Eight years ago, Corinne stepped off a Greyhound bus in Springfield, by way of Tennessee, where she had pursued a new start and a new life that never materialized. With two young children in tow and another on the way, she was looking for an escape from an abusive relationship that had festered for years.
She spent her own childhood bouncing from temporary homes in “other peoples’ basements” with her father, and found herself living on the streets by 13. At times, friends would offer short respites on couches and the like. Other times, she slept outside. Corrine spent two years in foster care and was pregnant at 17, essentially abandoned by her family.
Although she wanted more for her own family as she grew older, she found herself on a similar, bleak path.
“I got off that bus, went right to the Department of Transitional Assistance with really the clothes on our backs and said ‘We have no place to go.’ I had no idea what would happen to us,” Corrine said.
First stop: the state office, which was focused on her family’s immediate needs. Second stop: a cramped motel room for a year – where she couldn’t cook her children healthy meals or take them outside to play.
A motivated mother who wanted to break out of all-too-familiar circumstances, Corinne struggled to meet all the state standards to make it out of the motel. She filled out paperwork, met regularly with social workers and worked a job at Dunkin’ Donuts until just before she gave birth to her third child. After she began dabbling in marijuana to cope, she was ultimately directed to a parent aide with the Department of Children and Families.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me, really,” Corinne, 34, said recently of her meeting with DCF. That was Corinne’s ultimate bridge to the Center for Human Development (CHD).
Third stop: Permanent Supportive Housing, among many programs run by CHD to combat homelessness for families and children. To date, it has been the last stop for Corinne, and her family has brought a welcome measure of stability. The program is among many shelter services CHD provides to ensure children and families are warm and safe, with an eye on permanent housing. All homelessness initiatives – from individual to shared housing – fall under the Shelter Services program run by Theresa Nicholson.
Nicholson says her office daily oversees an urgent and complex triage system, working in tandem with the state to place families in crisis in appropriate housing. The office may manage placements for 500 to 800 children and parents on any given day. They regularly fight to help families who may otherwise have few to no options – like Corinne’s when she and her children stepped off that bus in 2010.
Today, while still struggling financially, Corinne has a modest, tidy apartment in Springfield. Her now-four children are excelling in school. She has a nurturing, supportive relationship with the father of her fourth child. And she has found a compassionate and effective guide in Dee Canales, a family caseworker for the housing program. While the program is rent-based, Canales eagle-eyes other needs for Corinne when she spots potential fissures in the process through regular meetings and contact.
For instance, as Corinne grappled with her estranged former partner in probate court, Canales accompanied Corinne to provide support. Canales kept a watchful eye on Corinne’s children if baby-sitters fell through. When Corinne lost a job earlier this year, Canales worked with her on her resume – and kept an eye out for new employment prospects.
“Without their help, I may be living under a bridge somewhere with my kids. I don’t know,” Corinne said.
When Corinne has been wracked with worry over not having enough food on the table, Canales and her colleagues mined community resources and helped Corinne shuffle her financial aid through the housing program in sensible ways.
Like the lion’s share of CHD’s direct care workers, Canales does not stay in her lane. Job descriptions are outlines. Most scribble outside those lines on behalf of their clients to meet their needs every day.
“I’m very passionate about my job. I have a personality that I genuinely care about people, so that helps. And I’m very goal-driven. The goals have changed for Corinne over the 11 months I’ve worked with her,” Canales said.
Corrine’s children are 15, 10, 7 and 5. She aspires to own her own home, and have her own backyard. She works for a commercial cleaning company, which recently offered her a raise as a nod to her work ethic. But – the holidays will be hard, because Corinne lost a former job amid attending court dates during her custody battle. Although she is rebounding, she needs help to make her kids’ Christmas happy.
“My kids really go all year without really getting much, and they never complain. Christmas is a big deal for me because it’s the time I really want to show my kids how important they are to me and how much I appreciate them, but this year is going to be really, really hard,” she said.