I wish she were still alive. She was blonde and pretty and loved being with her boyfriend and their seven year old son. The previous two years had been rough on all of them and now they were all together and she felt safe and secure and determined to move forward as a family, even though they had no money. They were at a family shelter. Ever vulnerable, she felt protected. She was quiet and kind and soft in voice.
She felt so strongly about wanting to make her family work, that when her boyfriend peacefully violated a policy, she chose to go with him “out of shelter” for the seven days the policy dictated he was gone. They would stay together as a family.
It was last Thanksgiving morning. They were roaming the streets, just the three of them, but they weren’t angry. They were together, as a Family. They were happy.
The Staff had followed protocol. They were policy-correct.
But it was Thanksgiving morning. I wanted to check in on the families on this Holiday. It was a Day off for a salary-guy like me; I needed to check in and stopped at the shelter I managed, before I went to share the holiday with Mom and siblings and friends and LOTS of food and laughs.
Upon discovering that the family had been “exited,” I got angry. Not at the Staff. Not even at the Father who went, albeit peacefully, against the rules. But angry at the pain of a family homeless in 2010 on THANKSGIVING of all days; humbled that the Family itself was genuinely THANKFUL that they were together and rested after two weeks in the shelter.
Their cell number was in their file, so I had Staff call and tell them to return. Immediately. Through the weekend they could stay, until this salary-guy was back on Monday when we would talk. I broke policy. I broke the rules. A kind, compliant, and happy family would enjoy Thanksgiving with twenty kids and twenty adults in a safe and secure family homeless shelter. This Family would not be wandering this Holiday- not on my watch. Policies, procedures, and rules are necessary. I understand that.
“There are exceptions to every rule,” I tell myself often. This was Thanksgiving. I’m glad- then and now- that I broke the rule without hesitation.
Because she is dead now. Killed. Murdered. Dumped down an embankment like trash.
Her son is motherless. A month after Thanksgiving, the Father went to California to start school. He would save money, send for her and their child still in shelter, and they would be together again with a fresh start.
But a job never materialized, money was delayed, and when the sixty days of federally mandated shelter time was up, she and her son were homeless again. A bad man offered to house them. Vulnerable, she said yes. A restraining order quickly followed and a scramble to find bus money was secured for her and the child out of town.
At the bus depot, her belongings were five pounds overweight. She would have to wait until the next night. Her son went to friends and she reluctantly chose to stay warm at the bad man’s house for one more night. One more night.
He stabbed and killed her in a rage last week on that one last night. He dumped her body, was fortunately pulled over for a routine traffic stop, found covered in blood, and was arrested shortly afterwards. They found her body the same day.
She leaves a seven year old son, a Man in California who cared for her, and a host of hard working and kind case managers and area agency members with broken hearts, who did everything they could to help this woman. Still, it was not enough.
Me? I choose to remember the three of them smiling and laughing together at Thanksgiving. Actually, it’s not too much of a choice.
Because I have to work again tomorrow. There will be other chances. No doubt. And that’s the only way I can rationalize getting out of bed…