As part of our ongoing conversation on homelessness, we asked members of the Family Promise network and individuals working to serve families experiencing homelessness to share their personal thoughts and reflections on Family Promise and the issue of family homelessness. These writers are true thought leaders, using their skills and expertise to develop and implement creative solutions that are changing the lives of parents and children in their communities. This post is from Nathan Byrd, the assistant director of Family Promise of Athens, GA.
This afternoon, Family Promise of Athens volunteer Pete Nicholls and I delivered six twin mattresses to one of our graduate guest families. We swapped out their thin mattresses for nice, thick, comfy ones that were recently donated to us by local supporters. It was so good to see this particular family six months after they graduated from our shelter program. This was the first family I was able to help move into their new home. The children were so excited to get upgraded beds, especially the two teenage boys who needed more support for their growing bodies. We brought these two boys complete beds (frames, box springs, and mattresses) and provided replacement mattresses for the four younger children. The work went quickly with the children helping to carry the mattresses and bed parts.
After we got the rooms reset, we loaded the older mattresses onto the trailer, wondering aloud what to do with them. While we worked to tie down the load, a group of neighborhood kids rode up on bikes. They began climbing all over the trailer and mattresses asking, “What are you doing with all these?”
It must have been quite a sight – six mattresses stacked on the back of a trailer parked on the street in front of their apartment building. I joked with the nearest climber, “Do you need one?”
“I don’t have a bed,” was his quiet, almost bashful reply.
“Really? Do you need one?” I inquired in a more serious tone. He nodded, so I said, “Go ask your mom.”
In a flash, he was gone, pedaling up the hill straight to the door of his apartment. The other kids were still clamoring around the trailer and piling atop the mattresses. I glanced toward the apartment and saw the boy talking to his mom and pointing at us. I walked toward them and the mom came outside. I introduced myself and asked her, “Do you need a mattress? He said he needed one.”
“We could use some,” she replied, mirroring her son’s bashful demeanor.
“How many do you need?” I asked.
“Can we have four?” she replied quietly.
I walked back toward the trailer, but the boy beat me there. By the time I arrived, he was jumping on the trailer, proclaiming, “This one is mine! I’m getting a bed!”
As we undid the straps, he grabbed the topmost mattress, balanced it on his head, and carefully crossed the street to his apartment. Pete followed after him with another mattress balanced on his head. Another kid grabbed a mattress and followed, and another.
While the prizes were being hauled away, another one of our graduate guests who also lives in the neighborhood walked over and gave me a huge hug.
“I thought that was you!” she exclaimed. “What are y’all doing?”
I explained that we had brought replacement beds to another graduate family. She asked what was going to happen to the last two mattresses that were still on the trailer. I asked her if she needed them.
“I could definitely use them,” she replied.
Almost immediately, one of the kids who had been climbing on the trailer asked if he and his brother could take them to her house. “Of course,” I said.
“For a dollar?” he asked over his shoulder with a smirk.
I laughed. “If I have a dollar, sure.”
Before long, he was skipping back to me. I pulled the sole dollar from my wallet and handed it to him.
“Good job, thanks!” I said.
Pete and I rolled up the straps and marveled that we were able to get all of the mattresses to people who needed them. We didn’t have to figure out where to store them, or, as a last resort, how to dispose of them.
As we drove through the neighborhood in the deepening twilight, lights were coming on in apartment windows all around us. I wondered aloud how many other children here would be going to sleep without beds tonight. And then my thoughts expanded to other neighborhoods in our city, then to other cities and towns in our state.
Poverty affects all of life.
While many individuals and families in our town are homeless, many others have homes but can’t afford more than the bare essentials. When their children are little, they sleep in cribs or share beds with siblings, but as they get older and outgrow their “baby beds” many families can’t afford to buy “big kid” beds to replace them. As a result, children end up doubling or tripling up in beds together, sleeping on couches, or even sleeping on a pile of blankets, pillows, or clothing on the floor.
Even worse, when a family is evicted they often lose everything. If they don’t have a storage unit or friends who can store their belongings, everything the family owns is piled in the front yard to be picked over by neighbors or hauled off to the dump. This means many families are starting over with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. It’s one of the hidden costs of poverty. Just having a job and an apartment isn’t enough to afford to live in most communities in our nation.
Today was a good day! Those who donated mattresses last month when we expressed a need not only filled our storage unit but helped three families! The six mattresses we took from storage were multiplied as we provided beds for 12 children in one neighborhood.
We’re grateful to our supporters for sustaining the work of Family Promise of Athens as we strive to alleviate family homelessness in our community one family (and one bed!) at a time! We are a proud Affiliate of Family Promise National!