Surviving the Trauma of Homelessness & Having the Strength to Begin Again
Our First Two Bedroom House Rental!
We felt like that TV sitcom "The Jefferson's", we had moved on up from the east side (really Brooklyn) into a 2 bedroom house, complete with a basement and 1 1/2 bathrooms! Maybe for some that's not a big deal, but for us, a family of four that was a major dream that had come true, for it was far better than living with parents or family members, as we had to do during the first few years of our marriage. This house was located in a supposedly better part of Queens NY, near St. Albans and if any body who knows and lived in NY, living anywhere near St. Albans in Queens in the 80's was saying something about your economic status. Let's just say it was not considered the full blown ghetto, but a block or two up from the ghetto, a big difference to us New Yorkers. We were very surprised to have even been approved for that particular house, the landlord was well aware that both mines and my husband's credit was obsolete, meaning we had none. And although my husband was well established on his City job, having no credit is just as bad as having bad credit, so we were pleasantly surprised when we were approved and very excited to be living in a $1,200 a month house rental. We handed over all of our meager savings for one month's rent and three months security (required for no credit people) and we moved in right away, as happy as a kid in a candy store!
The Day The Marshalls Came...
Eleven months into residing in our little home abode, our world came to a screeching halt within one afternoon... After having come home from grocery shopping, I noticed this man outside our home standing in front of the house with a camera taking pictures. I ventured onto our porch and asked who he was, what was he doing and why? He simply stated that he was from "the bank" and handed me his card. I looked at the card, but I was still in a state of questioning as to why was he taking pictures of our house, I guess he saw my puzzled look and flatly asked me if I was the owner, of which I answered no, I was the tenant... and after several more snaps of his camera, he simply explained that the house was being foreclosed by the "the bank".
The house is being foreclosed by the bank? What bank, we pay rent to our landlord, not the bank... I was on the phone in a flash as I could feel my heart sinking to the soles of my feet. I called my husband at work first, then the landlord. A week went by and finally, a bank representative was nice enough to inform us (since we weren't getting any straight answers from the landlord) that the owner of the property had not paid the mortgage on the house for six months, so it foreclosed and the foreclosure happened five months prior to the bank's representative coming out and taking pictures! So our happy home abode was going up for auction ....we had 72hrs to move out...72hrs? We couldn't believe it!! We were entering our eleventh month of paying rent to this man and his wife and they had collected well over $13,000 in rent from us, from which they never paid their $600 a month mortgage payments. We were livid! We had been duped out of thousands of dollares including our security deposit of three months.... I vividly remember at one point worrying more about what my husband was going to do to the landlord, than us getting put out onto the streets...you can only imagine the rage he felt.
On that dreadful day in December 1994, the Marshalls showed up early that morning, as I was dressing our 1, 4, 5 and 6 year old babies, while choking back the tears and trying to keep my husband from going berserk. I needed him to stay calm, we still hadn't found a place to live and not one of our extended family members or friends could take us in. It was the middle of winter, in fact it was one of those winters of 21 inches of snow and blizzard like cold. We didn't blame anyone for not taking us in, we were a family of six, I mean that's a lot to ask of anybody, but we were still hopeful that someone would. We had no savings to fall back on and nor did we have time to scrape any money together from family and friends, to perhaps rent a room somewhere month to month. So instead, we stored our things in the basement of a friend's house...we even asked can we sleep amongst our things in their basement, but to no avail and so we shifted between spending days in our red two door "hooptie", that had no heat, except the heat from our breath and bodies, to spending some nights with this family who lived in New Jersey, whose son was away on a business trip. To this day we are grateful to that family and we will never forget. Can I describe the bitter tears of anguish that fell daily freezing mid air on my face? Or describe the tears of this dreadful aching fear in the pit of my stomach, worrying about what's going to happen next or where are we going to go to next? Or describe the bitter tears mixed with feelings of humiliating shame, worry and frustration? No I can't even begin to, but I will try to paint a vivid picture in your mind's eye as much as possible, of the trauma that occurred from being homeless, thrust into the outside world of the "roofless people", not by choice, but by circumstance.
