Why is it more complicated than just a matter of choice?
A Typical Story
Imagine you are a single parent of two children, ages 4 and 8 years old. You have an Associate Degree in Early Childhood Development and worked for five years with an Early Childhood Development Center in rural Georgia. It is early October and you are laid off your job. The center’s owners had no other choice, attendance had been down since the factory cut back on hours and the pulp wood mill closed at the end of September.
You have prepared your resume but have not had much success. You applied for and receive $189 weekly unemployment for 26 weeks. The unemployment does not go far toward meeting the family’s financial needs. Your ex-spouse pays $50 weekly child support as they can and most of the time no one knows their whereabouts. You rent a small two bedroom house for $567 monthly and are also responsible for the utilities. Your modest automobile has notes of $249 monthly. The small savings you built of $500 has helped to only fill in part of the gaps in your financial obligations. You don’t qualify for most assistance because the unemployment and child support keep you just above the income eligibility threshold. There is no family to rely on because you are an only child and your parents are both deceased. Within just a matter of weeks the landlord has issued an eviction notice and there is no place to turn other than to reach out to the homeless coalition for guidance. You are able to speak to someone who asks you some questions about your situation and then gives you a referral to a shelter. You gather the belongings you can carry and say goodbye to the place that you and your children have called home since they were born…
It is a dark and cold night. The wind has been howling most of the day and only makes it feel 20 degrees colder. There are volunteers from all over the city that begin to arrive and there is a steady stream of cars entering into the parking lot. They all know the drill…when the temperature goes below 40 degrees, they move into a shelter “over flow” procedure. Fortunately, the company behind the shelter has an empty warehouse that has been converted to use on nights like this. It’s funny how you remember organizing a donation drive to this very program in years past.
When you arrive the volunteers are serving dinner at the dining hall. Imagine, they even call you a guest! After the meal the children sit in a semi circle surrounding the TV watching cartoons and some of the adults sit quietly while most participate in general conversation with other guests and volunteers. Many of the stories shared are more similar than different.
You are the first guest to register. The night worker asks, “Do you have any belongings to store for the evening?” You reply, “Over there is my black plastic bag, that is all we have.” The night worker then hands you a large tag with tape and encourages you to label your families’ belongings so they won’t get confused with the other black plastic bags that sit all over the dining hall. Once this process is completed you gather your two children and walk over to the shelter to find a bed for the night. Along the way to the shelter, your family is greeted by an old woman who volunteers twice monthly at the shelter. She asks your daughter if she goes to school. When she nods her head to say yes, the woman asks, “Well, could you use some help with your homework?” Your daughter smiles and says, “Can I really get someone to help me?” You confirm that it’s OK for your daughter to go to the study room and work with the tutors. You seem relieved that you can spend some time with your son. In the shelter there is a bookshelf full of wonderful books and your son finds the book that he has been wanting to read. You curl up on the bunk together to read and laugh at the little things. When your daughter returns from studying, it’s bath time and you and the children say your prayers as you prepare for bed. Bedtime is different… there is no privacy, and as you lay there trying to go to sleep you hear the sniffles and try to hold back the tears that fill your eyes because you don’t want your children to know the humiliation you are feeling.