Danielle’s Story. She is 25 years old.
Everybody has a story. Stories matter. People need to know what’s going on, what people like me and my kids are going through. We are real people with real stories living right here in Fort Wayne—or trying to live here, at least. I guess this is my story, though it’s hard to say how it started. I haven’t seen my baby for more than a few hours at a time in over a year, no more than seven days in the past month. Maybe it started when we had to split up the family. No, it probably started before that, with the bed bugs.
Back in 2010, I was married to someone who wasn’t nice to me or to my kids. When he started hitting the kids, that was when he had to go, or rather, we had to go. We went to live with my mom, but after awhile, she decided she wanted to move, and we couldn’t stay with her anymore.
So we moved to a trailer.
For awhile, it was all right, but in February, we got bed bugs. I couldn’t believe our bad luck. The landlords refused to take care of the problem so after six months, I was forced to move my daughters and me into a homeless shelter. It was bed bugs or homeless. What a choice.
Homeless. It happened so easily. I just blinked and then we were homeless.
I have to be matter-of-fact about it and focus on the situation at hand. I have to just be step-by-step about it, you know? Or else I’ll lose it. And I can’t lose it. My kids need me. My fiancé needs me. I’m holding this whole thing together.
Our first shelter was really great. I knew our situation would be temporary because the staff at this place was so willing to help us and I was so willing to work hard to get us “back on our feet,” as they say. These people even talked about my going to school so I don’t have to be a certified nursing assistant (CNA) for the rest of my life.
I like being a CNA because it’s a good career foundation, but it’s hard work. I know I’ll get burned out eventually. It’s a physical, dirty, messy, sweaty job, and I only make about $1,000 a month. After the normal monthly expenses like rent, utilities, and car payment, there isn’t a lot left over for clothes and shoes for two growing eight-year-olds, not to mention the baby I rarely get to see. Going to school to get a degree for a better paying job sounded like a dream to me. I couldn’t make it work then but I knew I wanted it to be a future goal.
The first shelter we lived in was a temporary shelter so I knew we’d have to find a more permanent one. I applied to another shelter and also our local housing authority. The day I found out that we’d been accepted to move into the other shelter, I also got a letter saying I had been accepted to work with the housing authority. When that didn’t work out, we ended up moving to a new shelter.
That turned out to be a much different experience for us.
The second shelter was not like the first. This place was much more regimented and rule-based. If rules were not followed, we would get a mark against us. Three marks turned into a notice. Three notices became a warning, and three warnings meant eviction. My twins are eight and they are more than capable of staying alone in their room doing homework or reading. However, I had to keep them with me all the time. They’d get bored and wander away, and then I’d get a warning. We got very close to eviction before we were able to move out into a friend’s apartment.
When I got a full-time job I still had to do my chores. Just the cooking chore was overwhelming. There were 30 people living in that place. That’s a lot of people to feed.
It was hard to save money there because once I began working, I began to pay rent. Yeah, homeless shelters charge rent. I bet that’s something not a lot of people know. Even so, that shelter would have been fine if not for the bed bugs. Yes, bed bugs again.
When I felt that first itch, I thought, Oh no, not again. I just couldn’t believe it! We had been through this before, and old memories started to come back to me. I raised a big stink about them. The director heard me, and our room was getting treated for bed bugs.
Even though the bed bugs got taken care of, I knew we had to get out of the shelter. My kids no longer wanted to live there. A friend of mine offered to let us stay in her apartment until I could find a somewhat permanent place through this housing program I am working with.
Our new house is going to be just ours. This organization will pay for about half our rent, and I will cover the rest as well as utilities. The house has two bedrooms and plenty of living space. Right now, I am only approved for this program if I have just my twins with me. That means the baby and my fiancé have to keep living apart from us. If I can manage to get off the program, there is enough space for them to maybe live with us.
Maybe is more than we’ve had for over a year so I’ll take it.
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.