When Dee received notice from her landlord that she and her family had 30 days to move, she was unhappy but accepted it. “It was his house, after all,” she says.
Dee and her husband Jerold immediately started looking for a new home. They soon realized their situation was tougher than anticipated. Dee worked full time, but after a serious car accident, Jerold was left unable to work. Even with disability benefits, the medical bills and caring for their four children meant they had no savings. In a tight, expensive housing market, they grew increasingly desperate when they couldn’t find housing they could afford.
“We have family nearby,” said Dee, “but our parents are elderly and our siblings didn’t have room for our family of six. We also learned we would have to split up to stay in a shelter.
“At the 13th hour,” Dee says, “we were offered the opportunity to stay in my mother-in-law’s gutted out apartment. She was going to remodel it, but then fell ill so her resources were devoted to her health care.
“It was really only a step above living on the streets. There were holes in the roof and we had no electricity or running water. At night, we dressed in layers and huddled together on one mattress under all of our blankets. Our money was spent at the laundromat, on daily food and water, and disposable cups and plates. We couldn’t catch-up.”
Mornings were especially tough. Getting her kids dressed, fed and ready for school in a cold, wet, dark room, jumping on a bus to work and freshening up in a nearby hotel restroom before walking into her office, meant she was often late. One morning Dee was convinced she would be fired as she was called into her boss’s office. Instead, her boss asked her what was going on. After months in the rough living conditions, Dee shared her story for the first time. Not only did she keep her job, but her boss, co-workers and the company pitched in to lend a hand. That one-time boost enabled Dee and her family to once again find a safe, affordable home. It also revealed to her the power of storytelling in increasing understanding of homelessness and empowering change.