Horizons for Homeless Children: Antonia’s Story

(NECN: Latoyia Edwards) - It's a startling statistic: One in every 45 children in the United States is homeless.

In the Bay State, roughly 22,600 children are homeless, and many of them will never have the tools necessary to succeed in school.

But in Massachusetts, Horizons for Homeless Children, a non-profit organization, is working to reverse that trend.

As a mother of four, Antonia of Dorchester has much on her shoulders by trying to keep a roof over her family's head while also working to earn a degree in health care management.

Often, the best part of Antonia's day is when she picks up her two younger children, 2-year-old A'najee and 1-year-old A'zhatierra, from Horizons for Homeless Children in Dorchester.

Horizons is a non-profit organization working to give every homeless child the necessary educational skills they need before they enter school. It's also more than a traditional daycare, since Horizons also offers family support services.

Antonia considers it an extended family.

"Any teacher in this building can tell you a child's name. It doesn't have to be in their class. They know the personalities of the kids," she says.

Antonia's road to Horizons is one that is all too familiar for many Bay State families. While on maternity leave in 2010 from her IT job, Antonia fell behind on the rent for her apartment in Roxbury.

"I only got 55 percent of my normal income," Antonia explains, "and we couldn't keep up with the rent and pay other bills and so my landlord went to court and had us evicted."

Antonia says she became homeless due to the market rates and rents in Boston and other circumstances.

"I was mad. I was mad at my partner. I was mad at myself. My older son was leaving. We got evicted on the 3rd. He was leaving to go to college for his freshman year on the 21st. His whole life he has had a roof over his head. Now he has no roof," she says.

So what happened next?

"My whole mindset changed. I went into autopilot. It was more like survivable mode. I was like, 'Okay, we have 24 hours to get our stuff out of this apartment, make sure that we have a place to sleep tonight ... what am I going to do,'" Antonia says. "I don't think it actually set in until maybe two weeks later when I was in a spot where I could just breathe for a minute and think 'Okay, what is our next step going to be?'"

Those next steps brought Antonia and her family to a shelter - a place they would live but never call home.

"There was youth and young adults that would smoke marijuana in different hallways," she recalls. "We had a case of bed bugs go through our apartment."

Despite those conditions, Antonia still had hope.

Right around the time her maternity leave was coming to an end, an advocate suggested she put her son on a waiting list at Horizons. Antonia would later enroll her daughter there as well.

"The assumption is ok they work with homeless kids. It's going to be a different level of child care. They are held to the same rules and regulations of any other child care center. They have to have ratios for teachers and staff and children," Antonia says.

Now, Antonia's children are thriving at Horizons. They're learning Spanish and other skills, but more importantly, Antonia knows her children are happy to be at this home-away-from-home.

Antonia says she's learned a lot from her experience.

"You have to get past the crying, because crying is not going to put a roof over kids head. It's not going to feed them. It's not going to get me out of the situation," she says. "I have a roof today but it doesn't mean that I will have a roof tomorrow, so knowing what got me to my position of not having a roof in the past, I try to avoid that issue."

After saving enough money, Antonia and her family finally left the shelter in October 2012, and now live in their own apartment in Dorchester. Although she is no longer homeless, Horizons wanted the children to remain in their care to ensure stability and readiness before entering school.

For as little as $15 a month, you can help Horizons for Homeless Children give a child the opportunity to learn, play and thrive. Call 800-650-6219 to make your donation.

Contact Us