of the flaws in the system—especially as it relates to the help that is available to fathers with children verses mothers with children. Just doing a simple Google search of shelters or services available to homeless men with children and it’s clear that the resources don’t stack up when compared to what’s available for homeless mothers with children. Then add to that what we already know about the challenges of having a felony—no matter how old—on your record. If it was hard before this latest economic depression, it’s damn near impossible now.
On the other hand, let Daryl’s sons go to school and say that they missed one meal and in comes to the Department of Children and Family Services—the bastard child of the same system that in all other areas for the most part has failed this father of two wouldn’t think twice about taking Daryl’s sons away from him. And while some people might say well at least they’d have a roof over their head, the fact of the matter is, Daryl would still be unemployed and homeless, making it that much harder to get his sons back and his sons would be going into a system that’s not designed for the success of Black children.
But what bothers me most of all is that Daryl and families like Daryl are missing in action in the national dialogue—thanks in part to John Edwards and Rielle Hunter. No instead, Washington continues to be fixated on saving the middle class, to which I always ask, from what? What happens to the families who fall out of the middle class? Where do they go and what exactly are we as a country doing about it? As I said in the beginning, most people don’t end up homeless by choice. There’s usually a series of unfortunate events that eventually lead to one’s being homeless.
Thanksgiving is the American holiday where we are supposed to reflect on our lives and be grateful. We usually end up sitting around a table eating food that we don’t really need to be eating before passing out in a turkey-induced coma in front of the television—keep it real. And while I know that L.A. is the homeless capital of America and there are a million Daryls out there, you’ve got to start somewhere so why not with Daryl Brown and his two sons.
It wasn’t easy for Daryl to reach out to me. It was even harder for him to agree to sit down and tell me his story on camera—something that I asked him to do because I felt that no one could explain his situation better than him. But like with any father in dire need, pride takes a backseat.
All of us are struggling, some worse than others this holiday season. But for those of us who can give, no matter what amount, please help me in making sure that Daryl and is two sons are not tossed out on the street this holiday season. And before you say that you can’t help—if you are reading this online while at work or in the privacy of your home and you know where your next meal is coming from and have some place to live for more than one night—you’re doing better than Daryl and a lot of other families in Los Angeles—so think again.
I’ve set up an online fund at jasmynecannick.com through Paypal for donations for those who want to donate online. For those who would like to make a donation directly to Daryl can do so by emailing him at [email protected] or calling him at 310.213.6132.
Like with Mitrice Richardson, I am going to stick this out with Daryl and his sons and see if through sheer goodwill from the community we can start their 2011 off on the right foot and help save at least one Black family from slipping through the cracks and being separated by the same system that so far has failed them.
Unexpected and unapologetically Black, at Jasmyne Cannick, is a critic and commentator based in Los Angeles who writes about the worlds of pop culture, race, class, sexuality, and politics as it relates to the African-American community. She can be reached at www.jasmynecannick.com.