04 Jun A Heart for a Homeless Single Mom
Here’s the hero story of the day courtesy of my friend Ginny Clarke with whom I co-authored Career Mapping. (Fair warning: You’d better have some tissues nearby): Homeless, But Not Helpless — A Personal Story
Please read it and then return here for my response.
This morning around 5:00 I went out to walk Mika, as usual. As we walked into the doggy park (as I call it) across the street. I noticed a young woman and a child sitting on the park bench under the pergola. There was a stroller, but I couldn’t tell if there was another child. I kept walking and made my normal loop as Mika handled her business. I looked at the young woman, but she didn’t look at me, only straight ahead. They looked clean and healthy from a distance, not in immediate distress. The little girl, who appeared to be about 3, was warmly dressed in a coat and boots as if to ward off the evening chill. She was wide awake and energetic.
It appeared as though this woman and her child, or children, were homeless. Why else would you have your children outside on a park bench at 5 in the morning? This woman was smart enough to come to an affluent neighborhood with frequent dog walkers and regular police patrol. I kept walking and wondered what, if anything, I might do. I thought about taking her food, then remembered the women’s shelter run by friends of mine, The Primo Center for Women and Children.
I walked the two blocks back home, grabbed some cash and a blank card and wrote out the name, address and contact for the shelter. Mika was confused that we went back out, but trotted along happily. From a distance I could see she was still there. I approached slowly and asked if she was OK. She said, “Yes, we’re OK.” The little girl was delighted by Mika and offered her a stalk from a plant. I asked her name and she told me. She was beautiful, bright eyes and sweet smile. There was no other child in the stroller, it was for the little girl.
“Do you need a place to stay?” I asked the mother. “Yes” she replied softly, looking curiously in my eyes now. “I have a place for you,” I said, pulling the card from my pocket. “Take the bus here and ask for Shelley. Will you go?” She nodded. I pulled the cash out and handed it to her. “Go get some breakfast at Dunkin’ Donuts, it’s two blocks away and close to the train and bus,” I said.
The young woman was incredulous. I said, “I know you are proud and strong. Give me a hug.” She stood up and tears flowed, “I don’t know what to say. Thank you. I thought I saw you walk by earlier. Are you an angel?” “We are all angels,” I said, as tears ran down my cheek. She hugged me and said, “I will go because I can do things, I’m used to working.” “I know. They can help you,” I said.
“Can I have your number so I can let you know how I am doing?” the mother asked. I gave it to her and she dialed it so I would have her number. I gave her another hug, told her to be on their way, and said goodbye. As Mika and I walked home tears streamed down my face. I wasn’t sad, nor did I feel like a hero, I just kept thinking, “but for the grace of God go I.” I have been a single mother for many years. I’ve never been close to homelessness, but in those few minutes with this young woman, we were connected and I was reminded of the fragility of our lives. I didn’t ask to hear her story; it will come out. In that moment she needed protection for that little girl, some hope and a chance.
When I got home, I continued to cry. I woke my son up to tell him the story. He listened in his dark room, then said, “That’s nice Mom” and dozed back off. I sat on the balcony to meditate and gave thanks for my many blessings. I noticed that the mother’s call had come through on my phone. I called her to ask if they were on their way. She said, “Yes and thank you. I’ll let you know how it goes.” I said, “Please do; I love you.” “I love you, too,” she replied.
In our pilot program class for Orange Duffel Bag Foundation (www.ODBF.org), all but two of the teen girls in the class were moms, and some of them had more than one child. Teen girls in foster care are six times more likely to get pregnant than their peers. When I read Ginny’s post, my heart broke. There’s a strong likelihood that this young woman aged out of foster care. More than 50% of kids who age out of the system – at age 18 in most states – experience homelessness within the first six months of leaving the system. I don’t know too many 18-year-olds who are equipped to be completely out on their own with no adult support whatsoever. Nationally only about 50% of youth in foster care graduate high school or get their GEDs yet a study recently came out that said 90% of all available jobs set that as a minimum requirement. The unemployment rate among young people who have been in foster care is second only that of people with disabilities.
We must all open our eyes to the hurting families and children around us. My heartfelt thanks goes out to Ginny for going the extra mile and being an angel in this young woman’s life. We could use a lot more angels in this world, and so can older teens in foster care. Without our love and concern, too many are destined to become our nation’s invisible homeless. Like this young woman, those who need us desperately may look from a distance like they are just fine. Only when you come close is the full picture revealed.