The following is the transcript of the remarks by Stephany (right in photo)—a participant in a Family Promise program—at the Indiana Affordable Housing Crisis event on November 19, 2022 at Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.
Hello Good evening everyone. My name is Stephany, I want to thank Mike for giving me this opportunity to volunteer sharing my housing story here tonight.
We all struggle sometimes. I think most people have a lot of help from family or friends to get them through their struggles. But what happens to those of us that don’t have help from family or friends?
I grew up in Chicago. I entered foster care when I was 2 years old, Spent 10 years back and forth in damaged homes. My aunt adopted me when I was 12.
My big sister and brother had good foster parents. My sister still talks to her foster family today. My sister had always tried to protect me, but after a few years they had to split us up. I didn’t have the same luck with foster homes. Bad things happened to me at multiple homes, and when I was 7 years old I tried to speak up about it. I was pushed down 23 stairs as a result, and I still have the scar from it under my mouth. You would think that getting adopted at 12 would have changed things, but it just continued with new people under a new roof.
That is why on the very day I turned 18, about 9 years ago, I ran away to Indianapolis. I entered Job Corps in March 2013 and graduated a year later with my Office Administration certificate. I moved in with my boyfriend on the eastside of Indianapolis.
We tried to have kids, but I had three miscarriages. Finally in 2018 I was blessed with my daughter Milah. After all I had been through, she is my miracle. She has grown up praying, She will be joining the Indianapolis Gymnastic team for kids in 2023. She’s amazing! Though me and her dad broke up, he still helped and co-parented and we remained friends.
During most of these years, I worked consistently as a Registered Behavioral Therapist. When Covid hit I started at HomeCare Connections LLC. I started out as a caregiver, but eventually returned to be an administrator and scheduler.
When I had my own place just last year, I was often scared to be by myself. After my attack in 2017 it has always been hard to live alone. Yes i’m a survivor of Sexual Assault! My younger sister and brother needed a place, so I let them stay with me from time to time. I didn’t know them much growing up these were not the ones I was in the system with, but my siblings on my dad side.
One day one thing led to the next and we were all arguing. The police had to get involved because the fight between my sister and brother got out of hand. The apartment manager let me stay, but said my sister and brother had to be off the property. They were mad, and one night returned to damage my belongings while getting their things out of the unit. I had to pay for the door and other damages they had done.
Last February just nine months ago I decided to leave those apartments when my lease was up. I was planning to move out of town. I was enjoying my life here, but I wanted change. I was sick of crying and stressing and I had it with Indy.
I stayed with a friend, and they helped me understand that leaving town was running away. So I applied for other apartments. I applied to seven in one day, and I was denied on all of them.
It turns out I had an eviction on my record from an apartment I lived at three years ago. I had no idea about this because I never received anything in the mail from them. The credit report the new places ran said I owed $2,100! I contacted them to find out about it, because when I left those apartments my rent was paid up. They said the carpet was dirty and a window was messed up. I had pictures of how I left it, but the court date had already passed more than a year prior. How was I supposed to know they filed a claim for the damages if they mailed the court notice to the old address? I didn’t have a place at the time those three years ago to forward mail to. I’ve since paid off $500 of the debt I shouldn’t owe, but still have $1,600 on my credit report still to pay.
Place after place denied me for housing. I must have filled out fifty or more rental applications those months, and each one costs money.
I couldn’t stay with my friend any more. One of my coworkers had let me live with her for 5 weeks. My coworker son worked at an Extended Stay, but even with a discount it was more than $700 for the two weeks I was there. I bounced around constantly.
You might wonder why I told you about growing up in foster care at the beginning of this. Here’s why. Probably the biggest fear I have is of losing my daughter. If people find out you’re homeless, they could take her away. So one day last March, near the beginning of this whole thing, I asked my daughter’s grandparents to take her in.
After I had stayed with all the friends I could, and after hotel money was all used up, Everyday I would stay visiting my daughter at her grandparents until as late in the night as I could, sometimes till 11 or midnight. Then I’d tell them, “All right, I’m going to leave,” but I would just park a little away and sleep in the car. This wasn’t too long after Mother’s Day, and I felt like a failure.
After a few nights, they caught on, and they let me stay there.
That’s when I found a second chance landlord that would accept me: Rollins Rental. They asked me about the eviction judgment like others, but accepted me anyway. I got to rent a small house. The place seemed like a decent place, and Milah and me moved in on June 10. I had been homeless for seven months, but it was finally over.
Or was it? The place was infested with fleas, and I took photos of the spots on my daughter and me. I moved out, back with friends, boss’s friends, and others, and sued Rollins Rentals. I didn’t have money for an attorney, and had never been to Small Claims Court before. The judge spoke fast, and said because my stuff was still in the house and I didn’t pay the July rent due to the fleas, he had to honor their counter-suit and I was evicted from a place I wasn’t staying in.
It is hard to call a shelter. I called Family Promise in July, and they were full. They said call back in the morning, but I figured I’d never be able to get in, so I didn’t and continued to bounce around week after week. Milah was back with me because I couldn’t tell her grandparents I was homeless again. I was getting hotel rooms when I needed to.
On October 5, I was baptized at my boss’s church-–Zion Tabernacle. The people asked me what I wanted them to pray over me for, and I said housing. A lady there gave me the number for Family Promise again. I called the next day and got into the Apartment Shelter Program.
I remember through this whole ordeal, Milah asked me once why we keep leaving places. She had been trained, but started wetting the bed through this whole thing. When her birthday was coming up, I asked her what she wanted and she said, “My own bed.” It moved me because I’m trying so hard.
That first day we moved into Family Promise’s apartment at Abbey Meadows, she slept on that bed and saw it as hers. She’s not wetting the bed near as much. She’s doing better in school. Life is stable.
And with my consistent income—I never stopped working this whole time-–Family Promise helped me apply to take over the lease from them. I’d get to keep the furniture and housewares, including the beds, that many of you volunteers put in there. They said with their housing partners they can negotiate around my past eviction if I join their Aftercare program to help me not get evicted for two years after signing the lease. I’m hoping the landlord approves me soon, because it’d be nice by Thanksgiving or Christmas to tell Milah that bed is hers.
Thank you for being here at this meeting on Affordable Housing. Whatever you can do to help people trying their best to have housing available to them, even if they have an eviction, is needed. With private landlords, I would have really benefited from a 60-or-90 day rule so if something occurs like the fleas we encountered, we would have had a recourse. And if something big happens, people need more than 30 days to be able to come up with rent. The world has turned to evicting everybody right away, and I bet that wasn’t always how it was. And given how many families need shelter, having more shelters would be a start too. Most of us only call them as a last resort.
I’m proud that I’m being strong for my daughter. And I’m very appreciative of all of you that make this program possible. You give me hope. I told the pastors–my boss at work–that eventually I want to give back, and Family Promise is where I would want to start. Thank you.