Homeless mom has guaranteed rent but can’t find landlord
Amber Griffith helps her son, Drake, 3, change his shirt while her daughter Chelsea, 6, unpacks her bag after arriving home from kindergarten on Wednesday afternoon, May 15, 2013. Griffith is a 27-year-old mother of four, currently staying at the family shelter in Concord with three of her kids. Families in Transition program pays for her rent for her own apartment, but she is not having luck with landlords in the area allowing her to sign a lease.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Amber Griffith plays with her son, Drake, 3, outside their temporary home in Concord. Griffith is a 27-year-old mother of four, currently staying at the family shelter in Concord with three of her kids. Families in Transition program pays for her rent for her own apartment, but she is not having luck with landlords in the area allowing her to sign a lease.
(JOHN TULLY / Monitor staff)
Amber Griffith keeps a stack of identical letters in her unit at the emergency family shelter.
She calls them her “ticket out” of the shelter, where she lives with three of her four children. Each letter outlines Families in Transition’s program, which will subsidize an apartment and guarantee monthly rent checks to a landlord.
For nearly two months, the 27-year-old single mom has been searching for apartments and giving those letters to landlords. So far, they’ve all said the same thing: “I’m sorry, but we’re not going to work with this program.”
So she keeps looking, while staying at the Friends Program family shelter in Concord. She wants her own apartment and also a chance to get her family back together – a judge has said she can seek guardianship of her 1-year-old daughter once she has a stable living situation.
Griffith has lived at the shelter since October. Since she qualified for a Families in Transition program seven weeks ago, she has spent part of every day searching for a three-bedroom apartment.
“I’m stuck here with all the resources I have to move out, and I can’t seem to move,” she said as she sat in her unit at the shelter last week, bouncing her 4-month-old baby on her lap.
Families in Transition can subsidize an apartment for Griffith through its Concord Community Program. The program has had federal funding since 2007, said Michele
Talwani, the nonprofit’s director of economic development and marketing. It currently provides housing for up to 13 families and three individuals.
The organization signs the lease with the landlord and sends a check on the first day of every month, Talwani said. Residents contribute 30 percent of their income through a sublease agreement with the organization.
“So it’s guaranteed rent to the landlord as long as the grant is funded,” Talwani said.
But it can take time for families to find apartments, Talwani said. The organization has spent between one and four months searching for available apartments and willing landlords.
Once families are placed into apartments, Families in Transition staff members visit frequently to help participants budget their money and look for work.
“Really the goal is to work with participants to help increase their income,” Talwani said. “So we don’t necessarily say somebody has to leave. But the goal is for them to become more self-sustainable.”
Griffith said she qualified for a three-bedroom apartment with up to $1,230 in monthly rent. She will contribute 30 percent of her income, which is now only the child support she receives through state programs – a total of $370 per month. Her monthly aid will increase when she moves out of the shelter, because she’ll have to pay her own bills.
She hasn’t been able to look for work because her 3-year-old son, Drake, requires nearly constant medical attention. He has epilepsy and Chiari malformation, which means the tonsils of his brain are located below his skull.
When Drake was in the hospital for an extended stay last summer, Griffith’s 1-year-old daughter, Uharley, went to live with an aunt. A judge granted guardianship to the aunt, and the toddler now only spends Saturday nights with Griffith and the other three children.
But the court order granting guardianship also tells Griffith that she can return to court with the hope of getting her daughter back, once she has her own home.
The other three children – Drake, 6-year-old Chelsea and 4-month-old Cody – live at the shelter. Griffith said she’s on good terms with her daughter’s aunt, but she’d like to have all of her children under one roof.
Griffith grew up in Concord and left last year to stay with her mother in South Carolina. She returned so her children could be near their fathers, though only Chelsea, her oldest child, spends time with her dad.
The family shared an apartment with one of Griffith’s friends in Pembroke until October, when her lease wasn’t renewed.
So she and her children slept in her car while she repeatedly called nonprofit and government organizations in search of a better place to stay.
It took five days to find a spot at the shelter, but “it felt like a year,” she said.
There’s no limit to Griffith’s stay at the shelter, as long as she follows a plan to seek permanent housing. Now, she’s just hoping to complete her search for an apartment.
She estimated that she’s visited 30 landlords and contacted many more. She’s growing impatient with the wait.
Friends drive her around to look for available apartments, and she scours the internet and classified ads every night after her kids are in bed.
“At this point, it’s hard to get excited talking to anybody,” Griffith said.
She has her own unit at the family shelter and is grateful for its support and programs. But, she said, it can’t compare to having privacy and her own home. Her kids have a simpler wish: They don’t like the shelter’s rule to wear shoes.
“I think their biggest thing is to be able to walk around barefoot,” she said.