Bonita’s family lost everything.
In 2009, Bonita’s world was rocked. Her son, Elijah, who had been having headaches, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. That’s when things started unraveling.
She and her three children had been living in the Cleveland area in a house owned by her father. But when her dad had a stroke, he was unable to work and eventually was forced to declare bankruptcy.
And Bonita couldn’t support the family by herself. Since she couldn’t make their car payment and their rent and their health insurance premium, they lost everything.
“I look back, and it’s like God was talking to me through that man. I don’t know what we’d be doing now if we hadn’t come here. Probably living in a shelter in Cleveland in the middle of who-knows-what, and I’d be worrying about my children and their safety. And you know my son’s medical situation would suffer, too.”
Please pray for Elijah
Elijah has been going regularly to Cleveland Clinic for treatments – and Bonita asks everyone who reads this to pray for him.
“I will always be grateful to God for listening to our prayers, for giving us what we need to live.”
Since coming to Miriam House, Bonita has been working at a home health care service, assisting invalids with in-home care. In October, the family was able to move into an apartment of their own.
“I’m just so, so grateful to everyone here,” she says. “They made the transition so easy for us. They were so welcoming. This isn’t like a shelter, it’s a home. I have peace of mind now. God is in this place.”
Asked for a closing thought, she says: “My son Elijah loved it so much there that he didn’t want to leave Miriam House. I can’t even tell you how grateful that makes me. This place does so much good. So much good.”
It’s moving day for Marquita – big time. After 90 days, she and her 8-year-old daughter, Miracle, are moving out of La Posada, the Catholic Charities family shelter in Toledo, and into their own apartment.
And then tomorrow she’s moving into a secure, well-paying job on the production line at GM’s Powertrain transmission plant on Alexis Road.
“I’m very excited,” she says, “None of this would be happening without Jeanelle and all the people here at La Posada.
“It’s going to feel great. We haven’t had our own place since November.”
Doing the unemployment shuffle
“I moved to Columbus to live with a cousin down there and look for work. But it didn’t work out, so I stayed with my sister up here for a while and then I was moving all around, staying wherever I could.
“It was bad for my daughter.I could see she was suffering from low self-esteem, probably because of how I felt. It’s hard depending on other people for everything, especially when you’re used to working.
“Finally a friend told me about La Posada. I came and I was surprised because it doesn’t look like a shelter. It looks just like a home.
“I was so glad when they told me we could stay. They’ve been so good to me. Honestly, none of this would be happening if I hadn’t been here. They’ve helped me so much.”
“No feeling sorry for yourself”
Asked what she would have done without La Posada, she pauses and her smile fades. “We’d probably be in the same position, living house to house, depressed, not able to get it together to look for a job.
“That’s the thing about this place and these people. They don’t let you just lay around and feel sorry for yourself. They’re after you to get out there and make things happen. And so you do.
“It’s going to feel so great not having to stay with anybody.
“I’ll always be grateful for what we were given here. I won’t ever forget it.”
Michael didn’t tell his two daughters – aged 13 and 9 – that they were moving into a shelter. When he brought them to La Posada, the Family Emergency Shelter run by Catholic Charities in South Toledo, he just said the family was moving to a new apartment.
He shrugs and says, “I didn’t want them making a scene. I mean, what kid wants to move into a shelter?
“Of course, it didn’t take them long to figure it out.”
Nowhere to turn
“We were in a bad way,” Michael recalls. “I’d lost my disability, so I thought I’d better get a handle on things here. And I did. We kept it together for three months. But after that, the money I had ran out and the abject fear set in.
“I had nowhere to turn. I really didn’t know what I was going to do. I have these girls to take care of. “Then, thank God, somebody told me about La Posada, and that kept us from falling into the abyss.”
Needless to say, the abyss is no place for girls as sweet, bright and talented as Michael’s daughters.
“You’d be surprised at how few options are available for single fathers. There are more shelters available for mothers and children – not so many for fathers.
“This has given us a chance to breathe, to get organized. It’s like a new beginning – stability when there was none.
“We’re all very grateful. You can’t even imagine.”
Her little son, Cayden, is sitting in a high chair, looking like Calvin from the comic strip, Calvin and Hobbes. Under his mother’s watchful eye, he is feeding himself haltingly with a spoon.
It is the thirtieth day since Cayden and his mother came to Miriam House, Catholic Charities’ emergency center for mothers and children in Norwalk.
“I think he’s very bright,” his mother, Lindsay, says, obviously proud. “He wants to do everything by himself. He repeats everything.”
With her big eyes and her sweet smile, Lindsay herself looks like a young girl. But with an 18-month-old son to raise, no money coming in, and no place to stay, 23-year-old Lindsay’s problems were very grown-up.
Nowhere to go
Lindsay’s smile fades as her thoughts return to the recent and difficult past:
“I wasn’t working. I’d lost the job I’d had for four years. We lost our place and moved in with my parents. But my stepdad and I had a falling out, and they kicked us out. So we moved in with his other grandparents for about a month, but their landlord wouldn’t let us stay in their duplex because it was a single-family residence.”
Her hands tremble slightly as she moves to guide Cayden’s spoon.
“I would wake up in the morning and it seemed our situation would just be getting worse and worse. I had no place to stay, no way to see anything would get any better. I was getting depressed. Things were so hectic.”
And, she said, her son’s father was in no position to help.
“He’s got a felony on his record, so nobody will hire him.”
Not surprisingly, the stress Lindsay was under was soon reflected in Cayden’s behavior.
“He was hitting and biting and throwing things – basically doing anything he could to get my attention, so I’d hug him and tell him I was going to make it better. It wasn’t his fault, though. Things were so crazy – he didn’t have any routine or anything he could count on.
“Finally, the people at the CAC (the Community Action Commission in Norwalk) who knew my situation gave us the number here at Miriam House. I called and they had me come in. They explained the program to me, and it seemed almost too good to be true. They’ve been helping me be a better mother to Cayden, and he’s doing so much better already.
“If we complete the program, they’ll help us with a security deposit and the first month’s rent at our own place.”
What it takes
When she found out her story is to be printed in a Catholic Charities newsletter, Lindsay made it a point to emphasize how grateful she is to all those whose support makes Miriam House possible.
“You be sure and tell them how thankful I am!” she says. “Cayden, too! If it weren’t for Miriam House, I don’t even want to think what we’d have done.”
She pauses, crosses her arms and brings her hand to her mouth. Her big eyes have tears in them.
“We’ll be going to church here too. I know God’s a big part of what it takes to turn your life around. I’ve seen that before with people. And now I believe I’m ready for it too.”
When LaQuita Hamilton and her infant son walked into La Posada Family Emergency, she didn’t want to be there and she didn’t want to talk to anyone. Staff members Robert Nalls and Case Manager Janelle Addie were persistent to change LaQuita’s mind.
Living in La Posada was a whole new world. There were rules and guidelines that at first LaQuita resisted. With the help of her case manager and the La Posada staff, LaQuita opened up and let go of her past. She credits the staff’s persistence and compassion with helping her start a new life.
After three months, LaQuita was able to find permanent housing for herself and her son. She says the experience at La Posada taught her how to set rules and boundaries. Now she says, “I make myself a better mother.” LaQuita knows that her journey is just beginning and that she is responsible for continuing what began at La Posada. Today she has a place of her own, and when her son walks out the door she says, “I want him to know that there’s still hope and that he has a chance.”
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.”