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A Second chance to Succeed By Spring -



Katherine Spring

                                 A Second Chance to Succeed

       Alicia sat comfortably on the ivory armchair that she had received form the Central

Massachusetts Housing Alliance Donations Clearinghouse, upon moving into her Worcester

Housing Authority Transitional Housing apartment, back in November of 2008. The Central

Massachusetts Housing Alliance ran the Donations Clearinghouse program as a way for

individuals and families moving out of shelter and into permanent housing, to obtain donated

items of furniture and household goods, free of charge. Alicia‟s smooth, sable skin contrasted

almost perfectly with the pallid hue of the armchair. When she spoke she put so much energy

into every utterance and the more excited she got, the louder her voice grew. She dressed for

comfort and practicality, wearing a white tee shirt, and grey sweatpants with a pair of white Nike

sneakers. When Alicia really thought something was funny, you knew, her laughter was

infectious and filled the entire living room. To match her contagious laugh was her illuminating

smile that revealed such radiant teeth. She almost always wore a scarf around her hair, so tightly

tied that not even her hairline peeked out. The twenty-seven-year-old mother of two,

accessorized with small hoop gold colored earrings and decorated her muscular, left arm with six

gold bracelets, while a silver dog-tag necklace dangled from her neck.

       The Worcester Housing Authority‟s Transitional Housing Apartments were located on

and just off of Tacoma Street in Worcester; this area was often referred to as Great Brook Valley.

Each apartment building was identical, and contained eight individual apartments. The outside of

each apartment was red brick with a black screen door and three long, narrow black screen

windows on the lower level and two windows on the second level. The number at the top of the

hunter green wooden door, which was masked by the screen door, was the only facet that

differentiated each apartment from the next. At Transitional Housing, the first warm day of 2009

had arrived, though it was only late March, there was no excuse to spend the day indoors.

Teenage boys zipped up and down the street, fearlessly, on their bikes. Intentionally pausing at

every crosswalk and holding up traffic while they performed wheelies in never ending circles.

Cars that were considered to be luxurious ten years ago sat idled in front of apartments, with all

the windows down, blaring the latest bootleg hip-hop tracks from rappers such as Rick Ross and

Lil‟ Wayne. Adolescent Hispanic girls sported tank tops and tight denim cutoffs, traveling in

packs to the convenience store, located further down the road, keeping a slow pace as a

deliberate attempt to attract the attention of young men. A mother helped her twenty-something

year old boyfriend scrub down his car, which had been parallel-parked directly in front of their

apartment, while the couple‟s carefree children played on the sidewalk. Some families sat

outside their homes on their concrete steps, just taking in the beautiful day. It was a harmonious

mix of children‟s laughter, bike tires being screeched, vibrations from the bass of car stereo

systems, and young girls being catcalled.

       Long before Alicia Turner, her boyfriend Scott Wilson, and their son Taeliejah, had

arrived at their Transitional Housing apartment, they had been battling homelessness. To Alicia

and her boyfriend of three years, all that mattered was that they now had a roof over their heads.

Alicia says, “Everyone talked so bad about the Valley but now we‟re not worrying about being

about being out on the streets again.” Scott took pride in something his mother had told him as a

child, “Home is where the heart is, not where you put your pictures up.”

       Inside of their apartment a staircase was the first thing that met the eye, this lead upstairs

to the bathroom and bedrooms. Downstairs, the living room took up the majority of space, with a

small kitchen attached off the back, so that in order to get there, one would first have to climb

through the chaotic, overcrowded living room. A bamboo rug with black trim occupied the bulk

of the dark brown tile floor. In the center of the room a long black rectangular coffee table sat

over the rug. To the side of the ivory armchair, there was a glass end table with a framed black

and white photograph of Scott holding Taeliejah on a ride at Chuck E. Cheese, the bottom shelf

of the table held an old Oprah Magazine. Across from the arm chair there was a matching ivory

couch. Pushed up against one of the four white walls was a large, black television cabinet. Scott

and Alicia were watching the newly released in theaters movie, “Obsessed.” They sat on the

couch eating fish and chips off of blue Hefty plastic plates. The T.V. was blaring. Taeliejah was

doing everything in his power to get his parents attention, including jumping up on the coffee

table. Alicia first noticed Taeliejah‟s disobedient behavior, then Scott looked away from the T.V.

screen and focused his attention on his son and he began to react. Alicia quickly said to Scott

“Don‟t even say nothing to him, just look at him funny,” as a disciplinary tactic for their son.

Shortly after, Taeliejah hopped down from the table.

