These stories are from the Invisible Project, a collaboration between the Welcome Project and Porter County Coalition for Affordable Housing, Housing Opportunities, Gabriel’s Horn, Dayspring Women’s Center, and Porter County Museum.
Part 1: We Beat Statistics
“She loved us, but she didn’t love herself enough to take care of us the right way.”
Transcript for Part 1:We Beat Statistics
Part 2: Truly Unconditional Love
“Sometimes he eats; you don’t eat. That’s just the way it is.”
Transcript for Part 2:Truly Unconditional Love
Part 3: Stepping Stones
“If you’ve never been in that situation, it’s hard to understand what it’s like.”
Transcript for Part 3:Stepping Stones
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We Beat Statistics
I would describe homelessness by — it can mean you are living in the streets, you don’t have anywhere to go, or you’re living from house, to house, to house, and you don’t know when somebody’s going to kick you out, you don’t know when you might end up on the streets. When you go from couch to couch, or house to house, you have no idea when that’s going to be the last person. If there’s ever going to be any hope that you’re going to find your own place, or find a job that’s going to pay you enough money to get your own place, you just — you never know what’s going to happen. I mean, that was my family who was putting me into homeless shelters.
I lost my mom when I was seventeen, and my brother was fourteen. When we were living in Hammond, she died of cancer. We didn’t have a lot of family; we were losing the house that my mom lived in. My mom’s husband walked out on us. My brother’s dad was a drug addict and couldn’t do much for us. Before I turned eighteen, I went to legal aid, and they were able to help me as long as my brother’s dad was willing to sign over his rights, and he was. And I took custody of my brother when I turned eighteen. And we had got some life insurance from my mom in order to get a place, pay the first year’s rent, and get him in school, and get the furniture and clothes that he needed.
It was really hard. We didn’t have nobody else. I mean, our situation wasn’t that great in the first place, considering my mom was an alcoholic and a drug addict. But when somebody looked at me and said I wasn’t going to get custody of my brother — I had to get custody of him. I didn’t want to lose my mom and my brother at the same time. It was a lot to take care of. He was a handful, especially after losing your mom — that’s a traumatic stage to go through. And I didn’t — I understood, because I lost her too, but he took it so much harder than I did, that I just couldn’t wrap my hands around it, and I couldn’t deal with it, because I had my own emotional problems, and I’m like, ‘How am I going to deal with your emotional problems when I have my own? I don’t know what to do.’ And he didn’t talk about it. He still does not talk about it to this day. He told me one time — he was like, ‘I think it was better off that Mom died.’ And I was like, ‘Why would you say that for?’ And he was like, ‘Because it made us better people. ’He was like, ‘If we would’ve stayed with my mom — our mom — then the situation might not have played out the same.’ She taught us everything not to do. That’s the way we look at it. She loved us, but she didn’t love herself enough to take care of us the right way like she should’ve. So, she taught us what not to do, and I think we beat statistics pretty well.
I had him for a year, and he didn’t listen to me so well. I had to put him on probation because he had eighty truancies in school, and at that point, he didn’t know I put him on probation. He thought that the school did it, and I was ok with that. But he looked at me, he was like, ‘Shawna, I’m not going to listen to you.’ He was like, ‘You’ re my sister.’ It was just like two teenagers living with each other and fighting all the time. So he moved in with his friend’ s mom. And he graduated in Honors. And, he’ s a really smart kid. But I felt hurt, but I was ok, because I knew where he was going, he was going to be ok. He did a lot better. He didn’t miss that much school ever again. So, he’ s doing pretty good for himself now. I’m very proud of him, and I think my mom would be, too.
It was after I took custody of my brother. We had our own place, but we lost it. My brother moved out,and then I went to stay with a friend, and I found out I was pregnant. And then that friend’s mom kicked me out for no reason. I was six months pregnant when she put me out. I lived with her after my mom died before we had got our own place, and I had got a little bit of life insurance from my mother after she died, and I was able to give her a lot of money at that time. So, then,when I moved out and found my own place, and we ran out of money, I moved back in with her, and we didn’t have the money no more. And, so, I was still providing food and cleaning up, and she just — it wasn’t enough. Then I moved in with my son’s father and his sister, and then she left to move to another state, so then I ended up moving in with my aunt — and this was all after I had Jaiden — and then we moved to Hammond — back to Hammond, and we lived with her, and then she put me out, and she put me in a homeless shelter in Hammond. She didn’t kick me out, technically, what she did was she said that she thought if I lived in a homeless shelter, that it would help me get on my feet faster than me living with her. So, that was her opinion of it. I’m not saying it didn’t work, but the way she approached it felt different. Because she took my stuff, and she sold it in yard sales, or took it somewhere else and gave it to other people. So, I was pretty upset. And it was my son’s stuff, too. Like, his walkers, his swings — all of that stuff, she took it, and she just got rid of it because I couldn’t come and get it because we were in a homeless shelter. We didn’t have transportation. So, I think she could’ve handled that a little bit different.
