by guest blogger Charmaine Walton
I’m actually a very private person. But I can’t keep quiet about this. I grew up in the DC foster care system. I didn’t have an easy childhood, but I was always a good student (I even won the science fair two years). After my high school graduation, I went to medical assistant school and began working. Three months after I had my daughter in 2008, I found out that I had Multiple Sclerosis. My daughter’s father decided he couldn’t deal with the stress, so he opted out of our lives. I went to work and realized that I would get sick in spurts. My relapses would come suddenly and fiercely, sometimes a numb leg or numb arms, sometimes I would go blind, sometimes I wouldn’t be able to move at all. It started to affect my ability to keep a job, and I fell behind on my rent.
I first went to Virginia Williams Family Resource Center (FRC) in 2010 because I lost my apartment, but I was still employed. They gave me first month’s rent and security deposit, but I knew I would get sick again and that the short term assistance would not be enough to keep me from losing yet another apartment. I lost my job again because of my illness and I was evicted from my apartment shortly after that in the fall of 2011. My daughter and I house-hopped between our friends and family for almost two months, sleeping on couches and floors for as long as we could.
Finally, just before the New Year, we were placed in a hotel room on NY Avenue. I was grateful to have a bed to sleep on after so long. But now it’s been months and it feels like we’ve been forgotten. I don’t know what the rest of the shelter system is like, but when you’re in a hotel, you don’t talk to anyone, you don’t see anybody, you have no sense that anyone is working to help you. We’re just there. We’re just a number. I have not seen a caseworker since I got here.
The number one trigger of relapses for people with MS is stress, and I’ve been getting sick a lot more since I’ve been in the system. I have a microwave in the hotel, but nowhere to cook meals or store food. With my illness, it’s important that I maintain a healthy diet and that’s nearly impossible. NY Avenue is a food desert, with only fast food chains nearby. I lie awake at night fearing for my daughter. If she’s not eating properly, how will she focus in school? I miss having my daughter watch and help me make dinner as I stir the pot in the kitchen. I wonder how long it will be before we can have those precious family moments back.
My entire unemployment check goes into feeding my daughter and paying for transportation. I take 6 buses every morning and 6 buses in the afternoon just to get my daughter to and from school. The only place for her to play is the parking lot in front of the hotel, so I keep her inside instead. Sometimes, we do jumping jacks in the room, but she deserves so much more than that. I feel like my child is being robbed of a childhood. Not just my child, but all children need a stable place to grow up healthy.
Here’s what I would say to anyone who doesn’t see affordable housing as a priority: you could wake up tomorrow and this could be you. You could get cancer and lose your job, your child could get sick. This can happen to anybody. I finished school and furthered my education, I worked. I had no idea I would get sick, and “ta-da!” here I am.
It’s absurd that there are children on the street not getting ANY services. How are they eating? How are they paying for transportation? To have a family on the street is unacceptable. This is the nation’s capital. This is the powerhouse of the world, and we’re not going to provide for our children? That’s an embarrassment.
When there is a natural disaster, the government comes to the rescue. There is a disaster happening right now; how is the government not coming? DC is the home where I was born, where my daughter was born. I’ve paid my taxes every year that I’ve worked, I’ve donated money. And I can’t get the right help. I just want affordable housing.
My daughter asks me every day, “Mommy, when are we getting our own house? When am I getting my own room?” It breaks my heart that I can’t give her an answer. I’m forced to explain things to her that a child shouldn’t have to deal with. I don’t want anybody to take care of me for the rest of my life. It’s just the opposite. All I want from my government is to help me get back on my feet when I’m sick. Help me get back on my feet and save money. Help me get affordable housing.