THE CHILDREN AND I NEED SHELTER – LAST NIGHT WE SLEPT IN A CAR
( Massachusetts found poem)*
Where were you sleeping before you slept in the car?
How many nights have you spent in the car?
Were your children with you?
Do you own the car?
Do you have the keys to the car?
Do you have the registration or insurance paperwork for the car?
Can you identify the car by make, model, or license plate?
Can you describe the interior color or exterior color?
Are your belongings in the car now?
Where was the car parked when you slept in it?
Where is it parked now?
How did you get to our office?
Can you substantiate that you slept in the car
with at parking ticket, citation
police report or letter from the owner?
II. The Unofficial questions
How cold did it get?
How many people tried to break into the car?
How many people did break into the car?
Where did you relieve your bladder?
Why is your hair so neat if you slept in a car?
Why are you giving your child carbon monoxide poisoning?
Why should you not lose custody of your child for resorting to these irresponsible
And can you tell me the color of the seats?
And how many cars passed you in the night?
What time did the birds start singing?
What time did the children stop crying?
*In August and September of 2012, new regulations came into effect which
drastically reduced the right to shelter for homeless families. Mothers and
children who should have been eligible for shelter slept in cars, police stations,
subway stations, and still they were turned away. The administration claimed that 57
indigent mothers and children were sleeping in cars and emergency rooms
deliberately to make themselves eligible for shelter, or were lying about having
Part I of the poem is from an official DHCD training PowerPoint. for the workers
who screen shelter applicants. Parts II is culled from the spontaneous email
responses of legal services and community services organizations to advocates.
When DHCD first issued its power point list of questions to ask families who “claim” to be sleeping in their cars, Oonagh Doherty compiled those pieces into a poem that was published this month in Cutthroat magazine. The link to the full publication is below …