With Help, I Made My Own Home 

My long road to supportive housing and stability

by Anonymous

Brick apartment condo building exterior architecture in Fordham Heights center, Bronx, NYC, Manhattan, New York City with fire escapes, windows, ac units in evening

I first went into foster care when I was 12 years old because my mom abused and neglected me. (My father was mostly not around.) My last placement was at a residential treatment facility called Madonna Heights, where the other girls bullied me. Staff required me to wake up at 6 a.m. to do chores. I couldn’t go outside the building alone. It didn’t feel like a home, and I hated it. 

I signed myself out of care a month before my 18th birthday. I knew I was getting older and I wanted my own apartment where I could eat, clean and wake up when I wanted. It seemed like ACS didn’t do enough to help foster kids get apartments after they aged out, and I was afraid of aging out at 21 and living on the street.  

From Madonna Heights, I moved back to my mom’s house. During my most recent home visits, she told me she loved me and apologized for her past abuse, crying. I was convinced she had changed.  

I had never stopped wanting to be loved by my mother. I always wanted to live in a loving home with a kind, caring mother. I wanted what families in sitcoms had, not someone verbally and physically abusive.  

More realistically, I thought her apartment would be a stepping stone until I got my own apartment. But after two months, she was back to yelling, threatening and abusing me. I had been getting Social Security disability checks since I was 5 years old for a hearing disorder, and it seemed like she only wanted me back for the money.  

My Social Security and food stamps money totalled about $1,000 a month. My mother made me pay all of the rent, and she asked me for money several times a week. If I didn’t give it to her, she screamed at the top of her lungs. I didn’t understand why she was asking me for money when she got the same amount of Social Security disability and food stamps I did. 

I had had enough. I packed my things. She began yelling and hitting me. Placing a heavy chair in front of the front door, she said, “You’re not going anywhere.” She sat on that chair all night.  

The next day, I packed my stuff in a suitcase and a duffel bag and threw them out the third-story window. I told her that I was going to the store, knowing that I would not be coming back.  

I didn’t know where to go or what was going to happen. I had little knowledge of shelters or how to get housing, and I was scared. I took a train to Coney Island and sat inside a McDonald’s. Two middle-aged women saw me looking sad with all my bags. They told me about Covenant House, a homeless shelter for youth under the age of 21. 

I went to the shelter, a tall building on the west side of Manhattan, did my intake, and got assigned a room. I was afraid but not as afraid as I was of my mother. I was happy to discover that Covenant House had great food and clean common areas.  

People there helped me with my application for supportive housing, which is subsidized housing available to youth who age out of foster care, people with mental illness, and people with substance use disorders, among other vulnerable populations.  

Residents of these apartments follow more rules and have staff on site to help with mental health and other needs. My name went onto the list. While living at Covenant House, I finished high school and graduated. 

My First Apartment 

Two months after I graduated, Covenant House surprised me with my very own supportive housing apartment. I think it helped that I was getting Social Security checks to pay my rent. I was so happy I was screaming. I had started to doubt that I would ever get a place of my very own. 

It was a studio townhouse in Staten Island. It was beautiful and spacious, and the kitchen even had a nice window. That spring I got a job at Burger King. I was bored in my apartment alone and wanted to be around people and do something with myself. I only worked five hours a week, so my pay didn’t cancel out my Social Security benefits.  

Out of loneliness, I started hanging out with some people in the neighborhood who smoked weed every day. I was desperate for friends, and I didn’t want to leave them to go to work. I stopped maintaining my apartment and paying my Con Edison bill. I ended up quitting my job so I could hang out with them every day.  

I had never learned how to be a responsible adult. My mother didn’t teach me about making a resumé or paying bills or anything else useful in the real world. She was either yelling or locked in her room away from her kids.   

Having company over and being a host made me feel grown. I didn’t have any friends growing up, and it felt nice to have people in my house. But after three months, I realized my new “friends” in Staten Island were just using me to do drugs in my apartment. They made fun of me and picked fights. One even spit on me for no apparent reason.  

I wanted out of Staten Island. I asked Miss Annette, my case manager from Covenant House, if I could move. Amazingly, she quickly moved me to an apartment in the Bronx.  

Since I got this apartment,
life has been much better.

But I didn’t realize that the Bronx apartment was in the neighborhood I grew up in until I arrived with all my stuff. I had a lot of trauma from being bullied in that area when I was a kid. I worried that my childhood tormentors would see me and continue their abuse, so I was always scared living there. That area was also where I was first taken away by ACS. I didn’t feel safe. The Bronx brought back too many bad memories as well as fear. I wanted a place of peace, happiness and refuge. I left. 

After a brief stay in Arizona with a cousin, I moved back in with my mother. I knew she was abusive, but I was scared to go to an adult shelter. People from Covenant House had told me that adult shelters were worse than jail, and dirty too. 

But my mother continued her abuse, so after five months with her, I went to a women’s intake shelter in the Bronx. There were 30 women in one room, and it was scary. There were a lot of drug addicts, and people stole, so I locked everything in my locker and kept the key around my neck.  

The staff there connected me with a permanent shelter called The Lantern. It took seven more months of living in the shelter, but The Lantern helped me get a one-bedroom apartment in a supportive housing building in Manhattan, on the Lower East Side.  

What Makes a Home 

I moved in a year and three months ago. The apartment came mostly furnished, and my Social Security checks help me pay my electric bill and rent. Now, I have money left over after my bills are paid.  

Since I got this apartment, life has been much better. I am in therapy, I see a psychiatrist regularly and take medication for depression and bipolar disorder. I feel better and more in control on medication, and have learned I need to stay on it. The building also has case managers on site.  

I know I’m lucky to have support people around, but living with staff on site reminds me of living in group homes in foster care. I want to feel more independent and not rely on the staff.  

But what’s more important to me is that I made a few friends in the building who don’t do drugs or drink. We sit and talk in the courtyard of the building: Having sober friends shows me I can have a good time without drugs or alcohol. I can talk to them about anything; they are not judgmental. Everyone who lives in this building has been through a lot and has mental health issues.  

My best friend is Maureen, who lives on the fifth floor. We watch TV together and cook for each other and buy each other things we need. One day I didn’t have oil to cook with because my food stamps were late. She sent me to the supermarket with her credit card. It felt good to be trusted. My mom would never let me use her credit card because she said I’d steal.  

Maureen is a good listener and really funny. She’s like the mom I always wanted even though she’s only 19 years older than me. She’s been through a lot and understands me and makes me feel loved. I’m happy I have Maureen in my life. 

Recently, I saw a drug addict in my neighborhood selling a little Pekingese for $20. The dog was skinny, dirty, cute and sad-looking, so I bought him. I took him home and bathed him and fed him. I took him to the vet and got all his vaccinations.  

I named him Mr. Bear because he looks like a fuzzy teddy bear. I was happy that I could save him from the environment he was living in. I can only imagine what he’s been through. I take him for walks and take videos of the funny things he does and post them on Instagram. I talk to him, and he keeps me company.  

Mr. Bear helps me feel more loved, stable and responsible. He is a small dog so my one-bedroom apartment probably seems like a castle to him. I love him like a child and he follows me around and wants to be next to me all the time. I know how it feels to be treated badly, so I’m happy I could save him from a horrible life. 

I know how bad homelessness and living with someone abusive are. There is nothing like having my own apartment, which I have decorated and keep very clean. No one can abuse me or tell me what to do because I’m in control. That safety and stability have allowed me to find supportive friends and to nurture Mr. Bear. I finally have a real home. 

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