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Eviction moratoriums aren't enough. I struggle to keep my kids out of homeless shelters.

Every day it is harder to believe my family will ever be together. But being a mother means doing what I can to keep them out of shelters.

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I'm a 36-year-old single mother, and I’ve worried about losing my home every day of my life. I live in New York City, and while the eviction moratorium has been lifesaving, I’ve gone through this enough times to know it will only do so much.

As a child, I was in and out of foster homes. Then, at 16, the agency sent me to Covenant House – an organization that helps youth facing homelessness – where I stayed for almost two years. Now as a parent, I refuse to let my kids experience instability, and I do everything I can to keep us out of the shelter system, including choosing at times to live apart rather than together in a shelter or other unsafe conditions.

While I’m grateful for the eviction moratorium brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, I need our government leaders to help me get into permanent housing once and for all. This perpetual cycle of housing insecurity is unlivable, and staying in a temporary homeless shelter is almost as bad as no shelter at all. Instead of focusing solely on short-term relief like the moratorium and homeless shelters, I need help actually securing, building and keeping a permanent home.

What I do is never enough

I work hard, love my kids and do what I can to keep a roof over our heads, but it’s never enough. When the pandemic hit, we were street homeless, and for the sake of my kids' health and safety, I sent them to live with family. I’ve spent most of the past year and a half without stable housing, forcing me to choose: Keep my kids safe and live apart, or stay together and risk all of our health and safety. 

Until recently, we were living in an illegal basement apartment with a landlord who tried repeatedly to kick us out, first by force, and then when that didn’t work, by intimidation.

She refused to take rent money after she found out my mother was white, telling me she didn’t want “crackers” in her house. She dropped human waste on me from a window above, gorilla glued my locks when I went to work and turned off the hot water so I couldn't shower. She did everything in her power to make my home unlivable.

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Late this summer, Hurricane Ida ultimately forced us out, when the torrential rains flooded our basement apartment. Since then, I’ve been staying on my uncle’s couch while my kids went to live with family friends. Every day that passes makes it harder to believe we’ll ever be together again. I feel like I failed as a mother not being with them. Yet, it’s because I’m a mother that I do everything in my power to keep them out of the shelter system, even if that means living apart.   

I can't stomach the shelter system

I know it may be unfathomable to many New Yorkers and other Americans that someone would go to such lengths to avoid the shelter system, but unless you’ve faced homelessness, you don’t know what it’s like.

Imagine packing all your belongings into two bags because that’s all that will fit into your shelter locker. Imagine being told when to wake up, go to bed, shower, eat. Imagine looking for work when your schedule is dictated by another human. You can't get just any job because you have a mandated curfew and appointments that hinder you for months. 

Imagine your kids crying for food, but having to tell them that you missed dinner because you came in at 7 but dinner ran out at 6. Imagine being woken up at night by security flashing a light in your face. If you can call it living, that's life in a New York City shelter. 

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I need the city to focus more on providing homes to individuals facing homelessness. Otherwise, this cycle will continue forever. I need access to real, affordable housing and intense counseling and case management to prevent individuals like me from experiencing or repeating homelessness. I need support finding a job where life experiences can be used in place of a formal education – something many cannot afford.

I need the people providing me with assistance to actually understand me. I need access to consistent medical care from providers who are trained to empathize with and relate to those experiencing homelessness, many of whom lack a support system. I need New York City to start treating people experiencing homelessness like humans instead of ignoring us.

I just ask that the next mayor and my fellow New Yorkers listen to our needs, wants, goals and desires: Help getting and keeping a permanent home, not temporary shelters and moratoriums.

Shamaya Morris is an activist in New York City. She volunteers with RxHome, working to prevent and end homelessness in New York City.

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