Homeless doesn’t mean hopeless

Aug. 25, 2013 @ 11:31 PM

Becoming homeless was something that just kind of happened to Charissa Jones.

After leaving violence at home, she and her 10-year-old daughter had nowhere to go and seemingly only had each other to lean on.

They moved into a homeless shelter on May 1.

“At first it was really scary, the entire situation, not being able to provide for my daughter like I should as a mother, not having the support of family, not having your own,” she said. “But all of that is about to change.”

Jones’s upbeat attitude and positive outlook comes from within but also from the assistance she’s received from Durham Public Schools.

“You really have to have someone there to help you and point you in the right direction,” she said

DPS became that beacon for Jones and her daughter, helping them navigate the unstable waters of homelessness by connecting them with services and people ready and willing to help.

“I love them (DPS),” Jones said. “I wouldn’t dare take my daughter out of their school system. They have just done so much for my daughter.”

Jones said that she was active at her daughter’s school, either volunteering or going to school events, and once the principal and her daughter’s teacher found out, she was soon put in contact with Jackie Love, the homeless liaison for DPS.

“They made sure she remained at the same school and arranged for a school bus to pick her up from wherever we moved to,” Jones said. “The social worker made sure she always had something to eat. If her teachers saw that she had received low grades or that she just wasn’t being herself after a move, the teachers worked with her, they got her a tutor.”

Many kind-hearted people pitched in to help Jones and her daughter, but a piece of 1987 legislation also played a part.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act ensures that school districts remove all barriers to a student’s academic success due to homelessness. Love explained that in a situation of domestic violence, like Jones’s, the fleeing parent may leave behind records normally needed for enrollment. Thanks to McKinney-Vento, a student can be immediately enrolled without them.

Transportation to the child’s original school is also mandated by McKinney-Vento.

Jones said that her daughter’s school has been “like a family. They called all through the summer just to check up on her and her teacher told us that if we needed anything to call.” That behavior is not legislated.

Something else that DPS did for Jones’s daughter was help her to attend summer camp, free of charge. Jones, a licensed cosmetologist, said that normally during the summer her daughter accompanies her to work, but this year was different.

“Every week they were doing something,” she said. “They took the children bowling, skating, to the movies, they swimming at least once a week, they had guest speakers and they went to the museum.”

Their first night without stable housing, the pair stayed at a church. Jones said that once they got settled, her daughter looked up at her and said, “Mom, this is the happiest I’ve been in a long time.”

The camp provided activities and stability for Jones’s daughter over the summer but also gave Jones with much needed time to set a foundation for her and her daughter’s futures.

Jones recently graduated from the computer information technology program at Durham Technical Community College and has secured full-time employment through the Workforce Investment Act program.

“I’ve been able to focus on being able to rebuild my life so we don’t have this problem again,” she said. “I took classes to help me so that if this were to ever happen again, I would know how to handle it. I’m no longer weak or vulnerable. My focus is going to be to continue to stay on the right path and continue to keep God and my daughter first.”

Jones said that her daughter is the reason she ultimately left her abusive relationship.

“Especially with a daughter, we have to teach our girls that we can do it without a man and be a better role model for them,” she said. “It was all women who helped us. Not only did they help me to be a better person for her but they help me be a better person for myself as well. They were really good role models.”

Jones, like many others, hopes to hit the lottery, but not just for her and her daughter’s benefit.

“I want to take what I’ve learned from here and apply it and help other homeless people,” she said. “I would have a building where each person could have their own room and a large room with computers where people could go and do what they had to for the help they need. A lot of people just don’t know that the help is out there. They don’t know where to look.”