Your neigh­bor in the fam­ily shel­ter

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS -

When I in­tro­duced D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) at the ground­break­ing for a new short-term fam­ily hous­ing build­ing in Ward 4, I had just moved out of D.C. Gen­eral Fam­ily Shel­ter and into my own apart­ment. I was ex­cited to par­tic­i­pate in the ground­break­ing be­cause, as I had re­cently learned, with the right sup­ports, a shel­ter ex­pe­ri­ence can be lifechang­ing for a fam­ily.

I spent the first six years of my life grow­ing up in the Trinidad neigh­bor­hood. When I was 6 years old, I en­tered foster care. When I was 13, I asked my foster mom to adopt me, and she did. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing from high school, I joined the Army but soon re­turned home af­ter in­jur­ing my knee. When I was 20 and in a job-train­ing pro­gram, I be­came preg­nant with my daugh­ter. Af­ter my daugh­ter was born, I spent sev­eral years liv­ing with friends and fam­ily mem­bers. Even­tu­ally, how­ever, I ran out of peo­ple to stay with. In 2016, I turned to the District’s shel­ter sys­tem for sup­port, and my daugh­ter and I were placed in a mo­tel.

I love work­ing with chil­dren. I am the vice pres­i­dent of the par­ent-teacher as­so­ci­a­tion at my daugh­ter’s school and, one day, I hope to work in ed­u­ca­tion my­self. My smart and tal­ented daugh­ter is get­ting ready to start fourth grade. She learned to spell her name when she was just a tod­dler, and to­day she proudly reads far above grade level. She loves cheer­lead­ing and school and has big goals for her fu­ture: She al­ready talks about at­tend­ing Ban­neker High School and Stan­ford Univer­sity and be­com­ing a doc­tor when she grows up.

This spring, I learned that my daugh­ter and I would be mov­ing from our mo­tel shel­ter place­ment into D.C. Gen­eral, the large fam­ily shel­ter in Ward 7. Even though I had heard bad things about D.C. Gen­eral, I was ex­cited for this op­por­tu­nity be­cause I knew that if I got into a shel­ter, I would have bet­ter ac­cess to the sup­ports and ser­vices that could help get us into per­ma­nent hous­ing.

As it turns out, for me, be­ing able to work with an ac­tive and sup­port­ive case man­ager made all the dif­fer­ence. Be­cause of my case man­ager’s sup­port and my own de­ter­mi­na­tion to find an apart­ment, I was able to move out of D.C. Gen­eral only one month af­ter mov­ing in.

D.C. Gen­eral worked for me, but it is not work­ing for ev­ery­one. For some peo­ple, it is too far from school and work, and be­cause it is so big, not ev­ery­one has the same pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ence get­ting ser­vices that I did. As the District gets ready to shut down D.C. Gen­eral and re­place it with smaller shel­ters through­out the District, I know that some com­mu­nity mem­bers are ner­vous about hav­ing a fa­cil­ity in their neigh­bor­hood. But I ask all Wash­ing­to­ni­ans to give the fam­i­lies who will use these shel­ters a chance. Par­ents who bring their chil­dren to shel­ters are look­ing for a safe place to lay their head at night and a lit­tle help get­ting life back on track. In fact, the fam­i­lies in these shel­ters might turn out to be the best neigh­bors you have ever had.

To­day, not even three weeks af­ter leav­ing D.C. Gen­eral, I am ad­just­ing to life in my own apart­ment. I am work­ing on mak­ing a bud­get and think­ing through how I can go back to school, and I have al­ready told my mom that, like her, I will need to learn how to coupon. But I will fig­ure it out. I’ve been through much tougher times, and I am up for this new chal­lenge.

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