Names have been changed.
My parents abused and neglected me, and I went into care when I was 15. I lucked out getting Teresa for a foster mother. She was the first true mother figure I had. Six years later, I am still living with her and she is in the process of adopting me.
I can talk to Teresa for hours without feeling as if I’m being annoying. Teresa gives me advice about school, work, and girls. I tell her what’s going on and how I’m feeling. She helps me try to fix the problem.
I didn’t have any of this with my biological mother, so I wanted to keep that mother-son relationship for as long as I could before I got my own place. Right after I turned 19, my foster care agency tried to push me into a supportive housing apartment.
Supportive housing is different from public housing, which is run by the New York City Housing Authority or NYCHA. (There is a lot more supervision and more rules in supportive housing.) I had been on the list for a NYCHA apartment since I was 17, because a lot of low-income people need those apartments and were ahead of me in line.
I told my worker Donna that I wasn’t ready for supportive housing. She asked, “Why not?”
I responded, “Umm, I don’t have a job or much money saved up.”
She said, “You know, there is public assistance.”
“I know, but I’m not trying to rely on the government for money.” I felt like I was being forced to go on welfare, even though, if I had time, I could save up the money. I didn’t want to be another Black person on public assistance.
At 19, I had already held a lot of jobs, but didn’t know how to get loans and build credit. Teresa was teaching me about credit and how to spot financial fraud.
And I wanted more time to bond with Teresa. Our connection helped me in a lot of ways. She showed me the value of hard work and dedication and how to keep up a household.
I told Teresa that I’d been offered an apartment, but wanted to stay longer with her. She said, “Of course. You’re not ready to live on your own, financially or emotionally.” I was happy that she agreed and that she wasn’t going to kick me out.
So when Donna told me about the supportive housing apartment, I told her I wasn’t ready, and I stayed with Teresa.
Savings Dashed by Pandemic
Over the next several years, I got more prepared to live on my own. When the pandemic hit, I was working at my foster care agency as a youth advocate, a job I’d started in December 2018. I helped foster youth connect to resources and took them on trips and gave them advice. I loved helping them change their life for the better. I was paid $15 an hour and worked 20 hours a week.
I had a second job driving for a car service. That paid between $500 and $850 a week.
In the middle of March 2020, my supervisor at the foster care agency told me not to come into work because of COVID-19. I was disappointed, but I hoped the driving job would keep me from running out of money. Before the pandemic, I was able to save about half of what I made from the two jobs.
In the spring of 2020, when so many New Yorkers were getting sick and dying, earnings from my driving job dropped to about $175 a week. I couldn’t get the $1,200 stimulus payment because I didn’t file taxes for 2018 or 2019. I tried, but couldn’t get approved for unemployment. I started to panic.
I started cleaning people’s houses for $150; I got those jobs through some of my biological relatives and their friends.
Conflicts Over Money
I turned 21 in April, but stayed in care thanks to an extension often granted to youth who don’t have a place to move to when they age out. I was still on the NYCHA list.
In June 2020, I asked Teresa if I could get an allowance of $100 a month so that I could pay my phone bill. Under the extension, I knew she was still getting a check from foster care for me. She also gets checks for two other foster youth who live with us.
Teresa said angrily, “I can’t afford to hand out money right now due to the pandemic.”
I responded with an attitude. “You got a stimulus check for you, plus $500 per child. Which means you got $1,500 extra.”
Teresa said, “You don’t know what I got.”
“Whatever,” I said, and slammed my door.
Teresa usually made me feel like a real son and I’m glad she’s adopting me. But during the pandemic, she wouldn’t give me money that I needed. I knew she had just gone on a shopping spree with her biological son when she said, “I can’t afford to hand out money now.”
It was hard to ask for help, and it hurt that she didn’t want to. It made me feel like she wasn’t really my mom. I felt like a mom should ask, “How can I help you get through this hard time?”
And she owed me because I’m still officially in care. I didn’t say anything to my agency because I don’t want to get her in trouble.
A Place to Live
I still want to be adopted because I want to be legally a part of Teresa’s family even if she can’t support me financially.
At the same time, I have always known I want my own apartment after I turn 21. I want my own space, where it’s quiet and clean and I can decorate the house how I want. I want to paint some of my walls red. I want to have parties and to bring girls home.
When I first applied to NYCHA, I did the three workshops that were supposed to give you a jump on the list. I maintained a clean legal record, held many jobs, and got all the physical exams they asked for. I have no idea why I was on the list for almost four years. I have seen other foster youth get NYCHA apartments much faster.
In June, a few months after my birthday, my worker emailed me asking if I had checked my status on NYCHA. I told her, “Yes, I’m still on the waiting list.”
She said “Bryant, you’re 21 now, so we’re in a rush to find you housing or to finalize your adoption.” I told her, “I want to be adopted and I want housing.” The agency will pay the adoption costs now, but after a certain amount of time, they won’t, she said. But during the pandemic, the courts were closed, so the adoption process had stopped.
I wondered if getting adopted was why I wasn’t getting a NYCHA apartment. When I got on the list for public housing, my official goal was APPLA, which stands for Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement. That means the plan was for me to age out on my own, without a family. Someone at ACS told me that if my goal was APPLA when I first submitted my NYCHA application, that getting adopted after that wouldn’t bump me out of line. So I’m not sure why my worker said that or why it was taking so long.
Then, in early February 2021, almost four years after getting on the list, I got the call! A NYCHA apartment was available in the borough of my choice, the Bronx. You only get shown two apartments, so I will say Yes to the Bronx apartment unless it is falling apart. I took a building maintenance course, so I’m better than most people my age at fixing things up. I know how to put up drywall and how to patch holes in walls. I have friends who do plumbing and electrical work.
Getting an apartment is a huge relief. I feel like I can step into my adult life now. I will file taxes for 2020, and hopefully I’ll be able to get any stimulus checks the government sends in 2021.
I Still Want a Mom
And when the pandemic ends, I’ll pick the adoption process back up. I haven’t spoken with my birth parents in months. They have never helped me, and they lost their parental rights years ago. Yet I know they wouldn’t like to hear Teresa was adopting me. My biological mom would accuse me of “turning on family.” So I’m not going to tell her about the adoption.
Getting the apartment has made my relationship with Teresa better. She seems happy for me. She said she will help me buy things for my house, and that she still wants me to come over for all holidays.
She also said, “I will still adopt you if you still want me to.”
I told her I did. It means a lot to me to be Teresa’s legal child and to have a stable family. It will help to feel supported as I set up my first household. There are legal as well as emotional benefits: In a medical emergency, Teresa will be able to make decisions about my care.
Knowing that Teresa has my back makes me feel confident going into the real world. I like knowing I can call her and say, “Mom I got this job done” or “Mom, I met this woman and I want you to meet her,” or even, “Mom, I’m going through hard times, and I need some advice.” I look forward to being a grown man who has a mother.