Stepping Stones

Facing Homelessness in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Homelessness

Mary’s Story. She is 30 years old.

I didn’t plan to be homeless . . . but then, I guess, nobody does.

The problems started because I lived in Fort Wayne, but my job was in Avilla – more than a 20 mile drive each way. So having a car was a necessity. But on a limited budget, the car I could afford had problems of its own.

When my car decided to poop out, I was pregnant. I needed reliable transportation, but I didn’t have the money to buy a different car. And I couldn’t get to work without a car, so I had to find a new job closer to home.

I walked or rode the bus to apply for jobs. It was the middle of summer and I was six months pregnant. I found a job, but it wasn’t soon enough to make the rent on my apartment. I was on a month-to-month lease and I was already a month behind. My landlord had been kind enough to give me that much leeway, but he couldn’t keep doing it. I understood – I am sure he had been burnt before.

I called around to different agencies to try to get help with my rent, but there is an application process for most kinds of assistance and I needed help immediately. It wasn’t going to come fast enough. Reality sunk in. I was homeless.

At the shelter I had 30 – 45 days to get my act together and figure out my next move. My job was only three blocks away so I walked to work. I was saving money to begin rebuilding my life.

Being at the shelter wasn’t that bad, but it was only temporary. As soon as I moved in I had to start thinking about moving out. The more I focused on it, the more I started to panic.

You see, I had always wanted to have children – to be a mom. But now I was worried about not having a home to raise my son in let alone be able to provide him with basic necessities. This was not what I had planned.

But I was so motivated to make things better for myself and the staff at the shelter saw that and helped all they could. Another woman living there told me about a program that might be able to help me get back into a home.

Through the program I was able to get an apartment, but one of the stipulations was that it had to be outside the city limits. I found an apartment about 30 miles away in Bluffton. I figured I could make it work because by now I had saved up some money and could get another car with the money I would have spent on an apartment.

But there was a hitch in my plan. After working at my new job for a month, I had to tell them I was pregnant. Because I had been at my job for less than a year, I would not get maternity leave. I would have to quit, reapply after I had the baby, and then wait for a job to come open.

I was even more panicked now. I was trying to rebuild my life, trying to get ready for the baby and now I had to figure out how we were going to live with no income.

My main goal in life is to provide stability for me and my family. I felt like I was getting nowhere towards this goal. It was a vicious cycle. Every time I had one thing figured out, something else would fall apart.

It was a really tough year. So many decisions . . . Should I put this $20 in savings or buy diapers to provide for my son when the money isn’t coming in anymore? So many questions . . . How am I going to pay for childcare once my son is born and I have to go back to work?

The rental assistance on my apartment was expiring when I learned of a house give-away contest. Could it be true? Someone was giving away a house and all I had to do was write an essay about why I felt like I deserved it?

I wrote and re-wrote that essay . . . and it paid off.

Having my own home is amazing and it is all because of the generosity of a man who saw a way to make a difference. My home provides a foundation for me as I work toward my goals. It is one less thing that I have to worry about.

When you get into a bad situation, it is so easy to flip the switch into “survival mode” and that makes it really hard to think down the road. But every time you accomplish something, it is like a stepping stone toward your goals.

I am going to college now – studying sociology. I would like to start a nonprofit someday that focuses on fatherhood. For now, I want to give back in any way I can. I am motivated by my desire for my children to have dreams and to see them live their dreams. But I have to do that first – to set an example for them.

Through all of the challenges of my life in the last few years, I know one thing for certain: The more that you give of yourself, the better your life is going to be.

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.

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