Archive | September, 2011

Stella – Stronger than a Hurricane

27 Sep

Stella lives in New Orleans. She has lived there all her life. While living in the 9th Ward, she experienced Hurricane Betsy in 1965. In 2005 she lived through Hurricane Katrina.

Stella comes from a large family with nine siblings. All lived close by. Her husband also has nine siblings. Stella’s husband is an Army and Air Force veteran with 20 years spent in the military. In 1997, when he was coaching an Air Force basketball team he was injured and was left a quadriplegic. Due to her husband’s condition Stella has a rule, “Anytime they have a hurricane that’s category two, I leave.”

When they received warning of Katrina they headed to Beaumont, Texas to stay with her husband’s brother. At first things were comfortable. Then more and more family members began arriving. In the end, 20 people were staying in the house. First reports were that the city had survived. But then the worst happened. “We weren’t expecting the levees to break,” she says. When they did, they were told it would be at least six months before they could return home.

“We all searched for places to rent.” They found one but, “as soon as we moved in we were evacuated for Rita.” So they found another hotel but were then told to go further north. “We got to feeling if we were going to die, let’s do it with family,” she says. So they went to San Antonio. There, the family stayed in a church. With them was everyone who had been in the house and more. There was no air conditioning but some n neighborhood ladies invited them to their houses to shower.

After two weeks in the church they went back to the rented house in Beaumont. They stayed there for just under two weeks before sneaking back to their own neighborhood which had been closed off. When they arrived, they were devastated to see that, of her family of ten and her husband’s family of ten, theirs was the only house left standing. So Stella invited all 30 people to stay with them. “As long as I had a place to share with others, I was very fortunate.” Stella and her husband even had a trailer put in the backyard to accommodate more people.

Eventually everyone moved out of her house. But it changed their family. All but one of Stella’s sibling’s decided not to return. “They don’t trust the politicians,” she says. “People say that they’re going to do for you and they don’t. The Corps of Engineers knew these levees weren’t strong.” Stella and her husband know the risks of where they live. “After Betsy in 65, I was always prepared. I lived in the 9th Ward then and we saw those bodies floating by.”

They stay because it’s their home, but they have a plan. Someone in the family is assigned to pick-up the small children, they have a pre-arranged meeting point and she keeps a hatchet by the door, just in case they need to climb up to the attic and exit through the roof.

Stella’s hope is that she’s taught her daughter to raise her children with character.

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Shanikah – Homeless But Not Hopeless

6 Sep

Shanikah is a 33 year-old single mother of four children.  She has three boys and a girl ranging in ages from 21 months to 11 years.  She was born in Miami but spent much of her childhood in Freeport, Bahamas.

While never wealthy, Shanikah has always worked hard. She attended Palm Beach Community College but had to drop out due to a pregnancy.  She has worked in various positions including retail sales, telemarketing and child-care.  Her last job was as a sales associate at Dillards.  Unfortunately, she had to leave that position as her son, who was staying with relatives in the Bahamas, became ill and was hospitalized.  Knowing her first priority was as a mother she left her job and flew to the Bahamas.

Always close with her family, Shanika and her sister made a deal.  Shanika would take care of her own kids and her sister’s son, while her sister would pay the rent on their apartment in Orlando with the money she earned at her job in the Bahamas.  Shanika would find a job to pay for the groceries.  Shanika’s sister soon lost her job.  Like many other Americans, Shanikah had a difficult time finding a job.  Very quickly the money ran out.

Shanikah and her kids are now living at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida.  This is where I met them.  They’ve been living there for about a month and it’s somewhere Shanikah never thought she would be.  “I’ve never been homeless.  I never thought it would happen to me.”  While it was hard for her to accept help, she knew she had to do it for her children.  “I have kids.  I had to put my big girl boots on and find a place.”  Still, she fights to improve her family’s situation.  “I’d clean houses. I just want a job,” she says.

The Center provides great support to help people such as Shanikah get back on their feet.  Shanika is receiving assistance from Goodwill which is located on-site.  They provide help with resume writing, interview practice and other skills and resources for job training.  With a Boys and Girls Club also on-site, providing child care Shanikah can go on interviews.  Case Managers work with individual family needs.  As long as they are following the program and progressing, they are worked with.  “We hope to be out of here in a few weeks.  I tell them ‘Mommy’s going to try.’”

Shanikah knows that she must set an example for her children.  She teaches them to, “try to hang out with people who are trying to do something with themselves.”  And while she may be busy striving to improve her family’s situation, she is never too busy for her kids.  “If you have kids, talk to them all the time to see how they’re doing,” she says.

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