The following is the story of one of our single moms, Natalika, shared by her during our Legislative Breakfast in March, 2018. It is a testament to the ways support from Housing Families and from the community can transform the lives of families experiencing homelessness.
Good morning. My name is Natalika and this is my third year speaking at Housing Families’ Legislative Breakfast. It is the closing of a trilogy – and the ending is good! But before I get to the end, let me remind you of the long and winding that led me here today.
When I first spoke at a Legislative Breakfast two years ago, my family, children, and I were on the brink of being evicted and having nowhere to go. At the time, my daughter was nine and my non-verbal, autistic son was four.
I had been working at the Hogan Regional Center for 14 years, helping people with mental illness and behavioral problems similar to those my son faces. My rent was fairly cheap at only $1,300/month for a two bedroom. And while my $42,000 annual salary was over the limit for many meaningful benefits such as social security income for my son and food stamps, it was far from enough to keep up with all our other costs of living.
Before my son’s diagnosis of autism, I would work two jobs- constantly taking any overtime shift I could. But ultimately, my son’s needs took up so much of my time that I wasn’t able to keep up with that and we got behind in rent. Although my landlord was very patient with me and my family, he ultimately had to evict us because he wasn’t able to afford his mortgage when we weren’t keeping up with our rent.
Fortunately, I was able to obtain short-term rental assistance for a year so that we could move to another apartment in Malden. This short-term assistance was a godsend for my children. Because we were able to stay in our community with all of our supports, my daughter was able to keep her therapy. Being the sister of such a high-needs brother, she had to grow up very quickly. She was constantly worried about him and me. I often felt like our life prevented her from really enjoying her childhood. With the help of her therapy sessions, I saw her confidence improve dramatically.
My daughter was also able to stay in the same school, and I was able to keep my job. We were able to maintain our routine.
The greatest benefit of remaining in our community with the short-term assistance was that Nathan was able to continue with his therapy sessions. In that year, my son went from being non-verbal autistic to responding to his name with eye contact! He can follow 2-step directions – I could tell him to give me a hug and he does! When I give him milk he says “thank you!” With these improvements in Nathan’s skills, I finally felt like a real mother to him. Without the communication piece, I always felt like I was just a body to him. This stability gave me the gift of truly being able to have a two-way bond with my son.
Unfortunately, the short-term assistance came to an end. My income was still insufficient to afford rent in this area despite my tireless search for an apartment. I was referred for a Section 8 voucher, and in the meantime my case manager referred me for RAFT. I was hoping that I would obtain my voucher and be able to use it in the apartment we were living, but I was eventually deemed over-income. Once again, I was facing the choice of keeping my job but having no housing or quitting so that my family and I could qualify for shelter. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t give up even though everyone around me had exhausted all the possible resources and leads for housing.
Ultimately, I called my brother and sister and mother down in NY. I told them the horrible predicament I was in with the kids and we all problem solved together. The only solution we came up with was that my mother give up her housing in NY, and move up to be with me and my children. In the past, I hadn’t asked for my mom’s help often because our life was so challenging, and it was very hard for her to comprehend that we couldn’t just “pray” Nathan’s autism away. But with my brother and sister’s support, we agreed that she would move up here. She had a savings and we were hopeful that we could use that as a down payment for a house. Everything indicated that a mortgage payment would be cheaper than the rents.
It was another rocky process, but I was ultimately approved for a loan. At the last minute, my two previous evictions almost caused the deal to fall through but luckily my attorney was able to help me negotiate something with the lender so everything could go through.
Last month, my children and I moved into our own home. It’s not a perfect home. It needs some works – the other day we already had a plumbing issue and I had to call my home insurance company! But it is our home, and I can finally breathe.
I am sharing that long story with you all today because I want to testify that when given the right supports at the right time, when you are surrounded by a network of committed service providers, and when you are given the gift of time these programs not only work – they make a tremendous difference on people’s lives. My children and I would never be where we are today without the support of all these different programs. And yet, we also could have avoided all of the stress and trauma that we endured throughout all of the unstable times had we been able to access affordable housing in the first place.
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