04/27/09 - posted by Walter Ballin
Making Decent Homes For Our Youth

We have a serious problem today of youngsters being out on the streets, many of whom commit serious crimes at a very early age. On the news, we hear of drive-by shootings, vandalism, etc. While of course, it is not the sole cause, there are parents who simply don't care about the whereabouts of their youngsters. There are others who are simply unable to to handle the responsibility of raising children. In this commentary, I start with the experience of how I was raised and then I present my proposal for our government to provide homes for our youth who come from dysfunctional families who simply aren't able to raise them.

I was raised at a home called Homewood Terrace in San Francisco from 1952 when I was 6-years old until 1965. This was a home for youngsters whose parents had some problems resulting in their not being able to raise their kids. There were some youngsters who were orphans and there also were some who were emotionally disturbed. During the 1950's, there were some youngsters who were transported out of Europe to escape the holocaust. We all attended the public schools, although during the 1960's, there were youngsters who had special problems and were taught at a school on the grounds. There were cottages on the grounds with house parents in each cottage. During the summers, we were taken on picnics at the homes of wealthy people who served on Homewood Terrace's Board of Directors and the Women's Auxiliary in Atherton and Hillsboro, just south of San Francisco. We also went swimming at some other public parks in the San Francisco Bay Area. Some of the board and auxiliary members would donate symphony and opera tickets to the home for youngsters like myself, who had an appreciation for this kind of music. As a teenager, I recall going to the Opera House to see Yehudi Menuhin.

Until 1958, Homewood Terrace was well administered. Unfortunately in 1958, the Board of Directors replaced the director with a new director who ran the home pretty much like a reform school. He instituted a policy where parents in order to be able to have visits with their children on the weekends had to call the Homewood Terrace administration by the preceding Wednesday. This policy was very arbitrary. Some of the parents had issues of forgetfulness and would forget to make that call. Even though they really wanted to see their children on the weekends, they were denied such visits. On some occasions, my father would forget to make that call by that Wednesday. My parents were divorced, and my mother never forgot to make that call for her weekends with us. Under this particular director, if a youngster of high school age wanted to visit with friends whom they met at school, they also had to let the administration know days in advance. As a parent who later raised a child, I can say that a youngster doesn't know what they're about to do the next day let alone 3-5 days later. As a result of this director's policies, there were a lot of runaways. I recall alarms being installed on the windows of the cottages, at that time. Fortunately, he left Homewood in 1961 or '62. His successor reversed the worst of his predecessors policies.

When I reached the 12th grade in the Fall of 1963, I was placed in one of the first group homes. At that time, Homewood Terrace started to phase out the home and moved kids into homes in the neighborhoods. The home that I was placed in was for young people who were in their last year of high school or attending City College, now SF Community College. During the Spring of 1965, my brother and I left the home to move in with our father. In view of what I said, I have mixed feelings about my upbringing at Homewood Terrace. There are the issues that I mentioned above, and I feel that I wasn't given enough encouragement to achieve certain things, which was also the case with other youngsters. Still, I made a life for myself and I'm glad that there was a place where I could be raised, and it is more than one can say about how many children today are not being raised decently.

I say that there is a very strong need today for homes of the kind mentioned above. In re-instituting these homes, we can keep what was good, and improve on whatever was not done right in the past. We have parents today, who should have no right to raise children. Often, they don't even know where their youngsters are. About 3 years ago, I recall reading about an incident near my home where a man was mugged and robbed in the evening while on his way home from one of our supermarkets here in Chico. The perpetrators were teenagers around the age of 15-years old, and came from Sacramento. We constantly hear on the news about drive-by shootings, people being mugged by teenagers, vandalism being committed late at night, etc., all by kids whose parents don't know or don't even care about their whereabouts or what they are up to, and I'm not only talking about children from financially poor families. In our area around Chico and Paradise, we have had schools, bus shelters, and even cemeteries vandalized. These crimes often occur late at night.

I support all efforts to help parents do a better job of raising their children, but if nothing else works those particular parents must forfeit the right to have children. In re-instituting these homes, some children could be placed in group homes in the neighborhoods. Children with more severe problems would need to be placed in more institutionalized settings. For placing children into these new homes that would be created, I say the younger the better. With much less money being spent for war and on prisons, and with the super wealthy being required to pay their fair share of taxes, I hope that a future Democratic administration will institute policies to help our young people to be able to make decent lives for themselves, and also help their parents when possible.
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