       Alicia recalled the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) office in downtown

Worcester very well. She was all too familiar with the process of receiving an emergency

assistance shelter assignment. One late July morning last year, Alicia stood in line at the Walnut

Street office while she simultaneously pushed her one year-old son, Taeliejah in his stroller. The

Emergency Assistance Program (EA) was a program run by the DTA, which provided

emergency shelter and helped find permanent housing for pregnant women and families with

children who were homeless with nowhere to live. If you walked into the DTA office and

declared that you were homeless, the staff expected you to prove to them that you were in fact

homeless. Under DTA policy to be qualified for emergency housing you had to show that you

had no current housing (family and friends had to say that they would not take you in) or that

your current housing was not feasible (there were a total of seven reasons that could possibly

apply to a housing situation). DTA staff told Alicia that she needed to find shelter for three more

nights so that they could determine her eligibility and make the housing arrangements. Because

Alicia could not manage to find anyone to stay with for just a few more nights, and there weren‟t

any nearby shelters with openings, the DTA program paid for Alicia and Taeliejah to stay at an

area hotel. It was a common practice for DTA to place those who qualified for emergency shelter

in DTA-approved temporary shelter (such as a motel or hotel) until family shelter became

available. Alicia was directed to come back later in the week with no more than two bags each,

containing all of her and Taeliejah‟s belongings.

       Alicia and Taeliejah returned to the DTA office four days later, on a hot and sticky late

July morning. It was eight o‟clock, she was wearing a pair of capri pants and a tee shirt, and

carried four bags containing their most treasured possessions, while she pushed her son‟s stroller

inside of the building. On the day you receive your housing, Alicia says, “You gotta‟ stay in that

office all day from eight in the morning „til four in the afternoon so they know you have no

where better to go.” There is one thing about that day Alicia will probably never forget, being in

the waiting area of the office. Alicia adds, “It‟s embarrassing, they put you right in the hallway,

so that everyone in the city of Worcester knows you are homeless.” Alicia sat around on office

furniture all day, contained in a small area that represented a cubicle. There weren‟t any vending

machines in sight, and the only place Alicia could have traveled to was the bathroom located

down the hall. If she had stepped out to get a meal or taken Taeliejah for a quick walk, her name

would have been taken off the waiting list immediately. Alicia did her best to keep Taeliejah

content but keeping a lively one-year old confined to such cramped quarters, with nothing but a

bottle full of juice, wasn‟t easy. Alicia remembers “I was trying to rock the kid while I signed

papers.” The two of them were relieved when a mother and her three kids, temporarily joined

them in the office, that afternoon. Alicia finally had a companion and “Taeliejah was running

around with the other kids.”

       Prior to Alicia‟s most recent visit to the DTA office, in July of 2008, Alicia and Scott had

been struggling to make ends meet. For the three years that they had been together, they had also

been battling uncertainty with jobs and shelter for most of this duration. This past summer was

not Alicia‟s first time applying for the Emergency Assistance Program, she had been to the DTA

office once before when she was pregnant with Taeliejah and had her son Nathaniel with her,

two years ago. During the past few years the couple have rented several apartments in the area,

stayed with various relatives and called homeless shelters “home”. Scott and Alicia have also felt

the joy of getting a new job, and hardships of unemployment. Alicia recalls one winter morning

in 2007, during an ice storm, while staying at her sister‟s house, “Nathaniel had no shoes, the

baby had no Pampers, and I couldn‟t find a curling iron to save my life.” Alicia had no car at the

time, making it that much more challenging to get to work. Today, they still often experience the

toll that a low income takes on their relationship. One lazy Saturday afternoon, while Scott was

getting ready to go to work at his second job, Alicia was relaxing on the couch in the living

room while she kept an eye on Taeliejah, the one and a half year-old had crawled upstairs, where

he was no longer in his parents sight.

       “Babe I wanna‟ order pizza but I need five bucks,” Alicia said to Scott.

       “I don‟t have that kind of money,” Scott answered quickly as he reached into his pocket,

hesitated and pulled out a five-dollar bill.

       Over three years ago when Alicia and Scott first started dating, Alicia described her life

as being in a state of disarray. “I went from having beautiful things to having no car, no job and

no friends.” It seemed that the worst was not yet over, her oldest son had passed away and her

apartment at the time had burnt to the ground. Alicia had hit rock bottom, she adds “I drank my

worries away, everything just happened so fast.” Scott entered the picture when Alicia needed

help the most and he was able to provide the strength she needed to get through this catastrophic

phase. Alicia found a new job and Scott encouraged her to stop drinking as heavily. Scott, now

forty-two, began dating Alicia when he was thirty-nine and she was twenty-four. Alicia was

attracted to the fact that “He‟s a man, all the others I‟ve been with we‟re guys.” Alicia adds,

“Scott was the only one who had respect for me.” Aside from his personality, Alicia liked Scott‟s

athletic build, dark cocoa skin, and didn‟t mind that he was five feet and eight inches tall

compared to her five feet and nine inch stature.

