My sister really wanted to work, but she was really in anguish about what to do with the kids. Picking a child care facility when you are not sure where you are going to be living is a kind of crazy thing to have to do, especially when you are using public transportation to get around. We had hours of discussion about what she should do and truthfully no one idea was better than any other and that is when God once again showed himself as caring about what we cared about. My sis got a call from a local women’s shelter that told her they would sponsor her to move into her own place. She went to meet with them and they explained to her how the program worked. Let me clarify here, that what they told her and what she understood were somewhat different. They told her that there was a certain allowance amount for a two bedroom versus a three bedroom including utilities. Her understanding of that, was that she could go out and get a place at the highest allowance amount. They told her that they would pay her security deposit and the first months rent and a portion of the next two months. Her understanding was that they would pay her rent for the next 3 months. When she shared with us what they had told her we were sure that was a little to good to be true, so I asked if we could go with her to a meeting with the organization.
She agreed and we learned a lot that day and got clarification on how the program would actually work. We also learned that every shelter in the city is suppose to help it’s residents come up with a housing plan after they have been in the shelter two weeks. That did not happen at the shelter my sister stayed in. We also learned that even though the downtown shelter worker had told my sister that, she had turned her name into the women’s shelter for assistance back in October. Her name was not turned in until February. Boy oh boy was she mad. She was like “that lady lied to me and I have been in that shelter all this time when maybe I could have gotten help sooner.” She was already to return to the downtown shelter to give someone a piece of her mind, and we reminded her that it was not worth it. What matter was she was a little closer to getting out of the shelter and to not do anything to mess that up. After she vented we prayed for her to be able to move forward and she promised she would.
Next came two weeks of apartment/ house hunting. She looked on the internet daily for a place to stay, she wrote down telephone number after telephone number in her notebook. One day, I don’t know why, but I asked her if she had called any of the places and she told me no. When I asked why, she said “Because I don’t know what to say.” I thought about it before I opened my big mouth and realized, I was not really sure how to explain to a landlord, her situation either and how the security deposit and rent was going to becoming from someone else and could they forego the work history background check, because she just got a job. I really really don’t like talking to people anymore that I have to, but I really wanted things to workout for my sister. So I ask the Lord to give me the words to make the call. After stumbling over the first two calls and the people on the line still being kind and receptive, it got a little easier and I asked her if she wanted to give it a try. She said no and I told her she had to because We could not do everything for her. Honestly I don’t think she made but 1 or 2 phone calls, if that. Team Foster Hope kind just took that task on as a compromise, because she was working and we were glad.
So there we were, all excited about my sister staring her new job, when it occurred to us that, she had no way to get to work on Sundays and no one to care for her 2 year old, while she was at work and no one to get her 5 year old off the school bus each school day. So child care became a monumental big deal in a matter of seconds. So the Foster Hope team stepped up to care for the little one during the day and to get the older child off the bus each day, for a week or so. The good news was that she had been approved for child care assistance through DSS. The bad news was that she did not have a physical or immunization records for the youngest child and almost every single facility we checked out over the next week was full with a waiting list. We decided to take care of first things first – immunization and a physical. We spent at minimum 4 hours simply trying to find a doctors office that was still accepting medicaid patients. Most were not and others did not accept medicaid at all. The local health center was more than willing to see the little one but the earliest appointment they had was a month out. So we did what we always do,,, we started calling around to people we knew, who may know a doctor, that would be willing to see her. Finally we got an appointment 1 week out at the health center’s partner clinic in Madison Heights. We showed up 30 minutes early and I stayed in the car while my sister and her daughter (Anna we will call her) went inside. She may have been in there 10 minutes before she returned to the car with Anna to say that they told her , that Anna’s medicaid had been turned off and unless she had $180.00 to pay for the office visit she could not be seen . NOW remember I said we showed up 30 minutes early!!! So we sat in the care another 5 minutes or so debating about whether or not Foster Hope should take care of the $180.00. When I finally convinced my sister that it would be okay we went inside and I asked the front desk nurse of I could just pay for the office visit. Her response was… “no because we have already given her appointment away.” I asked how that could be since we were early for the appointment and they said,” we called another patient as soon as she walked out the door.” I simply shook my head , pressed my lips together and walked out the door. That was a Thursday, the next day Foster Hope had a meeting with the hospitals mobile clinic team. We shared with them the previous days experience and the difficulty we were having getting a physical and immunizations. the Mobile Clinics lead coordinator made a couple of calls and before our meeting was over, had an appointment on Monday for the immunizations and a physical. On Monday we made two stops at 10:00 am for the immunizations and by 10:45 am we meet the Mobile Clinic and the school physical was done. I was amazed at God’s provision, especially since it seemed the obstacles were coming so frequently. You see, while we were taking care of the medical stuff we were still searching for a child care center and we thought we had found one, the same day we got turned away from the Madison Heights Clinic, but when we showed up there, with our paperwork, the following Monday, we were told they would not be accepting any new children until August. It was March. There was no way the Foster Hope team could care for the children everyday until August. What were we going to do?
