"It's amazing what I have accomplished": Sylvia's Story

From Sylvia Edwards' speech at our 2015 Home for the Holidays fundraiser

My name is Sylvia and I am a single mother to an eleven year-old boy.

I have had more than one experience with being homeless. My first experience was as a child living with my mom. My second experience was as a teenager, when my son was five months old, and again when he had just turned one. My mom kicked us out, and I had nowhere to turn. I found a teen living program that helped me. During my time in the program, I graduated from high school, got a full time job, and eventually found an apartment. Everything went well for a few years, until March 1, 2009 when I got a phone call saying my son’s father had passed away. I was so depressed and I lost it. I ended up losing both my jobs, quit school, and struggled to keep an apartment.

It took a few months for me to finally suck up all the pain and continue to take care of my son. I went back to college and got a good job and a new apartment. Soon, though, the landlord came to me and told me he was raising my rent by $200. I knew I couldn’t afford it. That was one of the worst days of my life because I had just furnished my house, I was working so hard to pay the rent on time, I was almost done with school and I didn’t have the time or the resources to find a new apartment. I had no options left, so, even though I didn’t want to, my son and I moved back in with my mom.

My mom let us in on the condition that I would find a place of my own once I finished school. I had to pretend everything was okay at my mother’s house, even though I knew it was a dangerous place to live. I couldn’t let my son see how worried and unhappy I really was. There were times that I thought I was going to just end my own life because I was staying in a chaotic situation, my son was being exposed to violence and a house full of people drinking and smoking, plus I had nobody to turn to for support. I became paranoid, constantly having panic attacks, I was not eating, and not sleeping.

Through all of that, I still put my son first and knew I had to pull through it and get him back into a stable environment.  May 18, 2015 I graduated from Springfield College with my bachelor’s degree in Human Services. I was happy but there was no time to celebrate. I knew I had just accomplished one of my goals but my mom told me we had to get out of the house. I needed to find a home for my son.

I called the Mayor’s Hotline for help, and they sent me to FamilyAid Boston. When I got to my first appointment, this lady came down and introduced herself as Jeannie. We went up into a little room and she asked me a bunch of questions. Questions I normally wouldn’t answer because my mom raised me to keep what happens at home as a secret. For some reason I felt comfortable enough to tell her the truth about my situation, because at that point I was overwhelmed and didn’t want to lie about how unstable my life was becoming. I cried, I talked, and I even laughed a little. After leaving the meeting all I could think about was that this lady must think I am crazy and that they were going to take my child. But they didn’t. They placed me and my son in shelter, and began working with me to find housing and a better job. From that moment on I felt like somebody actually cared about me and my son safety and they wanted to help. Not only did they want to help me but I didn’t have to lie anymore I didn’t have to pretend like everything was okay because it wasn’t.

While I was in shelter, I was working a full-time job, looking for a better job, and looking for an apartment. It was tough.There were times when I was just overwhelmed with thinking I was going to get the apartment and then they gave it to somebody with better credit. Again it wasn’t easy because I had no support, some days I didn’t eat, most nights I couldn’t sleep and my son had days when he shut down. I had to pretend we were on a vacation just to keep him from noticing we were actually homeless. I didn’t want him to think that I failed him.

Things started to turn around. I was accepted into FamilyAid Boston’s Rapid Rehousing program, I found an apartment, and I received two job offers. I ended up taking a job as a case coordinator working with other homeless families.

Now that I finally have some time to reflect, I can see that it’s pretty amazing what I have accomplished. Through this whole year of being homeless, moving from place to place, and staying in shelter, I achieved my goals. I finished my degree, got a good job, and found a home for me and my son.

Even though I experienced homelessness as a child and as a teen, my most recent experience was the worst because my son was old enough to understand what was going on. I am so glad I found FamilyAid Boston, and Jeannie. She was the first to hear me when I came, she was the first to understand how important it was to keep my son safe and in a stable environment. She didn’t judge me, she actually encouraged me and my decisions, and she helped me to save money, which I’d never done before. I had no other support during my time in shelter. The only person I was able to think of every time things were overwhelming or just needing job advice and assistance with apartment searching was Jeannie. I am blessed to have met her.

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