        Scott also got Alicia interested in the church he was going to, a multi-cultural

congregation called Triumphant Life Church where services were on Sundays and started at nine

in the morning and lasted until twelve in the afternoon. Alicia says, “I started going to church

and good things were happening.” Alicia felt unthreatened by the church‟s relaxed dress code,

which allowed for her to wear jeans. Today, Alicia believes that she can handle herself better and

stay in control while under the influence of alcohol. She adds, “I occasionally drink wine now.”

If Scott was around though, she felt as though she did not need to drink at all. One Friday night

when Alicia‟s little sister, Kajuna, was going out clubbing in downtown Worcester with some

girlfriends, she needed a babysitter for her four year-old daughter, Ashiya. Scott was away on

business for the weekend.

       “Alicia can Ashiya stay over tonight?” Twenty-four year-old Kajuna, asked her sister

over the phone.

       “Ya, get me a small bottle of alcohol and I‟ll babysit,” Alicia agreed.

       Alicia figured if her younger sister was going to have fun that night, she was too.

       According to Alicia there was no structure in her childhood and she was free to do pretty

much whatever she pleased. “It was like no one cared and if I wanted to succeed I knew I had to

do it on my own,” Alicia adds. In elementary school Alicia‟s favorite subjects were science and

math but she always seemed to fail English. Alicia made the most she could out of school

growing up, “That was the only time I had away from the house.” She had dreamed of one day

becoming a doctor. Alicia‟s home life was a mess. Because her mother was an alcoholic, Alicia

was given the responsibility of raising her sister and brother, as well as the cooking and cleaning.

“I was the little maid of the house.” Alicia‟s sister, Kajuna looked to Alicia as a mother when she

was younger and still looks up to Alicia today. Kajuna adds, “Alicia‟s a lot smarter than I am and

got mostly A‟s in school.”

       When Alicia was fourteen and Kajuna was eleven, their mother went to rehab and upon

returning home, acquired the responsibility of taking on two additional children, neither child

was biologically hers. They were Alicia‟s five-month and two year-old cousins. According to

Alicia, her aunt “said she was going to the store and left for good.” Alicia told her mother not to

do it because she could barely support her own children. Alicia adds, “I dropped out of school

when I was fifteen and got a job to pay the rent.” After a year of working she decided to return to

school, realizing that it was not her place to help support her family financially. Alicia reflects on

her family now, “They don‟t do nothing for me. Where was my cousins, aunts, and uncles on my

birthdays? ” she asks. According to Alicia, the woman that she calls her grandmother is actually

her great-aunt, she explains that she really does not know how she is related to the majority of

her family. “We all got different last names,” Alicia announces with a confused look on her face.

       Today Alicia does not consider herself to be close with her family, and she sees them

rarely, that is everyone but for her sister and brother. “I only eat Thanksgiving dinner with them

because I have to.” However, prior to receiving an emergency housing assignment from the

welfare office in Worcester, Alicia moved into her mother‟s house in Alabama and had planned

on taking over her Section 8 Housing, but that did not work out. “My mom and I didn‟t click, we

bumped heads.” Alicia decided to pack up her and Taeliejah‟s belongings and move back to

Worcester, while leaving her now seven-year old son, Nathaniel, in care of her mother. She says,

“Nathaniel calls me everyday, at least ten times a day, usually just to breathe into the phone.”

Alicia says that Nathaniel does much better with the slow pace of living that the South has to

offer. This past Easter Alicia paid for her mother and Nathaniel to fly up from Alabama, so they

could all spend the holiday together, and Alicia was still feeling the financial repercussions of

this overly generous act. When it came time for Nathaniel to leave for the airport with his

grandmother, Alicia had already taken off for work. She adds, “It was best that I didn‟t say

goodbye.” During a recent phone conversation, Nathaniel asked why his mother had let him

leave and go back to Alabama with his grandmother. Alicia‟s response was that summer would

be here soon and he could visit then. She later added, “Nathaniel‟s confusing, I don‟t know if it‟s

his age or what.”

