A game of chance

Last week, I met a woman named Nakia. Or actually, first I met her son, an adorable and well-behaved boy of four named Jahking.

I was sitting in a shaded corner on a coffee shop terrace with my laptop when he showed me his toy truck. His mother was on the phone, but she kept a close eye on him as she paced back and forth, back and forth, talking. It didn’t take me long to hear her conversation was not pleasant. She was working her way down a list of emergency shelters she’d gotten from a local police station, trying to find a bed for herself and her son.

homeless-and-pregnant21She wasn’t having much success, and the more shelters she called, the more frantic she became. Finally, when she burst into tears, I invited her to sit down.

While Jahking wolfed down a box of doughnut holes, Nakia shared her story. She’d lost her job, was evicted from her apartment, lost pretty much everything except what she could cart away in a couple of Hefty bags. A recent transport to Atlanta, she didn’t have local family or a support system to fall back on, and her savings didn’t last long. She and Jahking were literally on the streets as of noon that day.

How hard could it be? I thought. Atlanta is a big city, with an extensive support system for the needy. Together we called the rest of the shelters on her list.

As it turns out, finding a bed in this town is like winning the lottery, and here’s why ::

On any given night in Atlanta, there are some 10,000 homeless people — and more than 40 percent of those are women and children — and a shortage of 1,700 beds.

Nakia’s “problem” was that she wasn’t beaten, mentally ill, or a substance abuser, (and the fact I even have to type those words is preposterous), so she didn’t qualify for most of the emergency shelters we spoke to. Other shelters, shelters with long-term programs to help mothers like Nakia regain self-sufficiency, had long waiting lists and extensive application procedures. Every single emergency shelter we spoke to was full and operated on a first-come, first-serve basis, which meant finding a bed is a game of chance. What if Nakia hiked all the way down there and was turned away? Then what?

I wish this story had a happy ending. I wish I could tell you Nakia and Jahking found a bed, a job, a program that fed and clothed and sheltered them until they got back on their feet. What they “found” is a ticket back home, to family and circumstances she thought she’d escaped years ago.

And what I found is a new cause.

About Kimberly S. Belle

Kimberly Belle grew up in Eastern Tennessee, in a small town nestled in the foothills of the Appalachians. A graduate of Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia, Kimberly lived for over a decade in the Netherlands and has worked in marketing and fundraising for various nonprofits. She's the author of two novels, THE LAST BREATH and THE ONES WE TRUST (August 2015). She divides her time between Atlanta and Amsterdam. Keep up with Kimberly on Facebook (www.facebook.com/KimberlyBelleBooks), Twitter (@KimberlySBelle), or via her website at www.kimberlybellebooks.com.

Posted on July 5, 2013, in Blog Posts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Allyson Burroughs

    This is heartbreaking and you’re wonderful for being someone who listened and tried to help her. Now I understand your urgent posts about contacts at homeless shelters.

  2. Christy Hayes

    You did the unusual thing by not turning a blind eye to this woman’s cause. I’m local, so let me know how I can help.

  3. Karen Riggsbee

    Unfortunately, what you experienced happens in every city and state in this country. The larger the city, the bigger the problem. You are correct…victims of domestic violence and substance abusers have many more options due to grants and other federal, state or privately funded resources.
    Kudos to you for trying to help this family. I’m sure she will never forget your kindness.

  4. It is sad how prevalent this story is. Thank you for sharing your experience and for caring about total strangers.

  5. I’d love to hear how you progress in your work toward helping people out with this problem. I admire you.

  6. This is so sad, Kimberle, and to be defeated while trying to start anew makes a person reluctant to try again. You’re an angel to have helped her and I wish Nakia and her son get another chance to strike out on their own.

  7. My husband serves on the board of one of the area’s homeless organizations. His biggest frustration is that there isn’t enough housing to fill the need out there. The waiting list to get into the program his nonprofit runs (18-month assistance) is YEARS long. There is a huge need for emergency housing just for situations like you witnessed, but the money for these shelters is almost nonexistent. We are always looking for another voice to shout about the need. Lets talk. 🙂

  8. Kimberle Swaak

    Thanks, all, for your words of encouragement. It’s so frustrating to have found some fabulous shelters doing fabulous work, but without the bed space to have helped Nakia. This story didn’t have a happy ending, but it’s also not finished. Maybe one day soon I’ll have the next installment to blog about — what I’m doing to help bring about some sort of change to the situation. 😉

  9. Janna Qualman

    Disheartening. What a blessing you were—are still going to be, you’ve hinted at—to her and her son. Well done, Kimberle, even in just your small effort thus far, you can be sure you made a difference. I wish you the best with whatever’s up your sleeve.

    Thanks for this inspirational story.

  10. I just crawled out from under a deadline to read this. Heartbreaking, but kudos to you for doing something to help. And God bless the myriads of people like Nakia who fall through the cracks.

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