“Momma’s Gonna Buy You a Mockin’ Bird”
(Women & Homelessness)
She rests on a dampened, moldy and fragmented cardboard box carefully placed just inches from the bushels of debris left behind by others before her. Her withered limbs extended out before her, desperately clamping on to little Bethany, her 8-year-old daughter, whom innocently slaps her mothers engorged and disfigured face in an effort to awaken her.
“It’s time! Momma, it’s time! We have to get in today, or we’ll have sleep here!” “14!… Number 14!”… shouts someone from around the building. Maria slowly lifts her head and begins to push her aching body up and away from the ground beneath her. Firmly gripping Bethany’s hand, they both make their way toward the buildings entrance. She then places her ticket on the table beside the door, gazes down at her daughter and whispers: “We’re in, baby!…Nobody can hurt us in here.”…
This somber, daily intake process at the shelter is all-too-familiar to Terri Ramos, a 10-year homeless ministry veteran, and former manager for the Women and Children’s center at the Miami Rescue Mission. Ramos, who has since been promoted to Public Relations Director within the mission, is no stranger to the intricacies involved. Like Maria, thousands of women experience (whether temporary or permanent), homelessness in America each year; and while the most common or typical criteria appears to be their falling victim to domestic violence, there are many other testimonies which, ultimately led these women to the same place.
In fact, statistics derived from research conducted by ImpactResearch.org indicate that “the majority of homeless women had two or more children before they were 20 years old, have never lived independently, thus, rendering them dependent on the assistance of either the state, friends and family and/or the children’s father(s). (Center for Impact Research,2004)
Further research conducted by the National Coalition for the Homeless (NCH) demonstrate that a vast majority of these homeless women and mothers suffered both physical and sexual abuse in their childhood home, and subsequently fell victims to domestic violence and abusive adult relationships. Moreover, a whopping 60% of the contributing factor to women’s homelessness was the absence of support from the non-custodial parent(s) (father). (NCH,2000)
Ramos can attest for how quickly things can unravel for so many women. “It often only takes one fight between husband and wife (divorce); one or two mortgage/rental payments to fall behind; a sudden medical condition (depression, cancer, etc); or a death in the family to create an overwhelming whirlwind of expenses, and jolt them out in the streets!”
I recall, as a volunteer for the mission, having been assigned the arduous, yet blessed task of teaching the ladies a class on self-esteem. In the process, I learned from the get-go, that although most were grateful for a more secure living arrangement; many of the women were, in fact, placed in shelters by the State due to reasons including addictions, their children being molested by boyfriends/family members, to mental illnesses, prostitution and so on. I was also made aware, in no uncertain terms, that while the causes varied, the common denominator remained that these women were and are, indeed, broken in mind, body and spirit.
They lash out at a society they feel has forgotten them because there exists an evident void in their lives that they do not understand, let alone begin to identify with that which is required to fill it.
While personally working with these women, I placed great emphasis on 2 Corinthians10:12 that tells that “We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves, by themselves, and compare themselves to themselves, they are not wise.” This verse illustrates the need to shift their focus away from society and unto their inner core.
The Rescue Mission provides not only food, shelter and counseling, but also the prospect of awakened hope and salvation, through their “A.W.A.R.E.N.E.S.S. (a woman’s answer regarding education, nurture, encouragement, self-esteem, and salvation) program, which runs a course of 8 to 10 months ,and focuses on spirituality daily. It is based on the bible verse-Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.”
Although, many of the women suffer from recurring trauma, (and drama!), and oftentimes walk in to the shelter(s) beaten beyond recognition, they must, ultimately have to be at wits-end in order to join and remain within the program.
I entered the shelter, one cool Friday morning, and walked past the foyer, across the sitting area, and out into a small playground and terrace in the back of the building. I could not help but notice a more vibrant Maria, humming; “Momma’s gonna buy you a mockin’ bird” as she fussily stroked little Bethany’s hair. I walked over to where they sat, and handed her one of several small note-pads I had purchased for the ladies, intended to be used as daily journals. She reached over, opened the cover silently read the inscription: “I am beautiful, both inside and out, and I am worthy of God’s love!”
A now tearful, yet joyful Maria, looked up at me, carefully placed her hand on mine, and softly whispered: “I know that now, Ms. Maddie… I know that now.”
FACT(S): The nation’s homeless population increased by approximately 20,000 people from 2008 to 2011
(3 percent increase). There were also increased numbers of people experiencing homelessness in each of the subpopulations examined in this report: families, individuals, chronic, unsheltered.
Recently, foreclosures have increased the number of people who experience homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless released an entire report discussing the relationship between foreclosure and homelessness. The report found that there was a 32% jump in the number of foreclosures between April 2008 and April 2009. Since the start of the recession, six million jobs have been lost. In May 2009, the official unemployment rate was 9.4%. The National Low Income Housing Coalition estimates that 40 percent of families facing eviction due to foreclosure are renters and 7 million households living on very low incomes (31 – 50 percent of Area Median Income) are at risk of foreclosure.