For the first time in close to a decade, chronic homelessness is on the rise in America. The crisis is especially acute in New York and Los Angeles, where men and women by the thousands bed down on the A-train, under the I-10 freeway, and anywhere else they can find shelter. But far less visible are the families who now make up three quarters of New York City’s shelter population, and, at least as of 2015, comprised about half of the homeless in Chicago. Los Angeles has floated plans to shelter them in AirBnBs, a morbid twist on New York’s much maligned policy of renting hotel rooms. In San Francisco and New Orleans, meanwhile, homeless people are sometimes just paid to leave.
Unlike homeless individuals, families may struggle less with addiction and mental illness than skyrocketing rents and stagnant incomes. The root of their problem is often a lack of affordable housing, and the worst may be yet to come: As the Nation reported last week, President Trump has proposed deep cuts to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for the 2019 fiscal year. This would mean far more onerous rent obligations for those receiving federal assistance that are likely to disproportionately impact families with children. In some cases, the depletion of vouchers could kick people out of their homes entirely.
For some perspective on the current state of this never-ending saga, we recently caught up with 22-year-old Linda Kerry, mother to a two-year-old named Islah. Together, the family lives in a Covenant House shelter in New Orleans, where they seem to be getting the support they need to make their next move. Here's what we talked about.
VICE: How did you and your son end up at Covenant House?
Linda Kerry: Before I came here I was staying with some family. I had just had my son, and they were asking for a little too much that I couldn’t provide. I was asked to leave and I came here in August. It was the only place that I knew we’d be taken care of. I’d been here before when I was 18, so I knew that I could count on these people to help me. I came here because there’s familiar people, they know me as a person, they worked with me before. They held my hand through the processes, and when I came back it was to open arms. No judgement, no, "Hmm, you’re back again.” Just, “we’re going to put you back on the horse.”
On the crisis floor I immediately started looking for a daycare for my son, and I started looking for a job once I got him into a good daycare. By the end of September I found this job working at Jimmy John’s, the sandwich shop, and applied at Delgado Community College for a dual degree doing a GED and college courses.
That seems like a lot to accomplish in a short amount of time.
They helped me a lot—I didn’t think they would help me as much as they did as far as me having a child and being a single mother and finding a job that works around his daycare. I love this daycare. It was a part of Covenant House a long time ago, but they moved to the Ninth Ward. It’s a HeadStart now—my son loves going to to that daycare.
They also helped me save some money, which I am bad at. They have their little bank accounts for us helping us save for an apartment. And they helped me with school, everything I need at school: my books, they helped me buy a laptop for school, they got me a lot of stuff for school.
What’s your living situation like now?
Right now I’m in ROP, Rights of Passage. It’s the independent living program. Mothers have their own rooms and it comes with a bathroom so you don’t have to share a bathroom with multiple people like on the crisis floor. I was on the crisis floor for about two months. They have a little sink where you wash your hands but there’s a little tub built into it where you can give kids a bath. I used to have him sit down so I could run into another room to take a bath or hurry up and fall asleep so I can take a shower. Now it’s so much easier.
Yeah, I mean, it sounds tough to have a toddler on the crisis floor. How did you handle it?
In the morning I would try to get up early, around 5 AM, getting my son dressed in his sleep, do my hygiene, wash my face, brush my teeth, make up my bed, clean my room, and then they’d come around around six o’clock and they’d say, “Hey ladies, time to get up.” I’d bring my son to daycare and be back in time for morning meeting and then go out to job search.
Most of it was online, or I’d go in to speak to hiring managers. The job that I really wanted, I just took my resume and went in and they took me in for an interview right away. I did all my paperwork entirely on the spot. I had a resume typed up already, but there’s a staff member here who helped me improve it, boost it up. I thought it was good but when she finished with it, it was amazing.
My favorite thing about our room now is the little play corner. I went to the store and got these little letters, the ABCs, the 123s, the little trains, I stuck them to the wall, and he loves that. But right now his favorite thing is this little karaoke microphone that sings, “If you’re happy and you know it”—he loves that. It’s good to have our own space so he can be as loud as he wants.
With my son, I try to make the best of it, try to make him as happy as I can, keep him in good spirits. I try to take him out every month like a little date. We’re going to the zoo next weekend.
It’ll be his first trip to the zoo. And then we get to feed the giraffes too. I’m not going to tell him, I'm just going to wake him up early, get him dressed, make his breakfast, take our little walk, and get on the bus.
What are your plans going forward?
I’m going to school to be a registered nurse. I plan to buy a car so I can make it easier when I do move out at the end of March. My case manager in ROP is helping me find an apartment—we were apartment-searching for a nice little one-bedroom or a decent two-bedroom. I had an appointment this week me and this case manager, we’re going to go view a couple of apartments. There’s a nice apartment around my son’s daycare in the Ninth Ward. I like them because they’re little townhouses but the neighborhood is really quiet and the daycare’s right there.
What will you miss when you leave?
There’s a lot of moms. We sit and talk, compare, give each other advice, our kids play together. There’s one woman—me and her we do everything together: we talk, we take our children to the park. That support, you need something like that in a situation like this. You can talk about mom things, sometimes you can’t talk about that with people who don’t have children. You’re not alone. Someone else is going through it, too.
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
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