A poorly lit hallway. Door number 4. A room with four beds. And six people.
“Come in,” says Cliff Barnum, “would you like to see it?”
The children show you their toys. Barnum shows the framed family portrait, taken two years ago, back when things were good, when work was steady, when homelessness had not yet come snooping.
In spite of the meager conditions, there is a bit of pride as this father invites you into his family’s temporary living quarters. Because for him, homelessness was ironically the better of the Barnum’s options, as the house they were staying in, his deceased grandmother’s, was also home to a strung-out uncle. Barnum had the resolve to pursue a better situation for him and his kids.
Luckily for Barnum, he lives in Little Rock, where Our House Shelter was able to give him and his kids a place to sleep while he looks for work. In all of Arkansas, it is the
only shelter that allows homeless fathers to reside with their children.
“Nobody accepted single fathers,” he recalls. “I had almost given up. Believe it or not there are a lot of fathers out there who would love to have their children, but they get left out. The homes always put the kids with the mothers. There’s quite a few guys out here, man.”
Barnum’s path never looked like it was leading here. He grew up alternating between living with his father and stepfather, both of whom he respected and who treated him well. “I had two great dads,” he says.
He went to boot camp five days after high school graduation, played snare drum in the army’s 95th division band, tried to make it work with the woman who would eventually leave him with the kids, and he held down jobs.
To him, being a man does not have much to do with success or accolades; it is a feeling you cultivate for yourself. “You work hard, you be honest,” he says. “You be respectful, and you demand respect. Be reserved. Don’t be boastful. Your rewards will come from up above.”
Holding to this creed means being homeless does not constitute a crisis of self-worth. Barnum is gentle with his two daughters, Tanasia, 3, and Mrs., 5, and hopes they will one day choose a husband who treats them as well as their father does. He shares a love