by Jan Lewis
It is hard to imagine that something as joyful as the birth of a child could ultimately lead a family to homelessness, but that is what happened to Jessica. A hard-working mother of three, Jessica gave birth to her fourth child while the children’s father was incarcerated. The little boy was born with cystic fibrosis, requiring extensive medical care. Jessica was working an hourly job to provide for the family, but the baby’s medical needs required her to miss many hours of work. With an hourly job, if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. As her income dropped, she was not able to keep up with the rent payments for the family’s apartment.
At that point, Jessica resorted to a phenomenon called “couch surfing,” where the family moved from one friend’s house to another, sleeping on the floor or the couch. At each stop along the way, Jessica paid her friends something for allowing the family to stay, while she tried to save money to eventually get back into a home or apartment of her own.
With the assistance of Catholic Charities and other local human services agencies, Jessica put together the financial resources she needed and has succeeded in moving her family out of homelessness and back into their own apartment. Ironically, Jessica is one of the lucky ones, because her employer was compassionate and allowed her to keep working whenever she could, and she had friends willing to provide the temporary shelter that her family needed.
Crishana was not so lucky. Happily married to a pastor in Arkansas, Crishana watched her family fall apart as her husband began to suffer from untreated bipolar disorder. When his behavior became dangerous, Crishana and her two children left and took shelter with family here in Kansas City.
The landlord, discovering that more family members had moved in, threatened to raise the rent and ultimately forced Crishana and her children onto the street. Faced with the prospect of her family having to sleep in the car, Crishana came to Catholic Charities and was able to move into our transitional house in Olathe. Within 30 days, she was working for the school district and had moved her family into their own apartment, where they are doing well.
Jessica and Crishana are the face of homelessness today. They are not all that different from you and me. Christ tells us “to do to others what you would have them do to you.” We are not called to judge the homeless, but to help. A lost job, a sudden illness, a devastating tornado or flood, all have the capacity to throw seemingly stable families into homelessness.
Yesterday, it was Jessica and Crishana.
Tomorrow it could be you or me.