A matter of circumstance
A 31-year-old single father of three from Houlton, Maine had been staying at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter for three weeks at the time of our interview. For the last 10 years, he’s been living in the nearby town of Lewiston, but he brought him family to Waterville because of the Shelter. “Basically, it’s the only one in Maine,” he explained.
As the father recounts the struggles of his own childhood, it is clear that his life has never been easy. His father died when he was just a toddler, and his mother passed away when he was 16. “My brothers and sisters went on a bad downward spiral after that,” he said, “and I seemed to be the only one able to handle it.” After his mother’s passing, all of his siblings lost custody of their children, but he managed to find work and even enroll in a few college courses.
He has worked in masonry for the past twelve years, and one of his assignments was to build the Hampton Inn in Waterville. What led him to the Shelter, however, was when the mother of his children left a few months ago. The father did not want to put his kids in childcare, which was a choice made easier by its exorbitant costs. The family made ends meet with the help of food stamps and government checks totaling $485 a month. “It took a couple of months to lose the apartment and make our way to the Shelter,” he said.
His children—all aged five and under—are constantly by his side since they moved to the Shelter. The oldest boy, a kindergartener, has a form of autism, which adds another stress to this father’s life.
In his mind, there are both positive and negative aspects of the Shelter. “If you need something, like diapers or clothes, they’ll probably get it for you as long as they have it,” he said.
One of his major complaints about the Shelter is its strict lockout policy on weekends. “You can stay in during the weekdays, but during the weekend they don’t have the staff for it,” he explained. “We go to the park and kill time any which way we can.” A few weeks ago, he rented a hotel room for a weekend afternoon just so they did not have to sit in the rain.
When the family first came to the shelter, the father was not told about its limited hours of operation, and he was forced to buy a stroller for his youngest. “Walking ten hours a day is a little rough on a three-year-old,” he said.
Now, the father says he’s “looking for a job anywhere. I’ve applied to Dunkin [Donuts] and Sheridan [Hotel] out in Fairfield.” Each family that comes to the Shelter is supposed to leave within 30 days, but the father feels as though it would be unfair to turn them out into the streets. “They haven’t helped me at all since being here. Everything I’ve done I figured out on my own,” he said.
As the interview came to a close, his little girl scrambled up onto his lap and demanded, “Daddy, tickle my belly!”—and just like that, he stepped right back into his role as a great father who wants the best for his children and just happens to be spending a few weeks in a homeless Shelter.
Note: This story is anonymous to help protect the identity of the homeless.