I Was A Homeless Mom

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sad child sitting on the floorOnce upon a time, in a land far far away the same place I live now, NYC, I was a homeless mom. But I didn’t start out that way. I’ve written before about being a younger mom; I was 19 when I had my daughter, but I had been on my own since I was 17. My husband at the time also started out on his own young. He emancipated himself from his parents by age 16, so both of us knew enough to be dangerous. We knew how to get by on our own, but taking care of a family was a whole different animal.

By the time my oldest daughter came along, we were doing pretty well for ourselves. My husband, Tim, had a decent mechanics job, and I had just left a sales job to go back to school and stay with the baby. But when she was eight months old everything fell apart. The garage Tim worked at suddenly went under, and we were left with no income, and a whole lotta bills.

Still, we trudged along as best we could. Both of us went crazy looking for work, but let’s face it, we were young and (then) uneducated. Jobs were slim pickings. We had saved a little, which we lived off of, until suddenly that was gone, and we were facing eviction. So three months after Tim was laid off, we ended up in a NYC-run homeless shelter for families.

I gotta say, pretty much everything people think they know about the shelter system is false. People hear “shelter” and think of a filthy church basement with rows of cots and dudes pushing speed in the parking lot. The shelter we were assigned to wasn’t exactly the Hilton (I did see a cockroach the side of my head once) but it was a far cry from the Dickensian nightmare I had imagined.

One major misconception people have is that everyone in the shelter or on public assistance is a moocher who refuses to work. Both Tim and I found jobs almost immediately, him with the help of a job placement counselor and me on my own. I was also able to get help with grants for school, and help with childcare so I could finish while still working full time. Sure there are people who try to game the system, but from my experience, “living off the system” is the exception, not the rule.

I’m sure this is where some painfully helpful peanut-gallery-dweller will chime in “You shouldn’t have popped out a kid you couldn’t afford.” To that I say, there is more to bringing a child into the world than finances, and parents have more to offer the world and their children than a pay check. Sure, I probably should have waited until I graduated college to start a family, but my daughter is a loving, compassionate, intelligent person who I fully believe will make the world a brighter place. So I’m not going to let some arm chair quarterback tell me she shouldn’t have been born because we fell on some hard times and needed a hand up.

My time as a homeless mom was mercifully short, but I am forever grateful that the help was there when I needed it. The truth is, the number of people who actually cheat the system are incredibly low. The vast majority are people just like me, who ask for just what they need and leave the rest. And here I am, over ten years later, with a good life, paying taxes right back into the system that saved mine and my daughter’s life. Think about that before you judge the next homeless mom or “welfare queen” you encounter.

(Photo:  Sunny studio/Shutterstock)