The abuse started early in their relationship – and escalated. She soon feared for the safety of her baby.
“I knew I was done,” said China Perkins, now 43, recalling that low point in July 2019. When her husband left the family, Perkins saw his chance. She fled her home state of Georgia with her baby.
It took more than one try, but Perkins finally packed the car and is gone for good. It turned out that the car she was soon living in with her son in Seattle.
For Perkins, Wellspring Family Services was the lifeline she needed. The Seattle-based nonprofit is dedicated to ending family homelessness by preventing it before it happens and intervening early when it does occur.
Wellspring has supported Perkins on several fronts, first by providing him with affordable housing. Wellspring also enrolled his son, Kingston, in the on-site daycare in Wellspring, with a full scholarship, so that Perkins could work at his job at Bellevue in early childhood education. The nonprofit also put Perkins in touch with therapists to help her become the parent and person she wanted to be to herself and her successful 30-month-old son.
Nefertari I, or Miss One, is now retired from her job as a housing stability specialist at Wellspring. But she vividly remembers Perkins, whom she helped achieve her goals. “For me, it was really just being willing and patient to really meet her where she was,” I told Nefertari.
“My job was to find out where she was and where she wanted to go. “
She spoke with Perkins twice a month, and sometimes more often, to help keep Perkins on track. “A lot of the clients I serve have DV [domestic violence] in their background.
“The difference I felt was his commitment and motivation to his son Kingston. Everything with her was around her son; I was inspired by the fresh life I saw.
Getting Perkins into affordable housing was the crucial step towards stability. It’s a clean, quiet, and simple studio just big enough for her and Kingston. When they moved in, Wellspring made sure the apartment was furnished with everything they needed, even a vacuum cleaner.
The apartment is full of children’s books and musical instruments; Kingston loves to sing. Things are going so well now, Perkins said she enrolled in classes at Bellevue College, putting her on track to earn a degree in early childhood education.
A lot of people don’t understand that many homeless people are families, said Heather Fitzpatrick, CEO of Wellspring, which has been helping families since 1892. Families often hide their need because they are in embarrassment, and that is. especially true today with impatience and even hostility towards homeless people in Seattle, Fitzpatrick said.
“They’re surfing on their sofas or living in their cars,” Fitzpatrick said of families in need of stable housing. They are also afraid of losing their children if they ask for help.
These barriers are what Wellspring removes. Families are kept together and the issues that lead them to homelessness are resolved, whether it’s paying down debt, paying the costs of moving into an apartment, or paying rent to a landlord to avoid expulsion.
“If we can pay someone’s rent, or help them move to something more affordable, pay their first and last month’s rent to keep them stable, it’s so much cheaper. [than a shelter] and less traumatic, ”Fitzpatrick said. The goal is to prevent a family from becoming homeless before it happens and to intervene early if it does.
In addition to housing assistance, a family store is available with everything a family might need, with personal assistance with purchases, but without a price tag. From diapers to warm coats, Wellspring is here to help. The store’s gift room is also full of toys and books for children from infancy to 11 years old.
It doesn’t take much to push a family into homelessness. A few unforeseen expenses – a broken down car, a medical bill, lost hours, or even a job – can destabilize families.
The average family faces a $ 2,000 emergency every 18 months, Fitzpatrick said. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it does if you live paycheck to paycheck. “
Homelessness hurts children, exposing them to trauma that can make them more likely to fail to thrive, have problems in school and even become homeless themselves as adults.
In the families they serve, homelessness is typically caused by a financial crisis rather than mental health issues, including substance abuse, Fitzpatrick said. The family has limited means and social support. Parents are often young, headed by a single female head of the family. Children are generally under 6 years old. The parents of these children must earn enough to cover both rent and child care – a mountain for those with low incomes to climb.
In her more than 30 years of working at Wellspring, Bevette Irvis said she sees more working families who are homeless.
“They work, one job, two jobs,” said Irvis, senior director of children’s services, who will soon take over as program director for the association. “They can’t afford the high cost of living in Seattle with jobs that don’t pay them a living wage.
“People have myths about homelessness: ‘Just go look for a job, why don’t they find any’. Well, they have jobs, they are doing their best to support their families. “
A lot of people also don’t think about children and how they are affected by homelessness, Irvis said, especially young children who can’t even express the experience of what they are going through.
Wellspring’s daycare provides an island of stability, with staff trained in trauma-informed care. This means using a compassionate approach for children who may express strong emotions – behavior that could be rejected by deportation elsewhere, further destabilizing a family.
Children also get a nutritious breakfast and lunch. There is snack time and an environment created to surround children with a sense of stability. Even after parents like Perkins are in stable housing, support from the early learning daycare continues for the benefit of the child until they enroll in school.
When Perkins arrived from work in Wellspring to pick up Kingston, he was bubbling with energy and couldn’t wait to get home. Arriving at their apartment, it was he who opened the door, eagerly putting the key in the lock.
As he turned her over, he pushed inside their house, hoping to play, dine and spend time with his mother. Perkins unloaded the groceries and invited Kingston to come help him cut the broccoli for the family dinner, pulling his stepladder to the kitchen counter.
Their daily routine was once anything but everyday – and is everything for her and her son, Perkins said.
“They helped me a lot,” she said.