By Danielle Meeker
Anthony Haynes is a talkative ball of energy.
Social and full of good-natured humor, the 9-year-old fourth-grader is doing well with his individualized learning plan at McCarver Elementary School and spends time after school at the local Boys & Girls Club. He’s well adjusted and precocious — a regular Tacoma kid.
But that’s not the way all Anthony’s classmates view him.
“Some people call me mean names,” he says, retreating into his mother’s arms. “I don’t want to repeat them, because they’re rude ones. Someone called me a mean one when they put their middle finger up in my face!”
Anthony says those teasing peers somehow have uncovered a few of his secrets. Some know he’s fatherless and was abandoned by his stepfather, the only dad he ever knew. Some know he has a biological father who’s never really been in the picture. Some know he recently was homeless.
An uncomfortable silence hangs in the room as Anthony relates his school experience. His 30-year-old mother, Kristina, cringes as she hears what circumstances have done to her son. She’s single, working part-time at TJ Maxx to help pay rent and clothe him. She says she and Anthony were living on a military base when Anthony’s world fell apart: “There was a more structured environment and then all of a sudden we were living with my sister, not involved very much with [her ex-husband], who he considered a father and [her ex-husband’s] kids, who he considered brother and sister.”
That ex-husband is active-duty military, stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. After he and Kristina divorced, she says, he bought a new house while she and Anthony became homeless. Mom and son hooked up with Catholic Community Services’ Phoenix Housing Network shelter program and spent the night at various churches, rotating sites once a week. Through her connection with Phoenix Housing Network, Kristina soon was given the opportunity to move into the Guadalupe Vista Apartments.
“[Had that not happened], I probably would’ve committed suicide, honestly,” she says.
Rising, Thanks to a Phoenix
Located in the Hilltop district of Tacoma, Guadalupe Vista is a collection of subsidized apartments for formerly homeless families and individuals or couples who are earning up to 30 percent of the area’s median income. Guadalupe Vista works intimately with the Phoenix Housing Network to provide a support system and permanent living situation to struggling families. Thirty-eight of Guadalupe Vista’s 50 units are set aside for formerly homeless families. The housing is considered permanent, but that does not mean those living there are in the clear.
“I’m only bringing in $90 to $120 per week [and] I have to decide what’s more important,” Kristina says. She now pays $97 of the $895 monthly rent on her apartment. Tacoma Housing Authority covers the rest.
Amelia Boyles is one of two resident case managers working with Guadalupe Vista clients. She’s been at Guadalupe Vista for two years and never intended to make social work her career. Now she cannot imagine doing anything else. Boyles holds weekly meetings with her families to discuss their long-term goals and suggest ways they can continue to grow. “Some families come to us with nothing,” she says. “They have run out of people to go to because they have overstayed their welcome or have been in the same situation for so long people have given up on them. Some families come to us heart-broken from a divorce or break-up that either recently happened or happened years ago, [yet they] still struggle to find ways to support themselves.”
Boyles often struggles herself in trying to convince people of the benefits her agency can provide. “It is difficult to comprehend that some families do not see this as an opportunity,” she says. “Sometimes, families avoid or withhold information. In these situations, it is hard to know where I can be of help or what resources they could benefit from.” Not telling the truth — even lying by omission — places limitations on benefits, driving individuals deeper into whatever hole they’re in instead of pulling them out of it.
A Home of Her Own
Now 26, Jennifer Frazier says her tainted past is what brought her to Guadalupe Vista. When she was 18, she says she unknowingly drove a stolen vehicle. “I was at a friend’s house,” she says. Someone she knew as a friend showed up “ … in this white car with a friend from Federal Way … I drove maybe a block from where we were and got pulled over immediately. And I’m wondering why [the police] have their guns out. Apparently, they had stolen the car out of a 7-Eleven parking lot. A man had left his car running, and they had changed the plates and came to Tacoma.”
Frazier says her sentence was deferred and she was ordered to pay $150 a week in fines. But because she was on welfare and unable to pay, she says, the judge revoked the deferment. The crime was a felony. No one would hire her after that, she says.
Frazier says she struggled as the single mother of an infant whose father was in and out of prison. For five years, welfare helped her hold her life together. Once her benefits ran out, she found herself homeless, and bounced from relative to relative. A year ago — at 8½ months pregnant with her third child — Frazier decided she’d had enough. “I’m not going to be the burden anymore,” she thought. “It was embarrassing: I’m pregnant, still have no job, no [welfare].” Frazier called 211 — Washington state’s designated number for health- and human-services aid — and began the process of becoming accepted into the Phoenix Housing Network’s shelter program. She and Kristina Haynes once were together, moving from church to church.
Joy McDonald, shelter case manager for Phoenix Housing Network, pushed Frazier to get a job. If for no other reason than to get the woman off her back, Frazier applied at a Home Depot in Tukwila. She got hired. That job and the consistent income it provided qualified her for acceptance into Guadalupe Vista four days before she gave birth to her son, Jordan. “That was my main goal,” she says. “I wanted to have an apartment, where I’m in a home. I couldn’t imagine getting out of the hospital, having a baby and having to go from church to church.”
Frazier says things are slowly moving in a positive direction. She recently was promoted to head cashier at Home Depot. Her 9-year-old son, Nathan, and 4-year-old daugher, Sa’moan, both are doing well in school.
‘Hope Is All You Have’
Frazier sees a future full of possibilities. She hopes to continue climbing the Home Depot ladder and become a department head. She wants to begin taking one class a quarter to add to the eight college credits she currently has, and continue to build her savings.
Kristina Haynes is doing equally well. She’s returning to school and training to become a supervisor at TJ Maxx. She has done some small-time public speaking on behalf of Catholic Community Services, and wants to share her experiences with a wider audience. Her main theme is one she hopes resonates: “Definitely, [don’t] lose hope, because really hope is all you have at a single point. Realize that you are stronger than you think you are and to accept the help that people offer. And then turn around and give back.”
Frazier has a similar message for those struggling with homelessness: “Don’t settle. Don’t settle with living at your friend’s house or living in your car. You have to push yourself and keep your goals up. If you try as hard as you can, you can end up somewhere that is good. It doesn’t matter how low you are.”