Tough luck comes in waves, some say. J.R. and Nikia would agree. They and their two young children are weathering their own economic storm at St. Vincent de Paul's First Place Family Center, serving homeless and low-income families.
In hindsight their home was idyllic, an after-school destination for kids from all over the neighborhood. J.R. worked in construction. Nikia worked for a cleaning company. Happiness ruled.
Then J.R. was laid off and declared ineligible for unemployment benefits. In another blow, Nikia's job ended. Suddenly their very home was at-risk.
“We didn’t realize how fast our savings would go," Nikia said.
Her family lost that beloved home, but they are together and secure. At First Place they have free food and use of a kitchen, showers and laundry facilities, computers and message services. Thanks to a long and fruitful partnership with area faith communities through the Interfaith Night Shelter program, qualifying families enjoy a hot evening meal, special activities, a place to sleep or sleep safely in a vehicle, and an early return to First Place in time for school.
First Place is designed to meet the immediate needs of families and to help them move forward, guided in part by staff presentations on parenting and personal empowerment. Last year 540 homeless families with 980 children were helped - hardworking families like Nikia's who have fallen on hard times.
But First Place is not home, as Nikia is reminded frequently by her daughter. "It’s been hard for Bella," she said. "Little kids don’t understand. They just want to go home.”
With spring and summer comes an uptick in construction and J.R.'s employment prospects. Nikia looks ahead with optimism, and around her with gratitude for the First Place staff, volunteers and donors whose efforts have sustained her family and helped clear the path back to home.
“We have a good family,” Nikia said. “We want our life back.”