“Again, again,” giggled the little blonde headed five-year old as she made her 50th lap from the bottom of the slide to the top of the stairs for another joyful decent. Her mother and I stood by discussing the importance of playtime for a child her age.
In the fall, the little pint of personality starts at kindergarten. Mama has anxiously been toting her to doctor’s appointments for check-ups and immunizations. They’ve been collecting gently-used children’s clothing from thrift stores and church closets, so that baby is dressed for the best throughout the school year. Lists of items needed before the first day have been made. And mom is more excited than child could ever be about school starting and the opportunity to volunteer in the classroom.
This story could have changed courses many times, and the possibility is high that it still could. But the striking force that has kept this story on track, has less to do with time and finances and much more to do with investment of energy in the person and the issues at hand.
It was three years ago that this mom and baby came to us with the prospect of sleeping on the street the coming night. For months prior, their story had spiraled downward. Starting with the child’s father leaving and the rent rising on the apartment they were living in, the pair had landed in a couch-hopping situation, dependant on how far mom’s social security check could stretch. The day they came to us in panic, was the day mom’s equally homeless boyfriend, who also managed her disability check, had refused to have anything else to do with her. Stuck with a mental handicap since birth, no access to her money and a child who needed a place to stay, she was in crisis.
For the next two weeks, Micah staff focused on housing applications, transferring money management responsibilities to someone who wouldn’t back out on her and supporting this mom and child in their various needs. More quickly than we imagined, the phone rang. She had been accepted in a subsidized neighborhood and could move in by week’s end, once security deposit and rent were in place. Even after the hotel rooms and basic financial needs from the preceding two weeks, she had enough left in her checking account… plus 4 cents.
We tend to look at homelessness, sometimes as a complicated mess full of people layered with challenges. Challenge after challenge often runs so deep that we see the whole picture and say these people just cannot be helped. The time, the money, the effort is simply overwhelming, if we consider the depths of their struggles all at once. It is only when we address each layer of their struggles that we can begin to peal them away and reveal the possibilities.
Meeting the needs of this mom and child took two weeks of relatively undivided attention. It cost $28, which covered the difference between the funds in her pocket and the price of a hotel room on the night she found out her boyfriend wasn’t going to help her any more. I’d be a liar to say the energy and effort on her case stopped the day she moved into an apartment. Plenty of transportation needs, parental guidance, household management advice, etc. continues to be rendered weekly for her to maintain her living situation.
But as I watch that little one cover her eyes on the playground, count as high as she knows how and forget that she is supposed to go find, not hide, I can’t help but feel reassured. It’s the excitement in mom’s face and the joy in that child’s laugh that makes me remember that any energy that Micah puts forth to keep their lives in tact…is more than worth it.