I often see Michael from my office window; sitting, smoking, waiting patiently until it is time to pick his two-year-old daughter up from daycare. For our staff, who care tremendously for Michael and his family, it has become painful to ask if they’ve been placed in housing yet. We’ve been asking for four years. The answer has been ‘not yet’ for four years.
“Bad credit, my [non-violent] criminal record…the eviction. That’s what’s holding us back right now. And everything here is so expensive.”
Michael and his wife both grew up in Raleigh. As a married couple, they attempted to create a home in Rocky Mount. But, when finances got tight and the choice became food or rent, they found themselves swiftly evicted. They landed in Asheville in 2016, soon applied for housing, and soon after that discovered they had a baby on the way. For a brief period of time, they were set up with a trailer through Homeward Bound’s Rapid Rehousing program, but between a black mold take-over and damage from a fallen tree, they found themselves again unhoused and spending $1,600/month for a hotel room, determined to meet the qualifications for unhoused parents to maintain custody of their unhoused children.
I ask Michael if he’s heard about Haywood Street’s proposal for deeply affordable housing. He nods his head and says, “Yes, I saw it on the news”, but drops his gaze to the pavement and says, “but that won’t even be an option for a couple years.” “Right,” I say and also drop my gaze because I wish the keys were in my back pocket and I wish there was already a door and a space and a bed and running water to offer him. “But, if and when” I tip toe on, “…and if you three were able to live there…what would that mean?” Michael’s stare lifts from the pavement to me. “Everything. It would mean everything.”
When Michael first moved to Asheville and became a part of the Haywood Street community, he poured himself into the work of clean needle distribution. Familiar with where a number of folks were camping, and acknowledging their obstacles to transportation, he would bring needle exchange services directly to them; in the woods, by the river, on the sides of the mountains. Michael wants to go to school. He wants to become a peer support specialist. He thinks this is a service that should be provided, on site, at the proposed Haywood Street Community Development. He cannot do these things, effectively, until his family is housed.
Currently, Michael, his wife and child stay at a local shelter. His wife works full-time. Michael is a stay-at-no-home father, and spends his days ensuring his daughter gets to school, gets picked up on time, makes it to all doctor’s appointments, etc. His wife and child are required to check into the shelter at 5:00. He is required to check in by 6:00. Once inside, they are separated, until the following morning, when again he gets his daughter to school and his wife goes to work. They are often, three passing ships. “Not being together,” Michael says. “That’s the hardest part of being a homeless family.”
Michael wants to live here. He loves Asheville. He wants an education that will enable him to help iv drug users and a job that will enable him to support his family. His wife wants to finish school, and work, and continue to be a great mother. This family is one, of many, who inspire us to walk faithfully, even when tired, towards our vision and hope for deeply affordable homes for the hard and hardest-to-house, beloved members of our community.
Learn more about Haywood Street’s proposal for deeply affordable housing here.
photo & writing by Brook, HSC Lead Storyteller