Regina has hit rock bottom.
On July 8, the 29-year-old jobless mother of two, who lost a son two years ago, ended up homeless.
At her lowest point, she said, she contemplated committing suicide by jumping off a bridge.
“But I think about my kids all the time. They’re why I’m not dead yet,” said Regina, a former certified nurse assistant. “If it weren’t for them, I probably would have done something by now.”
In the six weeks since she left the apartment she rented for five months (the landlord sold the duplex where she stayed, and the new owner did not take her on as a tenant), Regina and her two daughters, ages 7 and 8, have bounced between the homes of Regina’s friends, staying for a few nights or a week at each place.
“We’re couch hopping. My friends have been wonderful,” said Regina, who used a pseudonym to protect her identity.
Regina has contacted local emergency shelters including Avis Arbor and Family Promise, but all of the shelters that house homeless families with children are filled, and she is on a wait list.
At one point, Dr. Monica Speicher, who founded WeCare Street Outreach, contacted Dean Gartland, executive director of the City Mission, to assist Regina in her search for a place to stay. Since none was available in Washington County, Gartland offered to help Regina find emergency shelter in Pittsburgh, but she didn’t want to leave the county. She doesn’t have a car, and the girls are preparing to attend school in the Washington School District in the fall.
Washington County has programs, resources and dedicated staff members to help the homeless, but not enough to meet the number of homeless families.
Regina has brought the girls to WeCare gatherings, where twice a month the Jefferson Avenue United Methodist Church and WeCare, a homeless outreach program, provide hot meals and medical care for the city’s homeless men and women.
“It is disappointing and frustrating that we do not have reliable emergency shelter for women and families with children in Washington County,” Speicher said. “The street outreach tries to fill this gap, but it is difficult because we are an all-volunteer staff who are self-taught in case management.”
For Regina, being homeless is humiliating and embarrassing.
“I’ve never found myself in this position before,” said Regina, who has nine siblings and has a troubled relationship with her parents. “I am a very proud person, and I was raised that you do things for yourself and you don’t ask for help from anybody. I’ve had to swallow my pride, and I know that if I don’t ask for help, it affects my children. I hate walking into the assistance office and the way that people look at you. There’s a stereotype about people who need assistance.”
Regina said that until 2010, she worked as a certified nurse assistant at a local health care facility where she was employed for six years. She quit her job when she became pregnant with her son, but that’s when her life took what she calls a “downward spiral.”
Her son was born with an undetected rare condition called hypoplastic left heart syndrome, where parts of the left side of his heart were not developed. Days after his birth, a panicked Regina rushed the baby, who was swollen and having difficulty breathing, to the emergency room, but doctors could not save him. Regina said an autopsy revealed the heart condition.
Regina, who suffers from anxiety and bipolar disorder, fell into depression.
“I already had anxiety, but it became so much worse after he died,” said Regina, who takes medication to treat her issues. “I don’t like to be separated from the girls at all.”
Regina recently took a job at a local BP gas station, but the company let her go after a few days because, she said, she became anxious and stressed working with the public.
She is considering renewing her nurse assistant license, which has lapsed, but said she needs to save up the $96 for the test. And she needs a ride to Pittsburgh, where the test is offered.
Right now, Regina collects about $400 a month from public assistance – her former apartment’s monthly rent was $515 plus utilities.
This isn’t the life Regina imagined for her daughters.
She wants to give them stability and a home.
The girls know that their mother is trying to find a new place for them to live. They’d like to have their own rooms to decorate and their own beds to sleep in, but they’re happy to go wherever Regina is.
“We don’t have a house right now. We stay at different places,” said the 8-year-old matter-of-factly, confiding that her 7-year-old sister sleeps on the floor at the house where they are staying now. “She doesn’t like that very much. Mommy said we might stay in a hotel.”
On weekends, the girls stay with their father.
“I’ve been blessed with wonderful children. They understand what’s going on,” said Regina, who occasionally attends All Saints Greek Orthodox Church in Canonsburg. “They know Mommy’s trying to find a job to get us one step closer to getting our own place. They know when I’m having a bad day and they’ll sit on my lap and tell me it’s going to be OK.”
But Regina is worried that her children will be taken away because she is homeless, and she worries about her 7-year-old, who didn’t talk until the age of 4 and has some developmental issues.
“My main concern is that I’ll lose my children,” said Regina. “My life was a mess, and I’m trying to pick the pieces up and clean up my mess. I have faith in God and trust that he’ll take care of us, but sometimes I get so discouraged. Now I know what I need to do, but I feel like I can’t find any light at the end of the tunnel.”