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Social Worker Hopes “60 Minutes” Reports will Generate Wider Response to Homelessness

 

Beth Davalos on "60 Minutes."

Florida social worker Beth Davalos hopes her two appearances on CBS’s long-running television news magazine “60 Minutes” will continue to help galvanize the public to address the growing number of homeless children and families in central Florida and around the nation.

“It’s really hard for people to get engaged,” Davalos, MSW, LCSW, told SocialWorkersSpeak.org. “That is what ’60 Minutes’ has done — they have really brought it to light and they did a respectful job.”

Most people think of the homeless as people grappling with alcoholism, drug addiction or mental illness, Davalos said. However, in these tough economic times children and families are the fastest growing segment of the homeless population.

Davalos is coordinator for the Seminole County Public Schools’ Families in Transition Program, which helps homeless families. She and 16 other Seminole County school social workers have their work cut out for them.

The housing market collapse and high unemployment have hit central Florida particularly hard. As a result there are 1,500 homeless children in the county, up 30 percent from last year, Davalos said. That number could rise to 2,000 by the end of the year, she said.

However, the central Florida number is dwarfed by the 1.5 million children that are homeless across the nation, Davalos said.

“60 Minutes” reporter Scott Pelley first reported on homelessness in the Seminole County in March and again on Nov. 27. He followed families such as unemployed carpenter Tom Metzger and his two children Arielle, 15, and Austin, 13.

"60 Minutes" reporter Scott Pelley talks to homeless children in Seminole County. Screenshot courtesy of CBS.

The children’s mother died when they were young and Metzger cannot find his usual work in the home building trade. When he was down to his last $1,000 he bought a panel truck on Craig’s List. That truck is now their home and Tom shuttles the children to gas service stations to wash up before school.

 Tom Metzger bravely tries to live as normally as possible. He parks the truck in front of a library so his children can get books and use computers and enrolled Arielle and Austin in a community theater group.

“Yeah, it’s not really that much an embarrassment,” Arielle said. “I mean, it’s only life. You do what you need to do, right?”

The “60 Minutes” reports have prompted a flood of support for homeless families in central Florida, Davalos said. For instance, members of the First Baptist Church of Orlando pledged $45 million for homelessness and there are now 45 food pantries in schools, she said.

Davalos said the key to fighting homelessness is collaboration. Private companies, faith-based organizations, schools, government and individuals must work together to address the problem. What the “60 Minutes” segments did was put attention on the problem and forced people to recognize it, she said.

 The media attention must continue to put out information on the homelessness epidemic, Davalos said. In fact, Pelley promised to return in about six months and follow the progress of the children.

“I think people get so sad when they see it on television they turn the channel,”Davalos said. “Now people are saying, ‘What can be done?’, ‘How can we get involved.'”

A homeless family finds emergency shelter in a hotel. Screenshot courtesy of CBS.

Seminole County and school social workers have been working for years to address homelessness. There are now 18 agencies working together in the county to ensure homeless families and children get services, Davalos said.

 School social workers are the “hidden heroes” behind helping these families, Davalos said. They work on the front lines to ensure families get emergency housing and other services so children can live as normally as possible and focus on just being kids and doing well in school.

“The success of these children is because of the social workers getting their basic needs met,” she said.

To watch the Nov. 27 “60 Minutes” segment on homelessness that features Davalos, click here. To find out more information on Davalos’ Families in Transition program and to help homeless families in Central Florida click here. And to learn how social workers help families overcome challenges visit the National Association of Social Workers’ “Help Starts Here” Kids & Families Website by clicking here.

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1 Comment

  1. Just so you all know, some of dear Tom Metzgers’s problems finding employment might stem from the fact that he shares his name with a well-known white supremacist.Construction work means lots of navvies and chances are great they’ll be of Hispanic origin.Just an observation from a drunk Swede (sorry for any language/spelling errors).

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