July 31, 2008

Affordable Housing is Personal

by Jessica Wright, Community Blogger.

During the past few weeks I have had the pleasure of getting to know Tasha*, an eight-year-old girl that my housemate, Rebecca*, has been mentoring. I recently spent an evening chasing Tasha throughout the house, playing an exhausting and laughter-filled game of tag. As the hour grew late, Rebecca asked me to accompany her as she returned Tasha to her home. I agreed without much thought—I had no idea that this trip would forever change my understanding of Tasha and put a face on many of the housing issues that I have been researching.

As we drove, Tasha reminded us of what to do when we arrived. We would have to sign in and state that we were just visitors of a family in the building. Tasha’s family was living with her grandmother up until a few weeks ago, when they relocated to this apartment. They are now staying with another family without the permission of the landlord. Tasha, her mother, and her mother’s boyfriend share one bedroom, while the other family shares the only other bedroom in the apartment. Earlier in the drive, Rebecca had asked if I had brought my ID (I hadn’t). When we arrived at our destination, I understood why--a sign on the door stated that no one without proper identification could enter the building. Luckily, the security guard’s station was empty when we walked through, and we quickly slipped to the elevator.

The elevator was an experience in itself. The small space reeked of urine, while pop bottles and other garbage littered the floor. The smell didn’t get much better as we exited the elevator on the fifth floor. As we walked through a long corridor, I felt as though I was being suffocated by the low ceiling and glossy puke-yellow walls. From the hallway I could hear yelling and the blaring of several televisions.

As we dropped off Tasha, I was amazed at her mother’s warmth. I received a hug, despite never meeting the woman before. It saddened me to think that such beautiful people had to live in such conditions. I’ll admit that the apartment building was probably a lot better than what many D.C. residents have to deal with, but I know that none of my middle-class friends would tolerate such a home. I began to question: just because it’s not as bad as it could be, does that make it okay? Why are low-income people not equally entitled to some of the basic decencies of life?

Thinking back on a recent blog entry about the definition of homelessness, I realized that this eight-year-old girl, full of energy and smiles, could be considered homeless. What would such a situation do to this dear girl? I’ve read about the detrimental effect of homelessness on children—I long to know that Tasha will not become another statistic in such studies. What about all of the other children across D.C. that are dealing with similar situations? What does their future hold? I feel so helpless—I will soon be returning to my Wisconsin home, far from urban poverty and this place that has captivated my heart. I can only hope that telling Tasha’s story will make a difference, no matter how small. I know that her story has already made a difference in my life.

*Name has been changed

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