This was the fist time team Foster Hope had walked with a person through the entire gambit of trying to find food, shelter, employment and childcare. We had very little experience dealing with any human service agency besides DSS Foster Care, so we were pretty naive. People keep telling us that we really weren’t needed because there were services available to meet every need a person could have, all they had to do was apply… Well that is partly the truth, they do have to apply sometimes, other times they can just walk in the door, depending on the need and how much help they want and/or need.
Let’s start with food – that was the simplest and easiest thing for my sister to get. The fact that she had 2 children, no income and was homeless pretty much made obtaining food stamps a breeze. But she had to have an address and a neighbor to verify she stayed at the address. Now didn’t I just say she was homeless???? Fortunately for her she was in a homeless shelter, with an address she could use, so it worked out. She was approved for food stamps. But what happens to the homeless mom that for whatever reason is not in a shelter or doesn’t have an address…We simply don’t know.
Next there was work and a home. There is great debate on this issue of whether people need a home before they can look for work or the other way around. Our experience says it just depends on the person. For my sister, she firmly believed she needed a job before she could look for housing. A realistic perspective I guess, since housing requires deposits, and monthly income. So each week she would apply for jobs online, with one application taking 45 minutes to an hour. We were perplexed as to why the interviews were so far and few between, when we knew she was really trying. Then one day she came in asked if I would sit with her and go through the application & assessment with her. I did. When we got to the part about the criminal history it stated ” Do you have a criminal record excluding misdemeanors?” She entered yes and then asked me if she should explain on the app or ask for the opportunity to explain. I said ” I thought you told me you just had the one misdemeanor?” Her response was ” That is all I have.” So I explained that ‘excluding’ meant that she did not have to list it on the application.
Anyway we completed the application on a Monday, she was called on Wednesday to setup an interview for Sunday and started her job on the following Wednesday. Boy did we celebrate and tell God Thank You!!! Our celebration time was short lived, because the reality of having a job quickly set in….
If you are like me you come from a decent family and your basic needs have always been met- without question. So that kind makes us take a lot for granted. For I just assumed that the shelters provided its residents 3 hot meals a day and surely for the children if no one else. Well… One day my sister came and it was pretty much a typical visit- online job hunting, play time with the kids and girl talk. But when she got ready to leave I offered her some leftovers from girls group and she was ever so grateful. She said, ” thank you so much because I did not know what i was going to feed the kids tonight. My TANF is off temporarily, until I can talk to my caseworker and I don’t have any money left on my card”. I asked her how long it was going to take to get things straight with her caseworker and she said she did not know. She did inform me that the shelters do keep a few things on hand for you to eat if you need them, but she usually purchased and prepared her own meals. She said she had to buy food daily instead of doing real grocery shopping because otherwise her food would be stolen. She explain to me that a typical day consisted of hitting the street at 7:45 am, getting her little one on the bus hanging out until time for the DB to open so she and her youngest could eat and not eating again until they were allowed back into the shelter around 4:00. All I could do was listen and realize how much I just took for granted and how many uninformed assumptions I made about life in a shelter and about public assistance. I had no clue how much those who get assistance have to rely on the availability of over taxed caseworkers and how that could really impact their opportunities to move towards stability. But I was about to learn…
I recall they day my sister waked in with her GED sample test scores. I believe she had taken a sample test at DSS and she was not happy with her test results. Actually I think embarrassed was the word she used. She was so embarrassed that she said even though the person helping her at DSS had told her she could go up to a local center to take a GEDs class to prepare to take the test to get her GED, she didn’t want to because everyone there would know how poorly she would do. Now I know that some of this is pride, but I did not want her to become discouraged so I asked if we could possibly help her prepare for her GED at Foster Hope. She said yes and we found a free online website and started GED prep work every Monday and Wednesday. We were impressed by her willingness to show up each day and spent 2 – 3 hours reading and asking us questions about what she was working on. It was also eye opening for us to learn, that some one could make it through 11 years on school and still not know things that we thought were obvious. We also learned that if we had to take the GED test today few of us were sure we would pass it. Sp we all got a little education in the process.
