“I’m actually from the Chicago area. In 2014, I was living with my ex-partner. We split the rent and my part was $900.”

“One month, I get a phone call from the landlord telling me we were three months behind on rent, but I had been paying my portion. I brought this up with my significant other and we got into a huge disagreement.”

“We ended up going to court, but the judge didn’t want to hear anything, and gave me a notice to leave the apartment within two weeks, leaving me without a place to live.”

“So, my immediate family introduced me to a guy who said he had a three-bedroom house that would be move-in ready in a couple of weeks. I paid $1,800 up front and moved in during October of 2014.”

“I had problems with the property from the beginning.”

“There was a washer missing from the shower, and it leaked to the point that it caused a hole in the ceiling above the kitchen. The heat also went down, and he said it needed a piece, but he never came back with that piece to fix the heater.”

“As time went on, I proceeded to have more and more issues with the property, and this continued into 2015 when I got custody of my grandkids, making it 12 of us. I had to take my grandkids to the doctor to finalize the court proceedings for custody, and in the medical exams they mandated a lead test for my grandchildren.”

“A lead level of 5 micrograms per deciliter is considered high for a child, and my grandson’s level was 24. They did a home inspection and found lead paint. They mandated that the landlord hire a legal contractor to come in and address it. He did not do so. Days, weeks, months went by, and eventually the sheriffs got involved and served me.”

“I asked, ‘Why am I being served? I’m the tenant.’ But the guy told the police that he lived there, and it was his primary residence. I explained everything to the sheriffs, but they told me that the house was not in good living condition so in any case we would have to leave.”

“We couldn’t move. Rents for other places were my whole income.”

“My lawyers later found out that the ‘supposed landlord’ wasn’t even the owner of the property.”

“In 2016, I was still battling these legal issues over the property, and during that time my daughter passed away on the property, leaving me as the sole caretaker for my five children and nine grandchildren. And I still couldn’t afford to move because all my income was going to pay for rent. Then, the ‘landlord’ and his wife started harassing me and my family.”

“Their harassment was so extreme that we started staying in the car. My grandchildren would complain: ‘Why are we in the car? We want to go home.’ So, I gave them my phone and told them to play games to distract them until they fell asleep.”

“We went between sleeping in motels [when we could afford it], the car, or staying with friends and family members on the floor or in spare bedrooms. We would only stay about two weeks at a time because we didn’t want to wear out our welcome. Sometimes it would be 12 of us in one or two bedrooms.”

“We pretty much did what we had to do to survive.”

“Through the children’s school, we connected with the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless around September 2017. They found us housing in November, but we didn’t move in until March 2018.”

“We’re still living in this housing now. Since being housed, I have been able to get back to work doing hair and before the pandemic I worked as a chef at Navy Pier and in catering at the Museum of Science and Industry.”

“I also started attending meetings at CCH and became a spokesperson for other families and children facing homelessness.”

“First, this program which offers housing works with several schools to identify families facing homelessness, yet it took me a couple years to find it. It took me going to the school in person and filling out a form with someone looking over my shoulder for them to inform me these resources existed.”

“It shouldn’t be like that.”

“Different programs also have different definitions of what they consider to be ‘homeless’ and that creates issues when trying to delegate care. For example, in one meeting they debated whether doubling up counts as homelessness. Some such as myself agree that it does, but others thought, ‘well if they have a roof over their heads then that’s not homelessness.’ When I was crashing on my family member’s floor, I had a roof over my head but it wasn’t mine. I was homeless.”

“And I am very grateful to be housed, but I also felt sad and guilty. There are people on the streets who have been on waiting lists for over 20 years to get housed, and for me to be able to walk in and get housed in seven months, I felt pretty bad. What about the elderly, the young parents? I see them, and they need help, too.”

“They also keep referring to this as my ‘permanent housing.’ I never said I want to live here forever. I worked very hard to get here. I went to every meeting, went through all their steps, and followed all their rules to be here. I want to transition back to normal housing, but they don’t make it easy. The rules don’t accommodate changing life situations. Right when you think you’re where you need to be, you have to fight another battle.”

Brigette Barber
Chicago, Illinois