In 2006, my family was living on the financial edge. With no safety net, we existed week to week and the rent that we owed was increasing dramatically. No matter how hard my husband and I searched, the job market was just not producing for us, until eventually, in February of 2006, we were forced to leave our home and the city that I grew up in.
I remember my husband telling me that we were only to take one bag per family member, and with no current financial resources, we had to abandon the rest of what we had accumulated during the past 17 years. Revere, MA, became our new destination, and with a heavy heart my family ventured from the home that we had created and walked out the door for the last time. I was “shell-shocked,” yet I attempted to make our move into an adventure, for the sake of my young daughter. It was to be an adventure that eventually made us not only grow closer as a family, but also made us stronger as individuals. We were blessed not to be literally catapulted into the streets like some families, however, with hesitation we grabbed our belongings and ventured through the doors of a family shelter run by Housing Families, Inc.
Founded in 1986, Housing Families, Inc. in Malden, MA, in its early days sheltered four homeless families each night. The shelter has grown to provide a roof over the heads of over 400 families each day, including over 300 children. Their mission is to end family homelessness by providing safe, temporary shelter and support services to family members of all ages. It is a mission for which there is a growing need, due to more and more families being displaced over the years. According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, 41 percent of the homeless today are made up of families. These are only the known statistics since there are many families staying with other family members or friends, sleeping in their cars, living on camp sites, or simply sleeping in the streets. There are too many families under attack from foreclosures, evictions, job losses, lack of education, depleted affordable housing, and little or no income, especially due to the recession. Disruption of the American family and the lives they lead can create not only physical damage, but emotional damage to all family members. It is a devastating experience, but the help of a shelter and its services can provide new hope where there was once none.
One of the most important survival techniques for a family in a shelter is to keep the children connected to their school and their friends, if possible. Talking with your child’s school and explaining your situation may allow your child to continue attending the school they are familiar with. My daughter was given a ride to her middle school each day. When she started high school, she became a warrior, refusing to give up the fight. Each morning as the sun was rising she would take an MBTA bus from Revere to Salem, to take the North Shore Tech bus from Salem to Middleton. She would repeat the process each afternoon, only to arrive home as the sun was setting. It may have only been a temporary place, but it was home.
It was during this time that we truly connected as a family more than we ever expected. The strength I witnessed in my daughter instilled strength in me, and I ended up going to a career center every day which led to many job prospects. Most importantly, not having materialistic items, such as a TV, made playing Uno for hours each night a family event. The full focus of our family was one of stabilizing ourselves. As our unity grew, our focus became clearer. We developed a greater determination to make our way back to our home city of Salem, to our family and friends, and most importantly to a new home where we could grow.
Eventually, we moved into an apartment back in our city and the process of continuing our stabilization became a part of our daily routine. We had endured many hardships, but we had also endured many blessings. My daughter is now living her dream, working in a salon as a stylist in Salem. Though we still struggle financially, my husband has been employed at the same location for almost four years in Ipswich. I have had the opportunity to meet people that I might never have met if my past situation had been different; wonderful people who live in my heart, former co-workers, former managers, former residents that lived at the homeless shelter with us. I have also gained experiences that have certainly given me topics to write about and to advocate for the economically deprived.
Homelessness, whether it be individual or family-related, should not exist. It is a national issue that needs to be stopped for the sake of not only the taxpayers, but most importantly for the families that endure its repercussions. Finding refuge either on the streets on in a shelter should be something that no one, especially a child, should experience. “Home sweet home” should be a term that we are all familiar with, but what should be and what is the reality is too many people and families are still without a home.
(Tammy Anne Callahan-Callanan: Courtesy Photo)