Fathering in a homeless shelter
A few years ago, while working with NewDay, I met a man named Michael. When I met Michael, a father of three, he was making a transition from living an average life in a stable home, into homelessness. Just like many others in the DFW area, a series of unfortunate occurrences led Michael and his family to have to live in a shelter. This transition was not easy for Michael, he found that living in a shelter started to change the way he thought about himself. While he used to pride himself in being a provider for his family, now that he no longer had the money or the resources to give his children the things they needed, he started to question his self-worth. Soon Michael started to feel like most others who are experiencing homelessness feel, like he had lost the respect of his family. He started to believe that people were looking down on him because he was homeless.
Shelter life proved itself very difficult for Michael and his family. From day one, he had to adjust to the stark differences between having his own home and abiding by shelter rules. Curfews, childcare guidelines, daily chores, and specific visiting hours were among the many ways Michael had to adjust. He viewed these rules and restrictions as obstacles as a father instead of the structure-giving elements they were intended to be. Having limited space, shared bathrooms, and basically no privacy made this season of life particularly difficult. Among all of these challenges, Michael found not being able to freely parent his children the way he felt best was the hardest obstacle. Despite this, he did his best to make the most of a hard situation.
Before long, Michael worked his way out of the shelter. He found a job, worked hard, then qualified for a housing voucher. Soon after, he was out of the shelter back to independent life!
Not all fathers are successful in navigating their way back to a stable life, but Michael attributes his success to these main four things he practiced:
1) Do not do it alone. Michael enrolled in NewDay’s Fatherhood EFFECT program. He attended weekly meetings with other fathers and a facilitator. These programs support fathers to develop nurturing relationships with their children. For Michael these classes helped him develop the confidence that he could bounce back from being homeless. The classes were a place for Michael to vent his frustrations, share information, and to problem solve with other dads. Michael states that the strong bonds he developed with other dads in the class gave him the motivation and confidence to father his children. The other fathers cared about Michael, and he stopped feeling isolated. This community allowed him to find strength and stability.
2) Provide your children time and care. Michael was not able to provide material things for his children during part of the time he was in the shelter. He used this time to provide his children with his time and care. Instead of becoming frustrated, use this time to play with your kids, have conversations, teach them something, and show them how much you love them. You will be surprised how much your kids will enjoy you.
3) Access to material supports. Michael felt powerless until he had some money in his pocket. Although the job he worked was not his ideal choice, it was a quick way to put some money in his pocket. Michael’s long-term plans include seeking a career. In the short term though, he needed a job. Having a source of income empowers you, even if it is not the ideal job for you. Employment is a step in the right direction. It helped Michael recover his self-esteem.
4) Be thankful, even in the hard moments. Despite the hardship of living in a homeless shelter, Michael made it a point to be thankful for the small things. Transitioning out of homelessness is a marathon, not a sprint. It requires multiple steps and slow progress. Michael chose to be thankful for the small steps of progress that eventually led to creating a home for his family. Do not forget to stop, give thanks for what has been given to you, and keep pushing forward toward your ultimate goal.
If you or someone you know is experiencing homelessness while trying to continue quality parenting, let me encourage you, it is possible to support your family and nurture them well in the hard and uncertain moments with the right support and resources.
NewDay’s Fatherhood EFFECT classes meet several times each week. Participants enjoy the mutual support provided to each other AND each has a personal mentor-navigator to help them connect to needed resources.
Call Francisco, Reggie, or David at 817-926-9499 to join us or to refer another.
written by Francisco Hernandez