So, What Finally Happened to the Chavez Family?

It only took a couple of days to get our house back in order and for our dog and cat to realize that it was ok to come out of hiding. For two or three weeks, I did not think much about the family until one day as I was walking from my office to a lunch meeting in downtown DC, I noticed in front of me a family, nestled under a blanket, sitting on the sidewalk on the corner of a busy street. As I got closer, I realized that it was the Chavez family. I immediately turned around and crossed to the other side of the street. Close call. There were several other close calls over the next two weeks, and in each one I wimped out, going to great lengths to avoid them. The thought of their moving into our house again was too much. We also got a call from Rosa asking if we needed any more painting, which we of course declined. After that they seemed to disappear from the downtown sidewalks, and I assumed they had moved on.

Then the next week in the “Style Section” of the Washington Post appeared a feature article with headline, “What Will Become of the Chavez Family?.” The article was extremely critical of the Chavez family accusing the parents of child neglect and abuse due to using their children for panhandling. What had prompted her to write the article was that after she had reported the family to the DC Child Protective Services, the family had not shown up for a mandatory court hearing. Embry immediately took issue with the reporter from the Post and called her to complain about her insensitivity. The Post reporter hung up on her.

Embry had pointed out that the parents loved their children, were doing the best they could, and that there might be some mental illness associated with the father. I do not believe that José was trying to exploit the situation when they were living in our house. He genuinely believed the hourly wage I proposed was below what it should have been and that the total job cost should have been $1,500. For him it was a matter of self-respect and pride.

In any event that was the end of Chavez family for us. We never saw them again. It is unlikely that there was a Cinderella happy ending.

The Chavez story happened in the early 1980s, almost 45 years ago. The children would now be entering middle-age. What kind of lives have they had? Were their parents still alive? I tend to overuse the metaphor of everyone being dealt a hand of cards to play on one’s life journey, and that we humans will be judged according to how well we play the hands we have been dealt. Think about the hand that each of the Chavez family children was dealt. José and Rosa probably started off with poor hands as well. And then think of how many other families and how many other people there are who get dealt very tough hands to play.

Life is not fair.

While homelessness was a problem in the early 1980s, the problem has persisted and even gotten worse. The homeless count in the U.S., based on the annual “point in time” (PIT) survey nationwide, was over 650,000 in 2023 and this does not consider people and families who are doubling or tripling up, staying temporally in a hotel, or “couch surfing” with friends, which if counted would probably triple the number of homeless people. The number of households nationwide who are “housing insecure” is estimated to be 10 percent of the population and increasing. No single cause has driven the troubling trend of increased American homelessness though an unequal financial recovery, a shortage of affordable housing and housing vouchers, limited access to critical healthcare, the cessation of COVID-era aid programs, and an immigration influx  are all important.

In DC the number of homeless in 2023 was just under 5,000 in the PIT survey. The number of shelter beds, however, was only about 1,200. Two thirds of the homeless are single people, many but not all, with serious substance abuse or mental health issues. One third are families. Shelter beds are temporary overnight accommodations, first come/first served, which require everyone to clear out during the day. They are hardly a long term, desirable, or permanent solution to the housing crisis. Tent encampments are now ubiquitous making some areas of the District of Columbia look like a third world city.

Why can’t the richest country in the world do better? Why can’t “the most important city” in the richest country in the world do better? This will be the subject of the next blogpost.






3 thoughts on “So, What Finally Happened to the Chavez Family?

  1. Oh Joe! This is something I think about every time I visit DC or any city. It’s actually happening everywhere. Thank you for all you have done and are doing to address and rectify homelessness and housing insecurity.

  2. Joe,
    Thanks. Right on target! I find myself hardening my sympathies. I have briefly met two single ladies who live in their cars and I have not done anything that might help them. Both have unrealistic beliefs and expectations of how they might agree to move into some form of housing. Therefore, I can count them as hopeless. We do give money to the Rescue Mission, etc. but that’s as personal as we get.

  3. I look forward to your next post, Joe. As someone who has spent only a total of about 10 years in DC, I wonder all the time about how the city planning people, including the mayor, do what they do re planning for affordable income housing.

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