Ashley and her husband have five children. Their youngest was only two days old when they moved from Milwaukee to Spokane to find a better life. They were just like any other family. They thought that starting over would provide them with endless opportunities. Instead, it only gave them heartbreak and despair. They knew it would be hard.
They didn’t know it would entail being homeless for three months.
I asked Ashley why she and her husband decided to move from Milwaukee in the first place. She was adamant that it would be a better place. “Wisconsin is very rough, very violent. My sons won’t grow up thinking it’s okay to sell drugs or kill people… robbing and stealing and things like that happen every day. Shootings, every day. I have a daughter… girls down there glorify being prostitutes. I don’t want my daughter to think that that’s an okay thing to do.” When you grow up on the streets, you tend to gravitate back towards it.
Her husband tried out truck driving, but failed the test for backing up. Ashley is hopeful, though. She takes ownership for the choices her family makes with pride. Instead of blaming her circumstances on others, she walks through them with determination.
She said, “People look at me and they always want to know what my situation is, what’s my story, and how did I end up here. This is a choice. And I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a choice and it’s a choice that I made based on a bunch of history and a bunch of decisions that I borrowed… and I don’t want to go back to places that I’ve already been before, doing things that I’ve already done.”
I asked Ashley what she would say to someone who viewed homelessness as a result of laziness or lack of effort. “They’ve never been there,” she said. “Even me and Brandon being raised in the households that we were, we still wind up in situations like this… Don’t judge nobody just because you think… ‘Oh well, she’s sitting there ‘cause she’s waiting on Section 8.’ That’s not true… We didn’t think that we would be homeless for three months. We thought it would be quicker because we both work. We’re not waiting on Section 8. Right now I’m waiting on a call from an apartment to tell me that my apartment is ready, not Section 8.”
She continued, “Brandon takes care of us. And he works really hard. And people don’t understand the barriers that are put upon you when you don’t have a house. I can’t go back to work, because… even if I did find someone to keep my children, I wouldn’t have anywhere for them to keep them because I don’t know anybody. Everybody I’ve met has come from the shelter. They don’t have anywhere to keep my kids.”
Ashley said of the stereotypes around homelessness, “People don’t understand what homelessness is… because they think that homelessness is people that stand on the side of the road. They don’t realize that it’s people that live in the same house as somebody else.”
This was something that was also hard for Ashley to explain to her five children: “My kids didn’t realize we were homeless, I had to say that to them. ‘We are homeless. We live with your nana on her couch.’ They’re like, ‘No we’re not? We live here with Nana.’ They don’t know. They don’t get it. So I have to say that, and they’re looking at me like, ‘We can’t possibly be homeless. This is our nana’s house.’ But they didn’t understand. I had to tell them that, that this is not our house. You can’t come into other people’s house and take it as your own, you know, you can’t go slammin’ doors. My mama would break your hand, slammin’ doors,” she laughed. The concept of homelessness is so hard to explain to so many kids. Oftentimes they just don't understand that just because they are staying at someone's house does not mean they aren't homeless.
I asked Ashley how homelessness has changed her views on life: “I know that everybody has a story. Just because it doesn’t match with your story doesn’t mean it makes them a bad person. You don’t know what made that person.” No matter who we are, no matter what our background is, we can all end up on the street. It's not a choice or state of mind. For the vast majority, it's just a reality.
While I was interviewing her, she received an email that her family got approved for an apartment through Catholic Charities. She cried tears of joy and immediately began to pack her family’s things from the Family Promise emergency shelter. Ashley’s story is one of hope and delight in the midst of a dark season. Hers is a story of sadness and loss, but also of perseverance and acceptance. The tears she cried were tears of joy because she is home at last. “Home at last, home at last. Thank God I am home at last.”
Ashley and her family moved into their own permanent housing in 2019, and have never looked back.