Every once in a while, I meet someone in my job who stops me in my tracks.
This month it was a 34-year-old mother named Dyretta Smith.
Smith is an attractive, tough-talking, intelligent African-American woman who shared her story of homelessness with WRAL. But more than that, she shared with me what it’s like to be homeless when you have a child. She and her then 11-year-old son, Nazir, bounced from hotel rooms to friends’ homes, hoping to catch a break.
Smith explained to me that no one chooses homelessness, but after she lost her job, everything in her life spiraled out of control, “it was like a domino effect.” Most importantly she knew that her son did not ask for this life, or deserve it, and she vowed to keep his life as normal as possible despite their predicament.
“Losing was not an option,” she told me with tears in her eyes.
Smith was determined to keep her son in his base school, so determined she rode a city bus with him at 5 in the morning to get him across town on time. Even when they were living in one cramped room with another family, Smith continued to help her son complete his school work because: “He’s such a smart little boy. I was not going to let the things that happened in our life to keep him off track.”
Ultimately, Smith and her son received a hand up out of homelessness from an organization called PLM Families Together which helps homeless families find temporary, and eventually, permanent housing.
She is now in her own apartment which she pays for with her full-time job as a housekeeper for a local assisted living community. Her son is taking honors courses at Broughton High School. By her front door is the “Welcome Basket” given to her by PLM Families Together to remind her how far she has come.
“It took me six months to unpack my bags and finally put things on the walls because I couldn’t believe I was actually there to stay,” Smith told me. “Now I tell my son, put posters on the walls, anything you want. We’re home.”
Smith volunteers with the group that helped her, because the need is great. They are currently assisting 120 families, but have 223 on the waiting list. Wake County alone has nearly 2500 homeless children in their classrooms. Smith tells me helping others get out of the spot she was in is now her mission in life.
“This is what I’m here for,” she tells me with a smile, and I know she is right.
Amanda is the mom of two, a reporter for WRAL-TV and the author of several books including three on motherhood. Find her here on Mondays.