(Names have been changed to preserve privacy.)
Homelessness takes many forms, and most often it is invisible.
Last week I had the opportunity to speak with one of the residents staying at Heading Home’s Lexington shelter in Gallup, New Mexico. A historic hotel sitting right on Route 66, the Lexington has 29 units and prioritizes emergency housing for families experiencing homelessness. The Lexington is a housing first shelter, and has services including a full kitchen that provides 3 meals a day, active case management assistance to secure housing and benefits, a kids game room, two common rooms, and helps connect residents with other services in the area.
Anne has been staying at the Lexington for a few weeks now and plans on being there a while longer still. When I caught up with her, she was taking a break from disinfecting the cafeteria at the shelter, where she has taken a job during the day.
“It’s great,” says Anne, “because it allows me to take care of my daughter and still make money during the day.”
Anne stays at the Lexington for the express purpose of ensuring that her daughter, who is in elementary school, has access to a school that they can afford. Where Anne and her daughter are from, on the Navajo reservation, there is very limited access to transportation, and off the main roadways it may be non-existent. Anne didn’t have a car, and walking to the nearest services was impossible due to how remote their home was. So she decided to leave to give her daughter a chance at an education and a better life.
After moving to Arizona to stay with a relative, hopping couches in Phoenix, then being forced to return to the reservation to be able to house her daughter Anne didn’t see any other option. “I had no running water. I don’t want that for my daughter. She needs an education.” Explains Anne, “I was trying to get my daughter into school, I was trying to get her to her appointments and all of that, but I couldn’t do it out there.”
Anne heard about our shelter program at the Lexington and decided to give it a shot. She explained the situation and what was at stake for her, and she was given a room! With everything her and her daughter need to make it home!
“I got my daughter into school, I got her appointments lined up, and I’ve been trying to find a job and I did get a job here for housekeeping,” says Anne, “Which is a nice thing because it works with my daughter’s school schedule”
In the United States, the cost of childcare has spun out of control for over a decade outpacing the national inflation rate by nearly double between 2009 and 2016 (2.9% and 1.6% respectively according to reporting by The Wall Street Journal, 2016). Then, consider the effects of a pandemic, the unavailability of high-speed internet in rural areas of New Mexico, and no access to affordable transportation on the ability of a single mother to be able to support her daughter! That’s a tough row to hoe.
“I was taking care of my daughter, and I had no way to get a job,” says Anne, “Her school is just right down the road now, I’m working here.”
Anne plans on staying at the Lexington until she saves enough to buy herself a car and put a deposit on an apartment nearby sometime soon. The Lexington has provided Anne, and many people experiencing homelessness just like her, a place to rest. Her experience with homelessness was not sleeping on the street, instead it was not having a suitable environment for her daughter to grow up in.
“This is a safe place for me and my daughter. You don’t have to be somewhere where you are uncomfortable.” Anne concludes, “They give you opportunities, but it depends on you in order to take those opportunities.”
Anne’s story is not what comes to mind for most people when they imagine the experience of homelessness. Out of sight, and out of the minds of most, are the 73% of people experiencing homelessness who will find a suitable place to live within a year (NAEH, 2021). The people who got hurt without insurance and lost their job, the people who are escaping an abusive living situation, or the people simply trying to care for their daughters and cannot make enough to support themselves.
The Lexington’s Housing First approach to ending homelessness has given Anne the opportunity to give her daughter a better future, an opportunity everyone deserves for their kids.