The United Way Hotel Assistance Program is intended to be an emergency fund to prevent homeless families with children under the age of 18 from staying on the streets or in their cars when the weather is below freezing, and the family cannot stay in an emergency shelter.
A 7 year old boy, crying and throwing a tantrum, stood in the middle of the WestTown Resource Center waiting room. His mother had just told him, “Pick up your toys. Time to go.” The seven year old was not crying over toys. Through his sobs and gasps for air he managed to say, “I’m tired of moving. I don’t want to stay in a motel. I want a home.” This little boy had faced things that no child should have to. He, his mother, and 2 year old sister came to Oklahoma City fleeing domestic violence in Texas. He suffers from asthma and is dyslexic. His mother is unable to work due to chronic health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder secondary to the domestic violence. As the end of their time in DV rent-free housing approached, the family faced homelessness. After staying a week in their car, the family moved into the Wonderfully Made Shelter in northeast Oklahoma City, but a week into their stay at the shelter, the 7 year old’s health declined. His mother took him to the doctor, who recommended he have surgery on his throat. The doctor insisted that the boy not stay in a communal living facility during his recovery. His immune system would be too weak and the risk of infection would be too great.
The mother, young boy, and his little sister left their hard-won spot at the Wonderfully Made shelter to stay temporarily with a friend. The boy’s surgery was successful and he was on his way to recovery. In the middle of the night, while staying at the friend’s, the family woke to a smoke-filled house. The friend’s family, the mother, and the young boy all made it out safely when they realized in the rush and chaos of evacuating that the 2 year old was still inside. The mother ran back inside the burning house and saw her daughter’s little feet sticking out from under a bed. Mom pulled her to safety. The fire fighters were amazed by the mother’s bravery, risking her own life to save her two-year-old. Everyone was safe, but the family had now lost their fourth housing placement in a few months.
Mom came to WestTown on a bitter cold afternoon. She had spent the morning with her seven year old at the hospital. He had an infection in his lymph nodes as a result of the surgery. The mother had called shelters, they were all full. The temperature was forecast to drop to 17 degrees that night. Staying in the car would be life-threatening to any person on this cold night, not to mention to a toddler and a little boy with a serious infection. Through the United Way Hotel Assistance program, we were able to put the family in a hotel for a week. We are working with them to find permanent housing. But in this waiting period the hotel assistance was literally a lifesaver for this family. After going through so much: domestic violence, eviction, surgery, hospital stays, a house fire, this family is able to recover and rest warmly in their hotel.
Written by: Maggie Murdock