There are more homeless families in the United States than in any other industrialized country. The main cause is the lack of affordable housing.

Nearly 172,000 families experienced homelessness in 2020, making up about 30% of the homeless population.

Many of those families comprise single women with young children who have no choice but to seek family homelessness services: emergency shelters, transitional housing or permanent housing placements.

Some women remain stuck in the system. Others overcome adversity and become advocates in their community. Every woman who has battled homelessness has a different story to tell. Each with their own unique experience.

These are some of their stories.

“Poverty hits us all differently … it can hit us at any time and I think the pandemic has shown us that”

Meshell Whyte, a single mother of a son with disabilities, was five months pregnant with him when she traveled back to the United States in 2016 from Antigua after attending her father’s funeral. She ended up losing her home. She spent more than a month couch surfing in family and friends’ homes before seeking help.

“That process was very challenging, it started with DHCD, [Department of Housing & Community Development in Boston]” Whyte says. “I had to prove my pregnancy, I had to prove I was couch surfing, so it took about 10 days to actually get placed at a [shelter].”

The now 48-year-old got placed in Hastings House in Boston, Mass. She says it’s the largest family homeless shelter of Economic Mobility Pathways (EMPath) — a nonprofit that focuses on helping people out of poverty. She spent the next three years living in their shelter programs before finding an apartment.

“I was so eager to get out of the shelter that I took the first opportunity that came for an apartment, which was a disaster,” Whyte, who lives in Mattapan, Mass., says. “It was infected, there were drugs in and out of the building.”

Six months later Whyte was relocated to another apartment that became her new home. But her challenge didn’t stop there. Whyte is still unable to work because of her son’s disabilities. She says very few nurses are confident enough to care for him and the ones who do, Whyte says she has to give them direction and guidance. She relies on financial assistance from the government to stay afloat.

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