In my attempt to remain relevant in sharing my lived experience of being homeless, for the past six weeks, I have visited with 800 homeless individuals, of whom 200 were mothers. Among them is Gladys.
This is her story:
"It was never my goal to be homeless, but it happened.
“I wanted to take all the necessary steps to ensure my child's safety and provide her with a nice, loving place to call home.
“Unfortunately, domestic violence and broken systems of care prevented me from accomplishing this. Instead, my daughter and I endured homelessness for two years.
“Homelessness and the services and programmes we were forced to rely upon affected the quality of care I was able to provide for my child. There is nothing normal about raising a child in this environment. I did my best, but it wasn't easy. Today, I try not to think about the precious time we lost when we were homeless.
“Abuse plagued my marriage and our home. I filed charges against my husband for domestic violence. I was living in his home, so I soon found myself alone with a young baby and no place to call home.
“In an attempt to secure housing where we would be safe, I enrolled in a domestic violence shelter programme.
“Many things about this experience were difficult. The interview process was very dehumanising, yet this is the process you must go through to be accepted into a shelter.
“My requests to stay close to supportive friends fell on deaf ears. The only thing that could have prepared me for shelter living would have been spending time in jail. I had to follow ridiculous rules and regulations, as if I had committed a crime. Yet, real crime was being committed around me in the shelter daily, which went unchecked.
“We no longer had the physical space for my daughter to even crawl and develop in other ways. We were limited to a confined, small space. I sneaked a heating device into our bed. Electrical or other heating devices were against house rules, even though it was in the dead of winter, so I was asked to leave.
“I found space at another women's shelter. My daughter's life had thus far been nowhere near normal. We were placed in a shelter, far removed from my old life. I was sinking fast into depression. I knew this could be even more damaging to us both.
“At the shelter, I saw that fights among children were a source of conflict among parents. I, too, eventually faced conflict with a parent about my child. Regardless of our efforts to follow the rules and participate in the programme, we were told to leave.
“Realising that we had nowhere to go, I became very ill. While I was hospitalised, my daughter went into foster care. I recall the hospital staff snatching my daughter from my arms, and then everything went blank. I had to go to court to get my daughter back.
“My daughter and I are currently on the road to recovery. We were fortunate to have met compassionate social workers. They helped me turn my tragedies into empowerment and healing.
“I decided to go back to school, funded by a stranger. I found a new passion. I graduated with a BA degree in the social sciences and plan to work to change policies related to homelessness. My experience is one that I will share to show my child and others that all things are possible if you can make it through the rough times.
“I would like to see programmes move away from ‘one size fits all’ service models. Parents who face homelessness need individualised service plans that address their strengths and needs. It is critical to involve parents as partners in their own treatment planning and recovery. Homeless service programs would benefit by moving away from dehumanising language. Labels like ‘case manager’ or ‘client’ are not helpful because they assume that ‘’clients’’ are passive recipients of services and because they assume that ‘clients’ are passive recipients of services and that ‘case managers’ or other clinicians know what is best for them. Anyone seeking services for their families would want to contribute to treatment planning for their children and themselves. People who are homeless are no different.
“Labels can also hurt children when they are in school. As an involved parent in my child’s education, I have witnessed discrimination. Once a child’s past or present homelessness is discovered, some school personnel expect your child to perform below average. They assume the parent is under-educated as well, and the cycle of broken systems continues as these children are left behind.’’
“Perhaps with fewer labels, more people would recognise that homelessness is a situation, not a personality trait. It does not make a person any more ignorant or any less human. It does not make a child any less able to learn or succeed. Most importantly, it does not make a person any less capable of being a loving parent,” says Gladys.
* Carlos Mesquita and Gladys.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
Do you have something on your mind; or want to comment on the big stories of the day? We would love to hear from you. Please send your letters to [email protected].
All letters to be considered for publication, must contain full names, addresses and contact details (not for publication)