In the story ‘We all want to be heard,’ Ashley Potts describes her powerful personal “journey home” after surviving domestic violence (DV), which led to two years of homelessness with her young son, Marcus.
During her interview with us, she shared many insights into the realities of experiencing homelessness while caring for children. Below, in her own words, are some of her insights, truths and thoughts. Through her story and advocacy, she hopes to raise awareness leading toward systems change to end family homelessness.
The stressful waiting game of homelessness and temporary shelter
- As soon as I got to the shelter, I interviewed and they placed me on a [housing] waiting list. It’s on a month-to-month basis in that shelter, so you never know whether or not to unpack – whether or not to get comfortable. You’re basically living out of your bag.
- When you have an exit date waved in your face and you don’t know if you’re going to get an extension or not, it’s the scariest thing in the world – because you have your child. It’s different if you’re by yourself and you don’t have dependents to give heat, warmth and everything else.
- You’re on this month-to-month basis of where you’re staying, and weekends don’t count. A month is only four weeks! Everything shuts down and things are in slow motion.
- How do you go to work when you don’t have a place to live? There’s nowhere for us to go after work. I can’t go to work if I don’t have anywhere to rest. There’s no base, there’s no center home. There’s no sense of security. I went into a dark, deep depression about that.
- People looked at us like [being homeless] was really irresponsible. “If you know that housing is expensive, why didn’t you make the right decision?” There’s this baby that needs to go to bed. There’s this baby that has to go to the bathroom. You can’t take your baby everywhere and ask, “Can I go to the bathroom?”
- Jumping from house to house, the only thing you really keep is your social security card, immunization card, housing paperwork. You’re transient. You don’t want anyone to get any of your information.
- [After getting a housing voucher], this is what I’m faced with: I have my voucher, and I only have a week to find somewhere to move to or I’m going to lose my voucher.
The lasting impacts of homelessness
- In the shelter, there was so much stuff I had to do. When I came here, I didn’t know how to relax. I didn’t know how to be home, to chill, and to enjoy. I would hermit myself, and I wouldn’t leave.
- We were living here like we were visiting, as if we weren’t living here. We weren’t comfortable, because for two years, when you’re at someone else’s house, you can’t look as comfortable as them.
- There was some disconnect there with all the bouncing around. For two years, we [Ashley and Marcus] were sleeping in the same room. He didn’t know how to be a kid, how to stay in a child’s place, not to worry, not to feel like we had to leave. He didn’t want to sleep in a room by himself.
- When you are living out of suitcases, you become used to living out of the suitcase. That suitcase [points toward the door] has been sitting there for maybe like two weeks. This stuff has been in there for years. I haven’t unpacked it. It’s hard. And I’ll go through it. I have rooms, dressers, beds, but I’ll go back through it and zip it up.
- Sometimes I’ll get flashbacks. I don’t know where I’m going sometimes, but let me just pack up a little bag. But I’ll never leave and I’ll keep it there. My son will be like, “Mom, why you do this?” My son’s stuff is still in our boxes, in our little plastic bins that I’ll tow everywhere. It’s one hard part that I haven’t gotten over.
- I’m safe here. I know this [apartment] is mine. I know that anybody that walks through my door is because I allow them to. But that symbolizes a lot for me, that suitcase, those boxes and bins. That’s something that I’m working with for myself. Two years out of your life. I’m so used to zipping stuff back up, putting it in the bin. It’s a fear in the back of my head.
- I’m almost my old self. I can feel it, but there’s just some deeper issues that lie in me due to the experience. I would never wish it on my worst enemy.
How the housing system reinforces barriers to stability
- I had an eviction [on my record, but] I had legal documents saying I fled due to domestic violence. They were supposed to take it off. But there’s a time gap; if you don’t take care of your business within this time period, it’s like, “Oh well.”
- The eviction was my biggest barrier; no one would accept me. I’ve disputed it 150 times; that wasn’t working. I called in to the collection agency and told them I would send them the paperwork. They said it was third party: “We just want the money.” It was a whole time in my life where I was like, “Just let me in!”
- There are so many people who need help and they don’t know how to do it. They’re being rerouted, rerouted. It’s like monopoly. You roll the dice, you go forward, move back. It’s a push and pull every time. From the outside looking in, if you were simply asking, “What did you get done today?” and you said, “Well I called five places but nobody answered.” It looks like you didn’t get anything done and that I’m not being productive.
- You have to look at it from their [the housing providers’] standpoint. There are 100-150 women and families looking in. Once I’m out of the way, there is another family that can come in. “We can’t show favoritism as if we care more about your needs than everybody else’s. You have 30 days, and if you’re doing everything you should do, you can get an extension. But this is not permanent – and we’re going to put a fire underneath you.”
- “I have to take care of my child. He has to eat.” “Well, get food stamps.” And when those $300 in stamps have no refrigeration, what am I supposed to do now? Snacks add up. Food is cheaper than snacks. A whole meal is cheaper than three bags of chips. Once that runs out, what am I supposed to tell him? What am I supposed to do? “Well, we’re on the waiting list baby. We’re still waiting.” They don’t get that.
- It’s a black and white system, but there are so many different shades in between. The situations are so different; they might sound alike, they might be DV, they might be homelessness, but it affects every person differently. And it’s that person’s own independent struggle. We can’t compare it to the next person’s struggle. It affects them differently. Everyone is an individual. We can’t prejudge.
How Solid Ground helped
- Ever since I met Tamara [her caseworker] and Solid Ground, it’s almost as if the situation with the shelter never happened. It almost feels like I’m back. She didn’t make any promises, she didn’t do any of that. “I will call them and I will let you know.” I was happy with that. I was tired of calling. She took the weight off.
- No one is looking at us as numbers. It’s not that type of system. You are valued as the individual and the situation you are going through. You are appreciated for even opening up and sharing with your caseworker. There are things I’ve never told anyone, but I’ve felt confident and open enough to express myself to Tamara.
- There was never a moment where I felt like I was being judged. I never felt like, “Okay Ashley, I have to go to another client.” Tamara never talks about another client. My time is my time.
- She makes me feel important, feel human, like you’re somebody. You can talk to her and tell her your worries. That’s what everybody’s looking for, that one person just to hear them out. I’m so thankful of her ability to help – to stand in the middle and advocate for me in order for me to be here – just to give me a chance.
- There are ongoing services after you graduate. She doesn’t put me on the bottom totem pole. She’ll even communicate, “I don’t have the time today, but I got you in the morning.” I needed assistance with a light bill. She was like, “Let me find everything in your area that will assist your address.” Due to her, I got my light bill paid. I call her to check in; I needed a primary care provider, and she emailed me all the information I needed.
- Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we know everything. We’re all still learning. I need some support sometimes. That’s one thing she did do: She gave me a life, and a lot of little different techniques, and motivational key points that I utilize now. I move differently, I’ve matured, I’ve grown into a better person after this experience.
- Everyone wants to have their keys in their hand, and lock the door behind them. You don’t have to worry about anyone coming in behind you. And when she called me and let me know that this was going to take place, I was grateful.
- We all want to be heard. We all want to be on a platform. On the inside, we’re screaming for help. “Tell me where to go. Tell me what to do.” No one ever has the answers. For me, Tamara, was the answer. Solid Ground was the answer. Home is sanctuary. I’m home, I’m finally home.