Joy was laid off after maternity leave with a 22 month old and then her fiancé lost his job. They continued intense job hunts in Washington State for two years, ran out of unemployment, savings and family help. When friends in Florida encouraged them to return to Sarasota, Joy was hopeful. “I graduated from Booker High School and have lived here on and off since 1993. I have history here, and Sarasota is one of my biggest loves”.
When their immediate job hunts bore no fruit, they doubled up in Joy’s best friend’s home, but her landlord protested. “It broke her heart to turn us away.” The Salvation Army and Resurrection House were unable to help with temporary lodging for the whole family, and Joy couldn’t bear to be separated from her fiancé. That’s when they lived in the minivan for three weeks – two kids, Joy – an emotional wreck with hormones raging – and her fiancé trying to hold the family together and provide for them with food stamps, alone.
When the elementary school said Joy couldn’t enroll seven year old Justin without an address, Sarasota Y’s Schoolhouse Link and Family Promise worked together to get Justin into school under the federal McKinney-Vento Act and outfitted him with clothing, shoes, a back pack and school supplies. Then, at a time when Joy’s own family was pushing them away for being homeless, Wendy Fitton accepted them into Family Promise and their coalition of churches – the only agency that could house the whole family.
“We were given a gift. You’ve got to want it and show them that you won’t give up. They push you. To qualify for Family Promise we had in-depth interviews, tests for drugs and alcohol. For 99 days, we rotated weekly between churches in the program and sometimes stayed in the Family Promise house for 2 or 3 weeks, packing up our belongings with each move. Family Promise helped us with our resumes, find employment, gas for the car, diapers, wipes, clothing, shoes, special needs food, all of our essentials — It’s the only place I know that helps families completely, with everything we need to survive and feel better about ourselves, including emotional support through counseling, prayers, advice on parenting and a hug. It’s beautiful. It’s like family.”
“It’s been a long road, but I’ve had faith and wouldn’t give up. Now we are blessed with this place to live and I am really happy.” With rent $250 more than a mortgage would be, they are trying to piece together a small down payment and financing because “It’s worth owning instead of renting to be sure we won’t be homeless again.”
Determination is Joy’s strength — she put herself through college in NYC, “learning humility”, with degrees in Early Childhood Education and World Fine Art History. Her dream is to work at the Ringling Museum and become a curator “or even fetch her coffee!” In NY she spent every waking moment at the Metropolitan.
“Childcare is impossible in Sarasota for the poor, and costs are out of this world,” Joy continued. “Our church, Faith Presbyterian, fed over 200 families for Thanksgiving and sends more than 250 boxes of gifts abroad. But the churches can’t do everything. They really need help.
“I see a lot of homeless people struggling in the street — handicapped, unable to care for themselves, beaten, abused… When we were homeless, living in our minivan, we made breakfast for the disabled who couldn’t get around. One day, we watched them being carted away by the police. Sarasota is trying to eject the homeless. A large majority just had a hard time. People do need help, real help. Even those with drug and alcohol issues are human beings and need help and love, companionship and support. How will they turn around if only met by anger? You fight the war against homelessness with love, not anger.
I know there’s a deficit, but there’s a lot of wasteland out there and trees we can build with. There’s enough for everyone. We are all only human and we live in this world together.”
Step Up Sarasota.
www.stepupsarasota.org tel. (941)565-1540
Marguerite Jill Dye is an artist/writer living in Sarasota and Killington, Vermont. She served on the Health and Human Services Committee for developing Sarasota’s Ten Year Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. (MargueriteJillDye.wordpress.com)