Then she said the phrase that caused me to cringe. “We don’t have to worry about The Man anymore.”
Spoken by the absolutely desperate mother of a young girl. They, by virtue of desperate poverty and homelessness, were doubled up in a hardscrabble Kansas town. This Mom and her 9-year-old daughter share a small, dark room in return for the mother’s providing in-home health services to the disabled wheelchair-bound, obese and allegedly perverted homeowner, a man whose 2 teens who also live in this menagerie.
I’ve known this mother for over 2 years. I’ve known others who’ve known her longer. So I know her story rings true. She’s allowed me to share it (4-min. video) hoping it would enlighten or embolden other women (and maybe men) in similar situations.
As with far too many women, she found herself and her 2 daughters bouncing from couch to motel to basement floor and around again after her marriage broke up—shattering both her jaw and self-esteem. She worked the jobs mothers can work when juggling child care, school obligations, and pernicious poverty. Instability was their constant companion. So was violence, sexual abuse, and hopelessness.
The one insurmountable barrier to returning to any kind of normal living was a $2500 debt to the local housing authority. It’s a long story, but trust me when I say this mom found herself doing something most of us would have done, and she was “sentenced” to 5 years of hard time (homelessness), barred from the only affordable housing in Kansas—subsidized by the federal government via HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
I kept in contact with her for reasons I cannot explain. Maybe because she was the one mother I interviewed who had no one. I encouraged her when my normally optimistic self was cringing at the hopelessness of her situation. I suggested that she apply for a housing voucher before the new HUD administration takes over. She did, and was told that she’d be eligible (strict guidelines) as long as she was able to pay her arrearage. I personally tried to get them to waive all/part, to no avail.
Through a lot of luck, I was able to find donors to clear her debt. She meets with the housing authority person next week. They evidently have a unit ready for her and her family.
Families (and individuals) who live in these horrible conditions for so long need time to adjust to having their own place. The trauma they’ve experienced for so long follows them like a vicious tornado cloud ready to tear their fragile lives to shreds. And too often, the earlier experience of homelessness often leads to homelessness as an adult. All is not “happily ever after” yet, and maybe ever.
Imagine yourself as a parent in this situation, what would it mean to have your own place? And try to imagine Melissa’s relief when she realizes, “We don’t have to worry about The Man anymore.”