Sheena has big plans for her four young children, ages five through 11. “They aren’t going to be a statistic,” she says emphatically. “They are going to be leaders and go to college.”
But today, this single mom’s main focus is just to keep the family together and survive another day. “My own childhood was good, but strict,” she says. “I was raised to do well academically and stay out of trouble.” A native of the West Side, Sheena cheered and danced in high school and graduated with good grades.
Nearly one year later, her dreams of traveling were deterred by her first pregnancy and she took a job with a large local food service provider where she worked for four years until she had more children. “I wanted a better career to take care of my family,” she says, “so I decided to go back to school to become a medical assistant.”
Working temp jobs while in school, Sheena built a nice home for her growing family. “We were doing well,” she says. So well in fact, that she agreed to take in a troubled friend of her boyfriend’s. “It was the biggest mistake of my life,” Sheena confided as she choked up. “He brought drugs into our home and we lost everything. I’ve never been in trouble, never involved in anything like that,” she said through tears.
Unable to afford an attorney, the felony charge meant an eviction, and Sheena quickly lost her home and all her possessions. Suddenly homeless, Sheena and her children survived by living with various family members, buying space heaters to carry from house to house or room to room when necessary. In early May, Central Access Point (CAP) referred her to the Freestore Foodbank.
The Freestore Foodbank Shelter Diversion program focuses on keeping families out of homeless shelters by providing temporary rental assistance as well as intensive case management and plan for stability. Clients must be referred by CAP and adhere to completing the program within the time frame presented by their case manager.
Today, Sheena and her children are living in their own apartment. The Shelter Diversion program also helps to provide minimal furniture and household items for families like Sheena’s, who have few possessions of their own. Sheena’s plan is to complete her requirements in order to obtain her medical assistant certification, but first and foremost, she needs income – but finding a job has proved to be extremely difficult, made even more so by the one charge on her record.
“All I want to do is work and provide for my children,” she says. “I’m a good person and a hard worker; the constant rejection can be very stressful and discouraging – but I don’t let the kids see me cry.” Sheena finds the support she needs in church, and is teaching her children how to pray “at meals and at bedtime.”
“Making babies and partying will always be on this earth,” she tells her children. “I want them to look beyond what is easy and strive for something better; I want them to travel the world like I was supposed to.” Sheena’s oldest daughter is always on the honor roll, and her five year-old son is already playing football and looking forward to kindergarten.
“I’m thankful I found the Freestore Foodbank,” she says. “This is still a difficult time, but it could be a lot worse. The important thing is, we’re still a family and we’re still together.”