Sylvia Edwards was homeless several times during her difficult childhood. When she faced the prospect of homelessness again as a mother, she knew she had to change the cycle. Sylvia shared her story with guests at our 13th annual 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.
Thank you to FamilyAid Boston, to all of you here for supporting their work, and especially to Jeannie, for helping me reach my goals and find a stable home for my son.