Truly Unconditional Love
I was nineteen when I had my son, and I just lost my mom, you know, all that other stuff, so it was really complicated. And we were homeless. We had nobody to help us. It is just so hard to bring a child into that kind of situation, to bring them into a homeless shelter, to have nobody to help you. I don’t want him to feel that he can’t depend on me. I don’t want him to feel that, you know, he has to worry about things like that. I don’t want him to feel that it’s his fault, or — even though he wasn’t old enough at the time, but babies can still feel your anxiety, they can still feel your stress, and you don’t want them to feel that way. You want them to feel like everything’s going to be ok, and they don’t have to worry, because they’re children — they shouldn’t have to worry about where they’re going to sleep at night, or what they’re going to eat, or anything of that sort.
When you have a child, that child comes first. Sometimes he eats, you don’t eat. That’s just the way it is. Even when you have a job, you only get paid minimum wage, and minimum wage is only $7.25 an hour. And depending on how many hours you get, sometimes your checks are only two or three hundred dollars every two weeks. And that is not enough to get an apartment, to feed your child, to buy diapers, to buy clothes, to have transportation, and when you live in Portage, there’s no bus transportation to get people back and forth. And most jobs won’t even give you thirty or thirty-five hours a week. Like, the Y, they wouldn’t let us work over thirty hours a week. And that was only about two hundred, three hundred dollars every two weeks, depending. That is not enough to go out there, put a down payment on an apartment, and pay six hundred dollars a month.
When we moved into the homeless shelter, Gabriel’s Horn, in South Haven — I mean, this homeless shelter was really nice. It was awesome, to be honest with you. You had your own room, had your own little refrigerator in there. The people were really, really nice. They wanted to help you. Yes, things could be complicated, having to get along with other people that you don’t know, and live with these people, and, you know, share the kitchen, and the bathrooms, and the living room. I mean, you had a curfew of nine o’ clock on the weekdays and ten o’ clock on the weekends. You’re allowed to have three overnights a month. You could have visitors, but they couldn’t go in your room, of course. The kids had to be in bed by eight o’ clock. There was mandatory counseling that you had to do: group counseling and individual counseling. You had chores that you had to do every day before you left the house. If you didn’t come in on time, they would lock you out. And after so many write-ups, they would have to put you out. I think it was five or six write-ups, that they would say that, you know, ‘It’s time for you to go.’ They helped with transportation. The house mother — when we moved out, she took Jaiden to school for two years back and forth, and took me to work because I did not have a car. And for two years, she still helped us every single day. She would come from South Haven by his school, all the way to Portage, pick us up, take us all the way back to South Haven, and take me all the way back to Portage. Every day for two years, she did that without charging gas money. So, they were really nice people.
They had us fill out an application for Housing Opportunities, and then we were on the waiting list for about five or six months before we got our apartment. Hanging up pictures on the walls, and hanging up his crafts from school, and decorating his room, and making his room feel like it his own was probably one of the best memories because he was really excited when we started putting stuff into place, and it became his own room, with all his toys, and his pictures that he made, and was able to have friends come over and spend the night, and play with his stuff.
I think being a mom is amazing. Like, you never know how much you can love somebody until you have a child. There’s no love like it. Like, sometimes you love them so much that you just cry. There’s no love like having a child. You don’t feel that way about anybody else. That is truly unconditional love. There’s nothing like it.
There’s some people out there — they don’t want the help. They just, they don’t want it. And I’ve seen people who don’t take the help, and then they end up in the same predicament that they were in. They don’t have the same opportunities because they didn’t take the opportunities that were given to them. But there are people out there that really need help, and there are people out there that don’t want to be on the system forever, that don’t want welfare, that don’t take advantage of it. They’re just trying — they’re taking stepping stones to get where they need to get, and for that period of time, they have to let their pride go, and get the help that they need.
Housing Opportunities helps me by providing a roof. We go over goals. They help you find steps to finding a job. They give you resources to help you go to school. They introduce you to other nonprofit organizations that help you with other things. Like, they help my son with his speech therapy. They referred me to somebody. They referred me to First Steps. They referred me to Early Head Start — Head Start. The Family Youth Services Bureau — they paid for my car insurance for the first six months when I first got my car. I graduated from them, I guess you can say now, but they were truly amazing. Every single one of them that I had were amazing. Geminus Head Start — the nonprofit organization — my son went there for two years, and I loved the teachers that he had. They were amazing. One time, I didn’t have enough money to pay for my son’s pictures, and they — the teachers — put in the money to buy his pictures. I mean, then you have food stamps and welfare, that helps provide food, medical coverage, and that helps a lot, too.
My case manager, Cindy, is an incredible role model. She comes out to the apartment, she talks to us, she goes over the goals. She’s taught me how to be a mom. She’s amazing. She is more than just a case manager to me.
Right now, things are pretty good. I do watch children out of my house. Yes, it’s not a lot of money, but I’m able to pay my bills. I’m able to buy my son what he needs, I’m able to keep a roof over our head right now. I was looking for another job, and I’m going to start looking for another job again as soon as I have a reliable car. It’s still hard — you still struggle, especially when your car is constantly breaking down. You don’t have enough money to pay for everything and fix your car, so the bills have to come first, and then the car, but I’m managing. We eat. We have a roof. He has clothes.
I think people need to step outside of the box and look around for a minute, and see that there are people out there that are really struggling, and that are not taking advantage of the system, and that really, really, do need help. Not everybody is the same. I think that it’s just the way you look at it. And if you’ve ever been in that situation. If you’ve never been in that situation, then it’s hard for people to understand what it’s like. I think, sometimes you have to step back and take yourself out of your situation, and put yourself in somebody else’s shoes.