The Stories Behind the Faces of Homelessness

by Susan Knight

     The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless has released its results from their 2000 homeless study. Numbers are important, however it is the stories behind these statistics that make up the tragedy of homelessness in Cincinnati. It is these stories that we hope to share with you:

     58% of our City’s 25,000 homeless are women and children. Deborah, age 24, and her two children are currently staying in an emergency family shelter. She had been taking computer training in anticipation of losing her welfare eligibility. Unfortunately, her training was not completed before her welfare benefits came to an end, and she took a job at a fast food restaurant. In her second month on the job, she got a call from her daycare provider informing her that her children had head lice and had to be picked up immediately. Unable to reach her manager; she closed the restaurant and went to pick up her children. She was fired the next day. Facing eviction, Deborah and her children moved in with her mother; but soon had to move into the shelter.

Deborah acknowledges that she has made some poor life choices. She dropped out of school in seventh grade and became pregnant when she was 18 and went on welfare. At 20, Deborah became pregnant again. The father of this child walked out one day and never came back.

     She is determined to build a life on her own for her children. He comment about welfare sums up the challenges she faces: "It’s a tough system; you have to be on top of things to keep your benefits coming. And even when I did make it to all of my appointments and did all that I was told to do, I could never seem to get ahead. But still, I wish I could have finished my PC training."

     At the age of 13, homeless boys leave the system, where they end up, we do not know, but have some ideas. Arnold is a 35 year-old male. At 14, he ran away from home and was subsequently arrested and put into a boys’ group home. Arnold rebelled against the structure and authority, and left the group home. He eventually joined up with a group of wanted felons and became entrenched in a life of drugs and crime. At 16, Arnold shot a man and was imprisoned for four years for attempted murder. In prison, Arnold graduated highschool and upon his release, looked forward to going to college and pursuing a career as a printer for the local paper. As an ex-felon, however, Arnold could not find employment and the local university would not accept him. Arnold returned to crime and once again ended up in prison. In prison this second time, Arnold went into recovery and continued his education. After he was paroled, he pursued his education at Cincinnati Bible college—the only institution that would accept him, and worked part-time at a local homeless shelter. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree, but could not find housing because of his felony record. After several months of sleeping at friends’ houses and various other places, he got a job taking care of an elderly man and was permitted to live in the house.

     Soon after, he became a pastor at a local church, a job that provides housing. Arnold has since founded Way of Life Ministries, providing food and goods to those in need. He has been in recovery for 7 years.

     The average age of a homeless child is 8.5 in Cincinnati. Erica is 43 years old. The verbal abuse from the man she was living with escalated and she feared for her and her children’s safety. She moved out but had nowhere to go. When Erica first tried to enter the shelter she was told that she and her 8-year-old daughter, Shawna, were welcome, but her 17-year-old son, Tyrone, was not. Fortunately, within a week of living in their car, a space opened up at the Chabad House, which would accept Tyrone. Erica told the caseworker that their problems began two years earlier when her husband died from lung cancer. Erica had no work experience and her husband had no life insurance. Neither Tyrone nor Shawna wanted to go back to school. Tyron had trouble doing ninth grade work, and Shawna was already two years older than most of her classmates. Shawna still wets the bed, and Tyrone has been classified as a behavior problem for two years.

     When Erica finally signed up for welfare, she quickly found it very difficult to meet the work requirements and still care for her children. A long string of missed appointments led to her administrative termination from welfare. Soon after, Erica and her children were evicted from their apartment. She knows that she should get a job but doesn’t see how she can make enough money to support her and her children.

     The Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless is working tirelessly to address the systemic issues in Cincinnati that so profoundly affect the lives of our homeless population. This study allows us to better grasp the daily struggles of our City’s homeless and their efforts in obtaining safe, decent affordable housing for themselves and their children.

     For a complete copy of the report, please call 513/421-7803

Copyright NEOCH published 2002 Issue 52