NYC Shelters Were The Worst In The 90's
It wasn't until we became homeless, that I began to understand why those who were homeless would rather live on the streets than spend one night in a homeless shelter, it is horrendous. Between the strange people wandering around, the grown rats the size of raccoons, the filthy disgusting bathrooms, the cots filled with bedbugs and other tiny crawling creatures, the fear of your life being taken while you fake sleep or the week old sandwiches and rusty water.....our car sounded like a haven even though it was stone cold. Conditions in NYC shelters has improved considerably, but that was not the case in the early 90"s.
We were smack in the middle of a NY winter, so we did the best that we could, keeping our kids as warm as possible, bundled up in their coats, with layers of blankets across them when we had to spend long periods of time in the car. My husband went to work faithfully each day, but very few co-workers knew of his family's situation. I would drop him off to work each morning and then figure out where my children and I could go to bathe, eat and pass the time until my husband finished work at the end of the day. The funny thing is although my husband had a good city job earning a salary every two weeks, the problem we faced was the ability to actually save money. We needed to be able to save enough quickly to secure another place, but it's actually harder to save when you're homeless, than it is when you're not homeless...sounds crazy right? You think, well you have no bills, no rent, so what's the problem? The expenses accumulate quicker because you are spending money every day for meals (usually fast food) which ads up, especially when have to spend for breakfast, lunch and dinner for four kids, including two adults. In addition to that expense, money for gas to get around and other important items such as pampers, formula, personal items etc. not including spending some nights in a hotel, when we couldn't stay at the family's house in Jersey for the night.
Finally A Flicker Of Hope...
Every evening as we embarked on the long drive from my husband's job to New Jersey to spend a night at the friend's house, I used to look at the many homes we passed by and day dream what it was like to be inside one of them, wondering if it was dinner time for the family that may be living in there. Hot tears would silently stream down my face as I peered longingly into the windows, hoping to get a glimpse of the family residing there. We had been homeless for about three months and still not sure of our future. My husband's sister finally agreed and allowed us to live with her until we found us a place, so the long trips to New Jersey soon came to an end, finally availing us the chance to save some money, since we wouldn't have to spend it unnecessarily on fast food, morning, noon and night. Now that we had access to a kitchen, we could enjoy home cooked hot meals again sitting around a table as a family, enjoying the warmth and not freezing in our car. We were so grateful to be coming in from the freezing cold temperatures to an actual place to rest our heads, cook and bathe.
Because our children were so young during that time, they barely have any negative memories of that entire ordeal, they faintly remember a few things, but mostly good memories. I would constantly play games with them, making like we were on a great adventure. As parents and especially as a mom, it became my number one goal on making sure my children didn't feel the effects of being homeless as much as I could possibly accomplish.
I found several ways that was effective in overcoming such a tragic occurrence for us as a family unit and those are the following:
- Making sure we protected our children's precious little hearts during that time by providing as much sense of security as possible and this was somewhat accomplished by creating laughter or by playing with them often.
- Staying together was a key factor of helping them to feel safe and secure, we tried not to send them to stay with other people, but if we did have to leave them with someone, we didn't leave them for long periods of time except when absolutely necessary.
- Maintaining a sense of normalcy was crucially important as well, no matter how daunting that may be, we tried to maintain a daily routine of doing things, no matter how small or insignificant it was.
- Not allowing them to see us worried at all, because if children sense or see that you the parents are fearful at all, then that sense of security goes right out the window for them and in marches fear and trepidation. It is already scary as an adult to be homeless, but now just imagine how frightening that can be for a child, homelessness in itself can cause such damage inside of their little minds, making them very fearful with feelings of instability
- Encouraging one another and talking things through as a couple was also vitally important in helping to keep us on track, sticking to a game plan to get a place as quick as feasibly possible. Being that my husband was the only one working with us choosing for me to remain with the children, it was very important that he not become discouraged.