One day when my sister came in I actually tried to apply for a job online. I applied to a local grocery store and provided only 3 previous jobs. Keep in mind I have both a BA and Masters. I am fairly computer literate and I did not have any children or adults trying to get my attention while I was doing it … and still it took me 45 minutes to complete the application and assessment questions. When I shared my experience with other Foster Hope volunteers they all wanted to see exactly what these online applications looked like. So we pulled up one for a well known retail outlet and watched my sister go through the application. We finally got tired of watching her and started doing other things. Because most of us serving at Foster Hope are either gainfully employed or have not had to apply for a job in a long, long, while, we we all amazed at the assessment questions. I honestly don’t think she actually finished applying for that job that day. Instead we turned our attention to finding out how she could get her GED.
That’s when another mother of 3 came into Foster Hope and when we I reviewed the basic questionnaire, we ask all Foster Hope guest to fill out, I saw a pattern starting to appear. It was our second single mom and her needs were the same housing and a job. Willing to work but tough history resulting in homelessness. Over the next 15 days we met 3 more single moms, with 2 or more children, all looking for jobs and a place to stay. We were torn because we could not offer them shelter, and it was wickedly cold during this time. While we felt we were not meeting any of their needs they informed us that we were, because they had some place to go to get out of the cold, while they waited for lunch at the DB, we talked to them like they were regular girl friends and did not treat them different because they were homeless, and we prayed with them, not for them.
It became very clear during this time that a simple baby sitting service would help the moms with small kids, so they could run to all the places we told then offered services to meet some of their other needs. Going from the shelter to DB, to the Dept to SS, with 2 small kids , can be an adventure, so there were actually a few days during this time that a day at Foster Hope consisted of playing with children, while their mom’s walked in the cold to DSS to get paperwork filled out for various services.
While those times were fun and did not require much of us, little did we know how tough the journey would become as we walk with my sister…
After the first backpack day she came by the Foster Hope House at least twice a week. It was about mid December, when she brought her 2 year old daughter with her to visit for the first time. It was a gift to me to get to play with the little one and give her hugs while her mom filled out the weekly form she had to complete for the shelter. My sister ( you know she is not my biological sister right?) Anyway she explained to me that in order to stay in the shelter and receive her TANF benefits she had to put in at least 30 hours of job searching. I asked her how she accomplished that and she told me that it was difficult and occasionally she fell a little short. I asked why it was difficult and she went on to explain, that most of the time you have to apply for a job online, so she goes to the library or the Region2000 place where there are time limits on how long you can be on the computer and because it is hard to focus with her daughter in tow.
Once the Christmas break rolled around I had the pleasure of meeting her 5 year old son. All boy… that is the best way to describe him with a ferocious appetite. It had become a part of her routine to drop by Foster Hope to get out of the cold and try to look for jobs on her cell phone and call DSS to follow up on services. What I noticed is that it is pretty frustrating trying to look for work on a cellphone with 2 children calling “Mommy look” or “Mommy come play with me”.
As a Mom of 4 boys I knew there was no way in the world her job searches were ever very productive. I remembered some of the Foster Hope volunteers coming in on some of those days and commenting on how beautiful the children were and they all spent a little time with them. Each time someone else had the children’s attention, mom was able to get a little more done.
So we talked about how we could help…. And if this is what she was going through, how many other homeless moms had the same situation.
What we learned in those 2 short months
1. Homeless shelters have to ask their guest to leave each day because of government mandates.
2 The weather has to be brutal for any exception to that rule- like 20 degrees or less
3. Even a mom with 2 small children has to leave the shelter in rain, snow, & 32 degree weather
4.The shelters have limited computer access as well and competing for computer time at any of the public places only allows you the ability to apply for 1 job maybe 2.
You might be saying a person should be able to do more than that, because that is what I thought until I tried it for myself…