Single moms, families the new face of homelessness
Catrena Kivett hasn’t had to carry all her belongings around in a shopping cart, nor has she slept underneath a bridge. But despite living in a tiny apartment of less than 400 square feet, the young mother of a 5-year-old is considered homeless.
“Homeless” is no longer defined as someone who doesn’t have a place to sleep, but rather as someone who doesn’t have an adequate, permanent, fixed place to sleep or reside, according to David Holston, head of shelter services at Rowan Helping Ministries.
Kivett’s apartment provides a roof over her head, but it is by no means a permanent situation. She lives with daughter Camelia at the Eagle’s Nest — Rowan Helping Ministries’ transitional housing program.
No longer are homeless individuals seeking a place to sleep for just themselves. Often, they are looking for a warm place for their family.
“We’ve had as many as four families in one given night,” said Holston.
More single mothers and families are turning to Rowan Helping Ministries because they are out of work, lost their homes to foreclosures or other circumstances have led them to the shelter.
“I could be out in the cold with my little girl,” Kivett said. She said she’s still seen God’s blessings, despite her struggles.
“It’s amazing what God has done and what he’s brought me from,” she said.
Kivett arrived in Rowan County in 2009 to escape an abusive relationship. She said she endured verbal and physical abuse at the hands of her now ex-boyfriend for four years.
The day he spit in her and her daughter’s faces she knew she’d had enough. A friend told her about the Family Crisis Council, where Kivett received counseling and was able to stay at the domestic violence shelter. She was at the shelter for three months and soon after was enrolled in the transitional housing program at Rowan Helping Ministries.
As part of the Eagle’s Nest I program, which is for single parents with one or two children, Kivett lives in small efficiency apartment. Instead of rent, she pays a program fee set according to income — $98 a month for her — which includes utilities. Since she lost her receptionist’s job in January 2011, she is attending classes toward a degree in medical office administration at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College and expects to graduate in May.
The Eagle’s Nest program requires she attend parenting, budgeting and other self-improvement classes.
“This was like an answered prayer,” she said of the program.
Kivett doesn’t like the word “homeless” and has never considered herself to be homeless. Since Kivett has had a place for she and her daughter to sleep, she said she doesn’t see herself as homeless. But there were times when she lay awake at night wondering where the money was going to come from.
“Sometimes I drive by and I think that could be me,” she said of people standing outside the shelter.
She’s glad her daughter doesn’t understand their situation. Camelia was just 2 years old when Kivett left her ex-boyfriend.
When Camelia asks about moving into their tiny apartment, “I tell her, ‘Baby this is where God wants us,’ “ Kivett said.
Camelia tells her, “maybe God will send us a home,” Kivett said.
She knows at some point she and Camelia will have to leave the transitional housing. Kivett’s goal is to save enough money to move into a place of her own.
“I want to push forward,” she said.
The room they share
The apartment has two main rooms, a living/bedroom and a kitchen. There is a small bathroom off the kitchen. Although their housing situation isn’t permanent, Kivett has tried to make the place a home, decorating in her favorite color — purple. She has a purple love seat against one wall, a purple rug on the wooden floors. Throughout the two rooms are touches of purple — a comforter and removable butterfly wall decals.
Camelia dreams aloud of one day having her own Hello Kitty bed. But for now, mother and daughter share a bed. It can get cramped, Kivett said, Camelia moves a lot in her sleep, leaving Kivett a small corner of the bed.
Mother and daughter often put together puzzles, their favorite activity, at the kitchen table. On a cold afternoon, Camelia’s play area is the living room floor, making her doll do back flips while Kivett recounts the circumstances that led her to Salisbury.
The backyard, just off the kitchen, is shared with other residents living at the Eagle’s Nest apartments. The apartments are around the corner from the shelter, where on any given day someone could be perched up against the side of the building or a child may be waiting with parents to go inside.
In 2010-2011, there were a total of 384 shelter guests, including 19 families. In 2011-2012, the shelter provided an overnight stay to 533 guests, including 14 families.
As of Jan. 31, the shelter has provided 391 guests with a place to stay, and 13 families were among them.
In order to provide adequate space to families at the shelter, staff have converted interview rooms used for the Crisis Assistance Network into family rooms, said Executive Director Kyna Foster.
The staff has seen a large number of veterans who stay in the overnight shelter. Many of the veterans are already receiving services through the local VA Medical Center.
In July 2012, the shelter had as many as 23 families seeking a place to sleep overnight.
Currently, the agency is in the midst of an expansion project that will accommodate 60 men, 40 women and four families in the overnight shelter.
The existing location was originally designed to hold 40 men. The new soup kitchen will serve 126 guests while the original soup kitchen was designed to serve 60 people.
The shelter has seen an increase in the number of people receiving services, many of whom are families, teens and veterans.
Rowan Helping Ministries also offers programs that teach life skills and provide crisis assistance.
“The goal,” said Executive Director Kyna Foster, “is to help them become stable.”
The government further defines homelessness as someone who lives in a hotel or motel, an emergency shelter, a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, awaiting foster care or shares a house with someone else.
The faces of people arriving at the shelter are younger and younger, Foster said.
Many of the young people who stay at the overnight shelter are between 18 and 21 years old, Holston said. The challenging part, he said, is there are teens who leave group or foster homes and find themselves in the shelter.
“They are now on their own,” he said. “They have no work history and have limited life skills.”
A sizable segment of the people who stay in the shelter are transient, Holston said. Some of those people passing through are veterans awaiting services at the Hefner VA Medical Center.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.