I'm writing this to assure other homeless individuals and families that they are not alone. I'd like to share my own story with you.
I was adopted at 14 months old and was raised in Middle Village near Juniper Valley Park. When I was 22 years old, I became pregnant with twins. They have and always will be the most important part of my life. Due to some difficult problems, I have had to raise my children alone. That presented a real challenge as I was trying to maintain employment and finish school while dealing with the unexpected pitfalls that arise, like kids with pneumonia or ear infections.
I tried to better my career situation for the sake of my children, but I've not been able to hold down a job, as I haven't had anyone, besides my elderly mother, to help with the kids. The biggest blow came when the house that I had lived in was sold and I was evicted.
I was able to obtain a FEPS (Family Eviction Prevention Subsidy) voucher, which needed to be used within 6 months toward rent on an apartment. Although the voucher provided between $850- $1050, I wasn't able to find an apartment due to my inability to land full time employment.
After my eviction in May 2017, I entered a NYC homeless shelter. I was found ineligible at that time because my elderly mother was still in her apartment, having been given an extension from the court. I went back and lived with her until August 31st.
Thanks to Ancestry.com, I was able to find my biological half-sister in Arizona. I first contacted her in April 2017. I decided to join her in Arizona, hoping that the situation would be good for me and my kids.
Unfortunately, the job and living arrangements weren't successful so friends of mine took up a collection to pay my fare back to NYC after just 27 days.
With no other place to live, I went to the PATH (Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing) center in the Bronx which placed the kids and me in a hotel-shelter in Ozone Park during the 10 day investigative period. I was found ineligible due to my lack of documentation regarding my brief stay in Arizona. I needed to return to PATH immediately, which I did. After sitting for many hours, I had a conference and met with the investigator and supervisor. They informed me that I needed to get additional documentation. They told me to reapply and I was there until evening. They denied me temporary placement, so at 8 o'clock I left the PATH center with my two children and had no place to stay. I called a friend from church that opened their home to us that night. We stayed there until I was able to get a fair hearing and apply for public assistance.
From that point on it was a month long cycle of fair hearings, denials, temporary housing, living temporarily at my friend's place, and dealing with the bureaucracy of the Department of Homeless Services, trying to establish eligibility.
During this time, many people from various church groups helped with toys, clothing and a stroller for the children. I am very grateful that people reached out to me.
My final visit to PATH resulted in a very long daythere, without anyone to help with my toddlers and with nothing for them to do except watch a small TV for 8 hours. I was again denied any emergency temporary housing. The proper information with regard to contacting the Arizona landlord who managed the apartment where I stayed was not provided to me. These DHS workers at PATH berated me for leaving the state. Instead of diligently doing their jobs and compiling the additional documentation, they told me that the only way they would give me overnight placement would be if I agreed to leave the state again the following day. I was rushed to gather my things and was escorted out of the building and into the 30 degree night with my children.
I felt scared as my situation seemed hopeless. My friends took me in again, but that was clearly not a long-term solution.
At that point, we got so frustrated with the system that we contacted various politicians, including Mr. Bob Holden, as well as Christian organizations for help. We got some advice from them and finally some help from DHS for which I am grateful.
I had another fair hearing in November. This time, the judge was very compassionate. Overall, it took getting MANY people to go to bat for me in order to get anything done. At this point I am again in a shelter, hoping to finally be found eligible so that I can start a new life.
I'm thankful to God for giving me the needed strength and encouragement as I've gone through a difficult time. I'm so appreciative for the support system that helped me. I feel truly blessed to be one step closer to no longer being homeless. I encourage anyone in a similar situation to never give up hope. Never stop fighting for your family. There is always a solution!
It took a village. The following people and organizations deserve recognition ‒ Doreen from Hearts of Gold, City Councilman-Elect Robert Holden, Senator Joseph Addabbo's office, Assembly Member Brian Barnwell's office, Coalition for the Homeless, The Salvation Army, Bridge to Life and Catholic Charities, Open Hands Legal Services, Barbara from the Guardian Angel Family Crisis Center, Amanda Nasner of DHS, the many very compassionate DHS employees that cared for me in hotels, my new family at Maspeth Bible Church, all of my family and friends, and the many homeless individuals who, in their own troubled situations, encouraged and even provided us with clothes and meals.
Although we are still struggling, this holiday season, my children and I have a lot to be thankful for.
If you would like to help Jessica and her 3-year old twins, please contact Kim Caruana at firstname.lastname@example.org.