John’s Story. He wrote this account himself.
I am 32 years of age, a community college, and the single father of a beautiful 4-year-old girl. I was born and raised here in Indiana, but have spent a great deal of my life in South Florida as well. I had a pretty normal childhood. I have one younger sister, and both parents are alive, but they divorced when I was five. I had some challenges growing up. I didn’t graduate high school but I did get my GED. I met my baby’s mother in 2006. We had our daughter in December of 2008. Our daughter was removed from our care at the hospital, based on previous cases involving her mother. This was shocking—I expected to just go home with our baby like any other family.
So we started to do what we needed to do to get our baby back in our care. For whatever reason, my baby’s mother didn’t want to make it through the entire process with me so she left us. I ended up getting an apartment, enrolling in college, and working. When the baby was 10 months I had full custody of her.
We did great for the first few years from when she was about 10 months till she was maybe 3 1/2. I missed an appointment for her daycare and they immediately cut off my daycare voucher and said I’d have to get back on the waiting list. I therefore had to drop all my classes in college which put me on financial and academic probation.
We were making ends meet. I was self-employed, recycling metal (scrapping), and I was able to have her with me at all times. When my truck started to fall apart, and we couldn’t maintain the truck, we eventually lost the vehicle and my means of supporting us.
After that I made ends meet by selling things that I’d collected while scrapping and also selling our possessions (flat screen TV, laptop etc.). In July 2012, we ended up losing our big, nice apartment. From there we moved to a cheaper place, a 1 room efficiency type deal; it was too small for the 2 of us so I tried to find something better.
My daycare provider’s daughter had just recently inherited three homes when their father passed away. They needed help getting these homes up in order for sale, and we needed better living arrangements. It seemed like a win/win for both parties. We made out a contract saying I was to pay zero rent, maintain utilities and help their uncle with labor around the house in exchange for rent. I wanted out of the efficiency so bad and so fast that we moved into the new house before we should have. The utilities were not in place. I had electricity, and had just called about the water and was working on the gas bill.
There were also some code violations in house that made it uninhabitable, but neither we nor the landlords knew this before agreeing to the move in. My daughter and I were at the new house one afternoon, just four days after moving in, and I was still working on the rest of utilities.
We just finished eating lunch and were chilling upstairs listening to the radio when my daughter says “Daddy look!” I look over and there’s three cops at the top of my steps with their guns drawn. They start yelling and making a scene; my daughter immediately got scared and started crying.
I ask what’s going on. They say they had a call from a neighbor about a suspected squatter living there with a baby who is not his. So here I am in shock and having to prove that I belong there and that my baby is mine. After proving what I needed to the police, they looked around, noticed there was no water, and called city code enforcement and the Department of Child Services. City code condemned the house and DCS took my baby. From that day I went from being in a home and having my daughter with me at all times, to being homeless on the streets without my daughter.
I have been to jail for minor offences twice in these six months. I have slept on friends’ floors, and outside at city parks, under bridges, in tents. Part of the reason that I stay outdoors is because I don’t want to ask anyone to stay with them.
I have been looking for work and places to stay for about six months now with little to no luck. I’ve had to resort to panhandling to get by sometimes. I am currently working with two local agencies to obtain a job and housing. I also visit my daughter three times a week for supervised visits. When I get stable income and housing, they’re going to reunite her with me. I get discouraged at times but refuse to give up. My daughter needs me and I need her.
When I was young I dreamed of playing football for the Dolphins, or maybe being a pro wrestler. Never did I think I’d find myself in this situation. But I think I prove that it can and could happen to anyone, and it doesn’t always happen because someone is on crack or lazy.
This story originally appeared in Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Lutheran Social Services and the Office of the Mayor in Fort Wayne, Indiana.