The picture in Kiona’s hand was hard to look at: in the foreground, a pink and green rug and a white dresser with a lamp and pile of toys on top; in the background, a toddler-sized bed with a rumpled pink blanket and stuffed bear. Small sticks and branches littered the floor and the bed. Above the bed, pieces of ceiling plaster and roof shingles hung on the edges of a large gash in the ceiling. A tree branch thick with pine needles pierced the slash of bright blue sky.
A tree had toppled onto the small townhouse during that day’s storm.
Kiona had tears in her eyes when she said, “Thank God my girls were at school, and I was at work when this happened. If it’d been just a couple of hours later, Jenelle would’ve been asleep in that bed.”
Kiona and her children had moved into the quiet townhouse neighborhood only a few months earlier. Her employer had opened an office in a new city, and they needed an administrative assistant. She applied for a transfer and moved her family because she wanted access to good schools and a safe environment. Her children made a smooth transition to their new school in Cary. Kiona’s job just paid the bills: rent, car and health insurance, utilities and food. The move depleted her small savings. Her budget had no room for extras. She and the children found lots of fun, free things to do: parks, playgrounds, museums and libraries.
In the short time they’d been here, she hadn’t been able to build up financial reserves. And now this.
Insurance helped for a while, but the temporary housing assistance soon ran out. Kiona still needed to work, and her girls needed to go to school. The school social worker told her to call Dorcas Ministries.
I met with Kiona. She had just three more nights paid for in the motel. The landlord was dragging his feet on starting the repairs on her townhouse. He released her from the lease and said it would be 30 days before she got her security deposit back. The schools were providing transportation from the motel to school. The girls were adjusting, again, to a new routine. Kiona spent her lunch breaks, evenings and weekends looking for a new place to live that she could afford. But her current dilemma was this: she could use her paycheck for more nights in the motel, or she could save her income for a security deposit, first month’s rent and utility deposits. She couldn’t do both.
This is how many families get stuck in homelessness.
The parents work hard at one or more jobs. They can pay their bills each month but just don’t have the income to make their own safety net. And then it happens. It could be a car accident – the car is totaled, and there’s no comprehensive insurance (too expensive). Using public transportation makes them late to work, and they lose their job. It could be a child sick with the flu – a week of missed work means the rent is late and fees pile up. And then a court date and a lock on the door. It could be the landlord raises the rent so now they have to move. It could be a top-heavy tree, roots loosened by recent heavy rains, blown over on a stormy late summer afternoon.
It happens. And sometimes it happens again and again.
All families make choices, some are simple and some are hard, but Kiona’s was especially difficult. Pay for another night in the motel so her children have a pillow under their head and she can shower for work in the morning? Sleep in her car to save money for a deposit on an apartment that might be not be ready for two weeks or longer?
What would you do?
Would you stay with friends? What if you don’t have anyone you can ask? Would you ask your family members? What if no one can help right now because they are struggling too?
Kiona and her children needed a bridge. With Dorcas’s help, a bridge was built from unusual materials and many hands. The bridge was made of motel vouchers provided by the Dorcas Emergency Housing Program. It was made of three months of groceries – milk, eggs, meat, fresh vegetables and canned goods from the Dorcas Food Pantry. It was made from partial assistance with the expense of moving into a new apartment. It was made with the school bus that picked the girls up at their new house and took them to their old school so there was one less change. It was made from a birthday box provided by Dorcas to help Janelle celebrate her 5th birthday in the motel.
The bridge was made with hands belonging to an employer who allowed extra-long lunch breaks, a school social worker who made sure the children had a hot breakfast and a nutritious lunch every day, a moving-truck-rental employee who charged the lower rate on a larger truck and a mom who worked hard to save every penny.
Kiona has a new picture now.
A small apartment in a tidy neighborhood with lots of families. A (slowly) growing savings account. Her children ride the neighborhood bus to their school. They still go to all the free events they can find. On her lunch breaks, Kiona sometimes sits outside and enjoys the North Carolina sunshine.
– Katie Braam, Client Services Case Manager for Dorcas Ministries
See more from our People Matter series.