       Alicia considers the facts that she could not afford childcare for Taeliejah and did not

have a car as the biggest components in her not being able to hold a steady job. Now excited that

she owns her own car, Alicia says, “It‟s mine, I don‟t have to worry about no one coming over

and picking it up,” with a big smile on her face. When she received her emergency housing

assignment this past July, Alicia had just moved back from Alabama with Taeliejah. Scott was

serving a prison sentence due to the fact that he did not pay child support for his five biological

children. Scott considers the short period of time that he spent in jail to be a happy time. Over the

span of ten days that Scott was in prison, he says he was able to free his mind. “Jail is just a state

of mind,” Scott says laughingly. Scott who is now forty-two reflects on one particular decision

that he made in the past. “Maybe I wouldn‟t have had so many children,” he says.

      Under DTA policy, the family must be placed in a shelter that is within twenty miles of

their home community if there are any openings in the area. If a family is placed more

than twenty miles from their home community, DTA must transfer them to a family shelter

within twenty miles of their home community as soon as there is an opening, unless they do not

want to move. Alicia was relieved to find that she and Taeliejah had been assigned to the

Friendly House Shelter, in Worcester.

      The very first memory Alicia has of the Friendly House is walking in and seeing residents

fighting over food. She says, “They were ready to get at each others throats over a can of corn.”

This still seems very odd to Alicia today, and she cannot understand why residents would focus

their attention on something so minute, when they were obviously faced with much more

substantial problems. During the time that Alicia was staying at Friendly House there were ten

families living there altogether including Alicia and Taeliejah.

       The way in which the shelter was set up included five bedrooms downstairs and five

bedrooms upstairs, and there was one bathroom on each floor for all of the families to share.

Alicia‟s bedroom contained one twin bed, one playpen, and one dresser. She recalls the room she

was assigned to as being flooded at one point resulting in an extreme coat of mold covering

everything. “The room I was put in was so moldy, I was scrubbin‟ and scrubbin‟.” Just a few

days after Alicia and Taeliejah had arrived Alicia noticed her son was developing a rash all over

his arms and legs. “Taeliejah was getting these little black bumps all over his skin.” Alicia also

distinctly remembers the unpleasant odor coming from the young woman‟s bedroom, just across

the hall from them. “The girl‟s room across from us smelled like cat pee.” Alicia knew from the

start that she was not going to last very long in the room she was originally assigned. She adds,

“The house was up to code as far as heaters working and water running, but that‟s it.”

        Alicia was happy to have a place to stay, but also had many doubts running through her

mind when she first moved into Friendly House. She clearly remembers thinking, “Do the staff

like me or is my room clean enough?” The staff had begun doing room checks soon after Alicia

had arrived at Friendly House. The doubts that Alicia previously had had vanished when the staff

took notice to how well Alicia was settling in at the program, and the degree to which she was

taking care of her assigned room. The staff was so impressed that they arranged for Alicia to

move to a room that had opened up, just down the hallway. The new room was an improvement

from the first, Alicia says, but it still had its disadvantages, including the fact that it was on the

moldy first floor.

        Alicia continued to keep her new room as organized and clean as possible. This really

paid off and soon enough the staff was showing authorities touring the house, Alicia‟s room,

because of its exemplary attractiveness. A few weeks later, Alicia was again presented with yet

another offer for a room change. This time a much more spacious room on the upstairs floor had

been vacated. The room was designated for a handicapped family, and had its own bathroom,

which was incredibly enticing. By the time Alicia was offered the second room she says, “I knew

they liked me.” At the same time Alicia and Taeliejah were moving upstairs, Scott joined them at

the Friendly House. He had been released from prison and, not having anywhere else to seek

shelter, joined his girlfriend and son, who had already been in the shelter for a month at this


         Just after arriving at Friendly House, the staff had set up free childcare for Taeliejah,

while Alicia took classes at the Worcester Adult Learning Center. The Friendly House staff also

provided resources for Alicia to get a solid job. “Most of your resources ran off the people that

worked at the shelter,” Alicia explains. In the morning, it was expected that you be up and out of

the house by eleven o‟clock and not return until dinner, which at Friendly House was five

o‟clock. Alicia took notice to some of the families staying at the shelter who had been there for

over a year already. “People had been there a year and wasn‟t even saving money yet.” This

posed an extreme threat to Alicia as well as Scott thinking that they could inevitably be in the

same situation. “Everything was not happening as fast as we wanted it to, we woke up everyday

and wondered how much longer it was gonna‟ be,” Alicia says. While at the shelter Alicia and

Scott tried their hardest to listen to what the staff was recommending. “Keep yourself busy,

otherwise you would fall into a depression,” they advised. The four and a half months that Alicia

spent at the shelter flew by, she says. She adds that she attended all her appointments and

meetings and was able to keep herself busy with school and her family. “If you kept doing stuff

for them you would make them want to help you.” Alicia now reflects, “They needed to see that

you could make it through a day without anything from them.”

