Family

Raleigh mother, sons share life inside homeless shelter

Posted May 22, 2013

— Last year, 2,757 homeless children attended Wake County public schools. Among those who call homeless shelters their home are 10-year-old “C” and his 4-year-old brother "Nalo," who live at the Raleigh Rescue Mission with their mother, Jenn.

“The most important thing for me is for me and my children's safety,” said Jenn, who asked that their last names not be used.

The 34-year-old single mother left her family and friends in a small Mississippi town last summer and moved to North Carolina’s capital, a place she once visited when she was younger, hoping to find more opportunity in a bigger city.

Jenn holds her 4-year-old son, Nalo, at the Raleigh Rescue Mission Life inside a homeless shelter

“I thought it was just best that me and boys just move on with our lives and see what's best for us,” she said. “You got to be something your children can look up to no matter what predicament you're in.”

Without the help of her sons’ fathers, who are “where they’ve always been – somewhere else,” according to Jenn, she rented an apartment in Raleigh. She lost it when the rent went up, so she moved her family to the Raleigh Rescue Mission.

Each morning, she rushes to get her sons awake, fed and ready for school. They have their own room at the rescue mission – a simple room with white walls, white floors and enough beds for each of them – but they share a bathroom and cafeteria with other residents.

After breakfast, Jenn takes her sons to the front steps of the Raleigh Rescue Mission, which serves as their bus stop. The Wake County Public School System works with the rescue mission and other shelters to help identify and support homeless students.

Olds Elementary Assistant Principal Joy Robinson says a common challenge is helping homeless students – like C, who is a third-grader at the school – catch up, keep up and beat the stigma of their situation.

“What we're trying to do is basically provide them with a school home that they can call their own, that they can get used to so they can find security,” Robinson said. “What the public needs to know is that you can no longer just look at a particular child or a particular family and tell that they’re homeless.”

Mother: ‘You have to be positive, you have to keep your faith’

With her children at school, Jenn concentrates on getting to work. She has no car, so she takes city buses to her job at a Subway on Hillsborough Street, where she serves up sandwiches and kind words to her customers, often asking about their day and how they are doing.

After her shift, she gets back on the bus, picks up her boys and makes her way back to the rescue mission for a quiet family dinner in a small side room at the shelter, where it’s more private than the mission’s cafeteria.

Privacy can be hard to come by in the shelter, which bustles with activity, including children playing games and adults meeting in support groups.

“I would (like) a little more privacy, because when I get distracted from my inventions, there's going to be some drama,” C said. “I like doing a lot of things, like building paper airplanes."

“That's good, but you know studying is mandatory,” his mother replied, urging him to work on his multiplication homework.

Like many parents, Jenn wants her sons to get a good education – something she is still working on herself. After moving to Raleigh, she took a few hospitality classes at Wake Technical Community College and says she hopes to one day manage a hotel and have “a better job (and) a better life for me and the boys.”

Lynn Daniell serves as executive director at the Raleigh Rescue Mission and helps many families, including Jenn’s.

“When a child walks in the door, first of all, I'm thinking, ‘How did this happen? I mean, how could this kind of thing happen?’ And then, the next mode is, ‘What can we do about it?’” Daniell said.

When he looks at Jenn, Daniell says he first sees “a mom who cares about her kids, but also someone who wants to do things different.”

Jenn is appreciative of the roof over her head and the food for her family, which the rescue mission provides, and says she doesn’t want anyone to feel sorry for her.

“I don't feel sorry for myself, because I know I have a strong will to do better,” Jenn said. “You have to be positive. You have to keep your faith.”
 


If you'd like to help:

Jenn's family is one of many being helped by the Raleigh Rescue Mission and the Women's Center of Wake County. The Raleigh Rescue Mission accepts donations over the phone at 919-828-9014 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. Donations can also be made online.

57 Comments

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  • superman May 24, 4:17 p.m.

    First of all it is never a good idea to leave your family and friends. If they dont or cant help you dont know why you would expect strangers to help. Sometimes people make their own life hard. She has two children without a father. Didnt she learn anything when she had the first one with no father in the house. I dont feel sorry for people who are having it hard because of choices they have made. Usually consequences follow bad choices. My Dad use to tell me "the best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own elbow". Her choices have no only affected her but now she has two children that will have a hard life.

  • rastomp78 May 24, 12:12 p.m.

    I used to work downtown so have seen the many faces of people and their life experiences some better than others. I believe that the Raleigh Rescue Mission does great work and donate to them on a regular basis.

  • RALEIGHNATIVE25 May 24, 9:31 a.m.

    What criteria was chosen, really? Why does it matter and why does it matter if they receive donations. The purpose of the story is to put a face on homeless families. Stay focused!!

  • Hans May 24, 9:27 a.m.

    "What criteria was used to select this family? They will get a lot of donations from being used. How about the other families? Why does one get picked. This one moved here from Mississippi. Did that put this family first? Should each of us give to her, or to the Salvation Army? This singling out one person is too much like the pet of the week." - djofraleigh

    May 23, 2013 7:13 p.m.

    I might have missed it in the story, but I didn't see where it asked for donations for just this family. All I saw were links for general donations to the RRM and the women's center.

  • Hans May 24, 9:23 a.m.

    "Never pass up an opportunity to help someone in need, for it could just be our Heavenly Father that gave us that opportunity as an answer to that person/or/family's, prayer. May God bless this family and all others in the similar circumstances!...."The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern."~Proverbs 29:7" -

    JimmyPhillipsSr

    May 23, 2013 10:09 a.m.

    Worth quoting.

  • jackflash123 May 24, 8:17 a.m.

    "What criteria was used to select this family? They will get a lot of donations from being used. How about the other families? Why does one get picked. This one moved here from Mississippi. Did that put this family first? Should each of us give to her, or to the Salvation Army? This singling out one person is too much like the pet of the week."

    I don't know how this particular family was chosen, but I understand how focusing on one such family adds a personal, human touch to it where using broad examples wouldn't. It would be nice if there was some anticipation of charity pouring in for this family and measures in place for sharing the donations among multiple families.

  • boolittlek May 23, 7:57 p.m.

    "watson - if he didn't want her to be poor, she wouldn't be at the shelter. Is that also your reasoning? God is not responsible for the bad choices people make. He gave us the right to do good or bad and she has chosen things that are not good in my opinion."

    God also charged us with exercising compassion rather than judgment. But, hey, since you seem to believe works righteousness, what do you need him for?

  • djofraleigh May 23, 7:13 p.m.

    What criteria was used to select this family? They will get a lot of donations from being used. How about the other families? Why does one get picked. This one moved here from Mississippi. Did that put this family first? Should each of us give to her, or to the Salvation Army? This singling out one person is too much like the pet of the week.

  • bombayrunner May 23, 5:32 p.m.

    I remember once being homeless hitchhiking around the country. Was one of the best things for me. was like a clean slate. Can't imagine doing this with kids.

  • momnextdoor May 23, 5:00 p.m.

    Remember the Will Smith movie, based on a true story about a father who was homeless for a time, but worked hard and became wildly successful? This young mother seems to have the same motivation. The purpose of the story seems to be to inspire US to help her succeed and be a contributing member of our community. (Won't God judge US on how we chose to react to others in need?) Can we tutor kids at the Mission? Donate toys, books, clothes, buscards, health check-ups, funds? Organize games/outings? Rent a room or two at low cost to families like this? Donate a car and help arrange the insurance? Many folks are already helping, but maybe this story will inspire others to step up.

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