Names have been changed to protect the identity of those interviewed.
Sandra is a 23-year-old woman who is currently living in an emergency shelter. She graduated from high school with an advanced diploma and went on to receive her cosmetology license. She is looking to return to school in the fall to pursue a nursing degree. This is her story.
How did you become homeless and living in the shelter?
S: In October, my mother was incarcerated. With her gone, I had to take over caring for my three younger siblings. I went through the courts and got custody of all of my siblings because I was the one taking care of them. I moved out of my apartment and into my mother’s home because it was more spacious for all of us to live together. However, the house started to get mold out of nowhere. Because I had custody of the kids, we had someone from the courts come and check in every so often. When she came one day, I asked her if she could do something about the mold. I just wanted her to get someone to come to fix it, but, instead, she said that we have to get out of the house. She wrote to the city and the city condemned our home. The city was able to put us into a hotel. so technically, we did not get evicted or nothing like that. The city told us to leave and put us inside of a hotel for 4 days before getting a spot for us in the shelter.
Is this the first time that you have been in a shelter?
S: No, when I was younger, me, my mom and my brother, and maybe my baby sister, were in the shelter at one time. From there I do not know. I know that when I went for my intake for here, they said that I was in the system, but I do not remember it, so I must have been young.
So how many children are you taking care of now?
S: 4 kids right now, my three siblings and my own son. I was also pregnant with twins, but I miscarried one, so I am now only pregnant with one.
So on a typical day, what is it like living in shelter?
What do you think is the hardest thing about being homeless?
What worries/ scares you the most about being homeless?
S: I fear that the older kids will remember being here [in shelter]. I really do not want them to remember this. I think it is not a good thing to be in a shelter. Even though you are trying to set things up and get housing or get some type of help if you do not have help, but I do not think it is a good thing for the kids. Me personally, I do not think that it is a good thing.
What helps you stay positive through the hardest days?
What kind of response have you gotten from your family about your situation?
S: No help. My family is like why are you in the shelter. I have family, but I don’t If we needed somewhere to stay, we can’t everyone who is asking me questions about why I’m here is living with another family member too. Family members are living with family members and they do not have their own place. So how can me and is my whole family going to stay with you? No, there is no room. I am not going to be crowded and my kids are not going to go through that. We are going to work to get our own. That’s what we are going to do. So, everyone can have their own personal space and they are happy. I do not want them to be miserable in someone else’s home. You have to do this and do that. I think that being in here is better than being with someone else, personally.
What about from service providers in the community?
S: I am looking for housing, but it is difficult and I think they are taking me through an extra step because I have custody of my siblings, instead of it just being my child. So it is taking a little bit longer. They have my custody papers, my final notice of custody, but it is still taking a little bit longer than I hoped. They said it was going to be 2 weeks. One week they said that they had the 4 bedrooms and then the next week they say they don’t. So it is is a little confusing and it is working through a third person. I do not like that. I want to talk directly to the person that is dealing with my paperwork and trying to help me.
Also, my counselor is a big help. If it was not for her, we would not be here. She is a big help. We would have still been sitting in a condemned house if it was not for her. It was not for her, we would just be miserable, sitting inside of a moldy house, getting sicker and sicker. But, no one one the street has ever said anything to us. We try to avoid talking to strangers, but if someone on the street asks me for some change, I give it to them, even though I am homeless, too.
What are your goals? What do you want to accomplish in the next year?
What about 5 years from now?
S: Instead of being in rapid rehousing, I want to be in a house that I paid for, built up from the ground. I want my kids to be at a point where they do not have to want to want things. They get everything that they need and want. They are safe and in a safe environment. Well protected, in a protected area. And I see myself with my first degree. After I get that one, I will have to go back for a couple of years, but I will be done with my first and almost done with my second.
When people look at you, what do you want them to see?
Anything else that you would like to say to the community about your experiences/situation?