- Fighting feelings of being a failure, overcoming feelings of embarrassment and shame. I think this is difficult for any hard working real man, who truly does love and provides for his family, but for single mothers who is the only provider the feeling is magnified.
- Never give up hope, or give into feelings of hopelessness, this has a crippling affect on your thinking and it can paralyze you from making any attempt in trying to get a place.
- Finally, get rid of pride, throw it in the nearest receptacle, it is of no use to you. Oftentimes help comes in the form of someone else and pride will make you shut the door on the assistance you know that you very well need.
Seven months of being homeless finally came to an end, when an angel in the form of woman whom her family called "Aunt-Sister" (not my aunt but a friend's aunt) became moved with compassion and wanted to help us get a place of our own. So she told us to go look for a house in Garden City, Nassau County, which was the suburbs outside of NYC. We didn't listen at first because we weren't thinking along the lines of moving into another house, we simply wanted a small little one bedroom apt. any place that we could afford and call our own, but she kept insisting that we search for a house and when we found what we liked, we were to call her attorney. Well eventually we did start looking for a house only after several failed attempts in trying to find an affordable apartment. We were reluctant in looking at houses, we could barely afford to save a decent amount for rental deposit and one month's security, let alone save money for a down payment on a house to purchase. We finally stumbled upon a cute little house on a perfect tree lined street and we decided to contact her attorney with the details...well guess what, this precious soul had instructed her attorney to put the down payment on the house in the amount of $10,000, help us secure a mortgage at an excellent rate through her bank based on her credit along with ours and on top of that, gave specific instructions that the deed be placed in both of our names only...we were flabbergasted! This was way too much and certainly not what we had expected to happen. We said no, we couldn't accept such a tremendous gift, we would never be able to pay her back and definitely not afford anybody's mortgage. Well the attorney informed us there was nothing that we could do, he had specific instructions to make sure our family secured this house. Well we both cried buckets of tears for the next three months right up to day of closing on the property. We simply couldn't believe it... I believed we were remained in a stupor for several years thereafter.
After moving into this 5 bedroom house complete with family room, living room, two fireplaces and a fenced in backyard, dear sweet Aunt-sister died of Melanoma Cancer a year later...she had been battling this cancer secretly all along and we had no idea. The doctors had given her less than a year to live... and purchasing this house was her last act of kindness...can you imagine that? We wanted to crawl somewhere and just die ourselves... we were heartbroken. Any level of happiness that we were experiencing up that point went straight out the window that day and for long time thereafter we were deeply saddened. We started feeling guilty for even living in the house...we contacted her attorney and asked how can sell it, then he gave us the beautiful letter of love that she had written to us before her death. To make this long story short, the letter forbade us on leaving the home before we had finished raising our children in it, that we must make sure that we give them the security that they deserve, it would hurt her heart if we did not honor her request.
That was 20 years ago and we have since raised our children and moved on. Thank God for this dear sweet soul stepping in and bringing our family out of the trauma of being homeless, a roofless family no more! But sadly we were the fortunate ones, not everyone gets a significant break like this or even a break at all. There are still yet many who are still homeless and will never experience the joy of being in their own place for a long time. There are many who gave up the fight to begin again, to re-establish themselves in society again. It's a very hard journey and not an easy life altering event to overcome. Thank God for people such as our Aunt-sister who came to the rescue and helped us. But can you imagine the families who never come across an angel such as ours ? No, you probably can't imagine, but the trauma of being homeless is brutally real and can happen to anyone at any given time for any reason, but in the meantime consider becoming someone else's angel, who may be facing homelessness or is already part of the roofless society, you never know, one day you may need an angel yourself for another type of life 's occurrences...