My Mother Has Been Homeless for 45 Years. Why Isn’t Housing a Right?

Not long ago, I received a letter from my mother. It said, “I am homeless, again. I may be dead before you are released from prison. Love mom.”

It felt like some cruel force punched through my chest and tore out my heart, then stomped on it. My mother did not write that letter to simply provide me with an update on how her life continues to unravel. My mother wrote that letter because it is nearly impossible to survive deep poverty on one’s own.

Even though I am incarcerated, my mother views my release as her best chance to acquire stable housing. Most of our family members are too poor, troubled or addicted to lend help, or simply do not know how. For the life of me, I do not understand: Why isn’t housing a basic right for all Americans?

My mother has been either homeless or near homeless off and on for the past 45 years. I do not know all the details of how this began — only that while she was growing up, her father, my grandfather, used to get drunk every day after work and physically take out his frustrations on my mother and her four siblings. When my mother was 12, she could no longer endure the daily regimen of abuse, so she ran away from home. She fell in with a small group of runaways surviving on the streets of Detroit. To say she was living hand-to-mouth would be a gross understatement. The abuse she had attempted to escape continued in new ways on the streets. And in less than a year, she was pregnant with me.

After my mother gave birth to me at age 14, two women from the Department of Social Services were there to take me into state custody. My mother would tell me years later that me being pried from her arms hurt more than any blow she suffered during her father’s drunken attacks. A couple of days later, the same two Social Services employees were back at the hospital to take my mother into state custody as well. She tells of how they conveyed her to a state facility for “neglected and unwanted girls.” That night, only three or four nights…

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