         Alicia longed for something more than a chaotic housing shelter shared by several

families. She and Scott were sick of having rice and beans four nights a week, due to the strong

Hispanic influence at the shelter. She wished she could have turkey sandwiches more often and

Scott would have preferred spaghetti four nights a week.

        The worst thing to do when in a shelter is sit around, Alicia says, “Don‟t wait around, the

housing workers tell you to do things for a reason.” Alicia attributed the research that she did on

her own housing options as the key to her success. One day after her classes let out, she walked

down to the Central Massachusetts Housing Alliance building and asked them about the housing

options that were available to her. On other occasions, Alicia overheard residents at the shelter

talking about what they were doing, and she would inquire them, resulting in detailed

information through “word of mouth.” “A lot of people took it as a hardship, but answering to

the housing staff was the best thing to do.” Alicia picked up a packet of paperwork, that she

came across while at the shelter, from the Worcester Housing Authority, in early November of

2008. She says, “They asked us questions that you wouldn‟t believe.” Some of the sections in the

application packet included criminal records, domestic violence records, and previous

residences. Scott was also required to answer certain sections of the application with his own

information, such as income information. The essay question on the application read “Write one

reason why you think that you should be considered for Transitional Housing.” Alicia

remembers writing a one-page response to try and impress the housing staff that would later

process her application. After applying to the Transitional Housing Program and going for two

interviews at the Worcester Housing Authority, in late November Alicia and Scott were offered

housing just a little over a month after submitting their application. “We was very happy,” she


        Alicia and Scott still remember November 25, 2008 like it was yesterday. Prior to the

date, Alicia would pack and pack and have to go to school then come back to the shelter and

pack some more. Alicia recalls, “I was so impatient those days before.” Alicia says Scott

couldn‟t help her with the packing. She jokingly adds, “He does everything backwards.” Alicia

then admits she has a very precise method of doing things. She recalls that rainy late November

morning in which they were scheduled to move into their new apartment. “When that day came,

I was getting frustrated, we were supposed to get the key at ten in the morning.” Alicia explains

that the woman from the Worcester Housing Authority came to pick her, Scott, and Taeliejah up

at Friendly House at nine forty-five, just fifteen minutes before the planned arrival time. Scott

had the chance to see the apartment the day before. “You can‟t move into Transitional until you

have a bed and a telephone set up,” Alicia explains. Scott had a friend help him set everything up

the day before.

       Scott was wearing his black leather jacket, jeans, and a white tee shirt that day and Alicia

had on a white tee shirt and a pair of sweat pants. According to Alicia, when the woman finally

arrived they still had to pack the car up with all of their belongings. Both Alicia and Scott recall

feeling a sense of nervousness, as they felt that the woman driving them to their new apartment

was somewhat mentally unstable and almost getting in to not one, but two car accidents on the

way there. Nonetheless, they arrived at five minutes past ten. Alicia says, “Everything was here

before we got here, it already felt like a home.” Worcester Housing Authority had provided

them with dishes, clothing hampers, a shower curtain, a dust pan and broom, furniture, a dresser,

and even a Christmas tree, Alicia says. “I was ecstatic to walk through that door,” Alicia says

beaming from ear to ear. As soon as they were given the keys and all the staff had left their new

apartment, it finally sunk in. “I pulled my pants off and started to clean, and Scott was running

up and down the stairs saying “„We did it, we did it‟,” Alicia recalls.

       Four months later, Alicia and Scott continue to live in Worcester Housing Authority‟s

Transitional Housing Program. Alicia has a job at UMass, as an accounts representative, and has

since graduated from her Worcester Adult Learning Center educational program. Scott is

employed as a contractor for a wheel chair company, and has his own music recording business

on the side. While his parents are at work, one and a half-year old Taeliejah receives childcare

services. Alicia and Scott were already offered a low-income apartment from Worcester Housing

Authority, but are enjoying the advantages of not paying rent. “We want to see how far we can

go with our success,” she says. She and Scott will be eligible for a Section 8 voucher in July or

have the option of staying at the Transitional Housing Program. Until then Alicia looks forward

to one day being able to hang pictures up on the wall. Under the Worcester Housing Authority‟s

guidelines they are not allowed to do so. As for her new life living securely with Scott and

Taeliejah, she says, “This is just the beginning.”

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