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Southern California Voices / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY
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Comment : 'We Failed to Draw the Line'

September 13, 1993|JOHN HOOVER, Fullerton; Writer John Hoover is a volunteer life skills counselor in an Orange County homeless transition shelter. and

Can we believe that a 4-month-old infant, Steven Giguere Jr., never cried out as the rat bit through his flesh 110 times just a few feet, perhaps inches, from his sleeping parents? After all, they reported to police simply waking up to find the baby not breathing.

"I never put my kids in any danger. I'm a mother who cares about my children," sobbed Steven's mother during a jail-house interview with The Times' Rene Lynch (Sept. 3).

The details surrounding the death of this planned and wanted-yet-homeless child may never be known. However, the pure savagery of a 4-month-old's last moments of life should at least pierce the naivete with which many of us view the tragedy of homelessness and poverty.

We willfully enable the type of parental conduct that cost an infant his life through our compassion and sympathy, which lead us to erase boundaries that once defined a "normal" range of social conduct. We fail to draw lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. Tim Shaw, an Orange County advocate for the homeless quoted in another Times article, erases a boundary when he says, "Just because somebody is rendered incapable of maintaining a residence does not make them less of a parent."

If parents' ability to provide safe shelter for their children had been a distinct boundary in our society, a 4-month-old would still be alive. But we "compassionately" erased that boundary and others. We allow human dignity to atrophy in social programs that engender dependency.

Why didn't reporters investigate the reasons little Steven's father lost his last two jobs? Why did those who knew the couple fear so desperately for the safety of the children? Why was the family's pattern of helplessness so pervasive?

Anyone who works directly with the poor and homeless on a regular basis will confirm that those who are truly "rendered homeless," as Shaw puts it, due to hard luck will soon be self-sufficient again. People who continually refuse to abandon self-destructive conduct are the majority of cases that "bounce from motel to motel" and "shelter to shelter."

We made the rat ours by failing to define our society's social boundaries. We did not impose the kind of tough love that would have forced Steven's parents to choose between their child and their behavioral peculiarities. Instead, this infant's blood stains our society's moral and ethical agenda.

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