The experience of becoming homeless can mean giving up one’s voice. Without a home, without a support network, there are a lot of lines in which to queue up, a lot of applications to complete, and a lot of waiting on hold while the minutes and battery charge drain from your cell phone. To survive homelessness, a person develops the quality of quiet patience. Mothers, in particular, seem to learn that not speaking up, not defending one’s point of view, not calling attention to oneself – these are the skills and strategies for increasing one’s chances of attaining housing or other essential services during a period of extreme need. It may be a reticence borne of necessity, a quiet that feels almost desperate at times, and sometimes it just seems to be another symptom of giving up.
Two events stood out for me this month in stark contrast to this silent response to homelessness. In the first, a parent was informed by a staff member that her child was struggling in the classroom and had even run out of the room. She listened attentively to the staff member, asked a few questions to better understand what had transpired, and finally stated that the events described didn’t sound like her child. She was no doubt thinking of the multiple changes in housing programs, schools, and jobs they had experienced lately. She continued to ask questions and listen to the answers. She sensed that the staff person wanted some sort of response from her as to how she would manage the situation. Instead she said, “I will talk to my son tonight. I want to understand what’s on his mind and why this happened. I will listen to what he says. Even a child has a voice.” That’s some pretty strong parenting in a truly difficult situation.
A few days later, another parent, a parent with many burdens and many struggles, came to talk to me about an issue of concern. As she laid out the issue, to me it seemed relatively inconsequential, one that I could easily address for her. I explained how we manage such situations, and she agreed with the plan. She said, “You may think I’m silly to even bring this up, but you see,” (and at this point her eyes filled with tears) “I’m his voice, I’m the only one here to speak for him.” The mixture of fierce love and protection, coupled with fear and desperation, shone through her words.
At Vogel Alcove, even when the experience of homelessness has robbed parents of their voices, they find them in the service of their children. What an honor to hear these voices and to have the daily opportunity to provide safety and connection to our families.
Director, Family Support