Nineteen year-old Ivory Keith nuzzles her sleeping three month-old infant while the baby’s eyes flutter in and out of sleep. According to NJ.com, Keith has been living at Raphael’s House in Newark since June, a shelter for homeless pregnant women and new moms in Elizabeth, NJ. She has soaked up advice on child-rearing, life, and career choices from the staff at the covenant house.
Ivory Keith’s new lust for life and motherhood is tempered with nervousness. In a month, she must leave the shelter and find a place of her own. She said, “I’ve never done well on my own. But I know I have help here if I need it.” Raphael’s Life House just received a $493,000 grant to help support these women as they transition from the shelter into independent housing. The grant comes form federal money allotted to the county by U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The money will provide transitional housing stipends for eight women, as well as a counselor to assist these women as they adjust to life on their own.
Keith is moving out before these stipends will be available, but she plans to take advantage of the counselor available to her during this transition. Ivory Keith is on welfare, and she plans to move into Harmony House, which is a transitional housing complex with affordable rent. She is also applying for jobs and local colleges.
These mothers transitioning to independent living worry about how they will sustain themselves, and their lives are held in a precarious balance at this time. A long-time employee of Raphael’s House said, “Even with the success tools we give them, their situations often mean that one unexpected hurdle can render them homeless again.”
Ivory Keith claims she knows how easy it is to slip back into homelessness. When she first got pregnant at 14, she ran away from home and began living on the streets. She estimates she lived in 16 foster homes or group homes in five years, but she always ended up back on the streets. She points at her child, indicating why her story began to change this time. ”This is my last chance,” she said. ”and I have my son.” This is her third child, but she gave the other two up for adoption. She said about them, “Even though they are not with me, I know they’re doing better in the families where they are. At that time I was not what was best for them.”
During Keith’s five years on the streets in Miami, she battled addiction and often slept in alleyways and drug houses. She said, “For a long time, I thought my life was destined to be a tragedy. Now I know I was meant to be here.” Last March, Social Services took her daughter away, while she was pregnant with her third child. She claims she knew the only way to turn her life around was to get away, so she moved to Newark with a backpack and flip-flops on her feet. In June, she found Raphael’s Life House.
Ivory Keith has been clean for nine months, and she is three classes away from getting her GED. She is applying to local universities, and in June her mother plans to visit Newark and meet her grandchild for the first time.
Image courtesy of Andrew Miller/The Star-Ledger.