Ashley, a young mother, is playing airplane with her little boy in the cheerful, well-swept living room of a house on a shady street in near-downtown Norwalk. She’s understandably proud as she introduces her son.
“This is Vega,” she says. “Like the star.”
The place is Miriam House, a transitional shelter for homeless women and their young children, including, since August, Ashley and Vega. Ashley was raised in the Southwest, in a family that was so chaotic her mother didn’t even try to enroll her in high school until Ashley was 18. So it’s no surprise that raising her boy in the chaos of her parents’ home didn’t exactly work out. Besides, she says, she wants a better upbringing for her son than she had.
Ashley spent what little money she had coming to northwest Ohio to stay with other relatives, but their patience soon wore thin.
“It’s not easy living with a baby,” she says with a shrug. When they told her she would have to leave, she was out of options. “I was stuck. I had no money and I didn’t know a soul around here. Someone told me about this place, so I called and they told me to get over here right away. This place was there for me when nobody else was. I was afraid I’d have to find a way to live on the street with my baby, so I’m very grateful.
“And this isn’t like a homeless shelter at all. It’s like a little house. There’s love here. Whatever your traumas or your issues, the staff here go out of their way to help. I’ve gotten tips and guidance on all kinds of things. Like how to manage money.
“I’m working on getting set up so I can have a place of my own for me and my son. I have a lot of hope for him. I don’t want to see him fall.
“I myself was never taught anything that was important when I was growing up. My whole life now is dedicated to helping him have something better.
“That’s why I appreciate the classes I take here. I’ve improved so much since I’ve come here. I’m proud of what I’ve done.
“Doing things right in life is very important. You only get one chance.”
Roxanne Sandles, Catholic Charities Housing Program Coordinator, is quick to credit the efforts to educate and guide the residents with the success of Miriam House.
“Ashley is right about that,” she said. This really is not just a homeless shelter. We do try to give the women the help they need to improve their life skills and their job marketability. They need to be able to take responsibility for where they are, and work to ensure that they are making better decisions in the future.
“It’s not easy. But I find that ‘important’ and ‘easy’ are two words that rarely go together.”
It’s easy to think of the work of Catholic Charities in statistical terms – the numbers of people assisted, meals served, families sheltered, children adopted.
But one morning several weeks ago, those numbers sprang to life on the main floor of La Posada, our family emergency shelter in South Toledo, as more than a dozen residents gathered to meet the new agency director and to tell him how they feel about being there. The individuals on hand – male and female, adults and children – told stories of finding themselves suddenly out of work, staying with relatives, living in cars or on the street.
“I went from having a job and making payments, to nothing – almost overnight,” Yolanda said, cradling Anthony, her big-eyed two-year-old on her lap. “It was startling. I wasn’t used to asking people for anything. But what was I going to do? I junked my car for the two hundred bucks I needed to stay in a hotel for a while. But then I didn’t have a car.I thought, how is this happening to me? I never thought I’d be one of those homeless people – but there I was.”
It was when she found La Posada that things started turning around.
“They helped me sign up for extension classes, so I could get some skills for a better job. I’ve gained knowledge, too, on budgeting, on nutrition, on how to use my resources so I’m able to get the most out of them. Some things I hadn’t thought about.”
Catholic Charities Case Manager Janelle Addie confirmed that La Posada’s residents often seem surprised – “shellshocked,” as she put it – to find themselves among the homeless.
“That’s not typically how people see themselves. Nobody thinks, ‘I want to be homeless when I grow up.’ But it can happen – and does these days, to more people than we’d ever like to think.”
Evanbay, holding a squirming and beautiful five-month-old baby girl in his lap, talked about how a man feels when he’s not able to provide for his family.
“It’s a difficult thing – emotionally. But here, they don’t let you hang around feeling down,” he said. “They help you take definite steps so you’re able to get a plan to do what you need to do to survive. That way you’re able to stay together as a family, and that’s what it’s all about,” he said.
“This place means peace of mind for me,” said Amanda. “I was homeless for a while. Being here means I have a place to lie down every night, which is a big burden off me.”
When asked what kind of additional help they receive from La Posada – apart from shelter and meals – Missie jumped in.
“They don’t let you get down in the dumps,” she said. “They help you do for yourself – get some schooling, find a job, save up rent, look for an apartment. They want you to get out into the community and provide for yourself. This place is such a blessing. When I needed it most, when I had nobody left in the world, you guys took me in and helped. And I will never, ever forget it.”