After eviction, family struggles to avoid homelessness

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By the end of spring 2021, Corey was released from hospital, but needed 24-hour care. He had been diagnosed with infantile spasms, optic nerve hypoplasia, encephalomalacia, and overall developmental delays. His medical equipment filled their apartment and he often needed to go to the emergency room, which meant Wood had to call for his job. Still, they were getting by – until Wood’s owner sold the house that Wood and his children had lived in for five years.

Donna Wood takes off the jacket of her 15-month-old son, Corey, who suffers from severe disabilities. Wood, Corey, and her three older children currently live in a hotel in Rhode Island. Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Team

At first, the new owners said she could stay in her apartment and eventually sign another long-term lease. But the offer was never made in writing, and this summer they told Wood that she and her family had about 20 days to pack up and leave. (The owners did not respond to The Globe’s requests for comment.)

Wood did what she could to save time. As part of the CDC’s eviction moratorium, she was able to get another month. But then the moratorium was lifted and she received another letter under her door, telling her that she and her children had to leave.

At just over a year old, Corey can’t talk, crawl, or sit up on his own. His pediatric neurologist and clinical social worker at Hasbro Children’s Hospital wrote to the landlord and the housing court judge, explaining that Corey needed the frequent and ongoing support of a medical team, as well as “care and supervision. 24 hours a day ”from his mother. Another letter from his medical team said that Corey’s medical equipment, which was necessary for his health and development, required space.

“The housing insecurity would put considerable stress on Corey’s family and put his health and safety at risk,” the letter read. “I think it’s medically necessary for Corey’s family to have a three-bedroom unit.”

But the letters were of no use. Unlike neighboring states, Rhode Island does not require a valid reason for deportation.

Donna Wood puts her hands to her temples as she talks about what could happen if the apartment she hopes to secure by the end of the month doesn't work.
Donna Wood puts her hands to her temples as she talks about what could happen if the apartment she hopes to secure by the end of the month doesn’t work.Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Team

“I walk past a camp on my way to work every day where people light fires to warm up at night. I never thought I would be in this situation, and right now I was facing it, ”said Wood. “I am a good mom. I am a manager in my work. I take good care of my children. I have never been in this situation before. But there is nothing about the state that protects anyone in the situation I find myself in, even with my four children. Even with someone who is incredibly disabled.

“How is that fair? How is it human? ” she asked. “How much is someone supposed to be able to take?” “

The housing crisis in Rhode Island has reached a point of no return. The shelters, which were never designed for long-term accommodation, are at full capacity. There is a long waiting list for housing permits. More and more camps are appearing in Providence and in other cities.

More than 660 people lived outdoors in September in Rhode Island, not counting the number of people fleeing their homes due to domestic violence situations.

Rhode Island has yet to spend the $ 1.13 billion in federal aid funds, and housing advocates have called on Governor Dan McKee to use $ 500 million for housing, which was became a problem long before the pandemic. But in his down payment plan, which uses 10% of federal funds, the governor allocated $ 38.5 million for child care, $ 32 million for small businesses and just $ 29 million for housing. , including $ 1.5 million for emergencies.

“We need executive action now for emergency shelters. Before winter, ”said Kristina Brown, program officer for United Way of Rhode Island. “We know the numbers we have are just the tip of the iceberg. Families and children hide, and they know how to hide well.

In the kitchenette of the hotel room where they have been staying since June, Donna Wood pulls out her calendar as she prepares to call the pediatrician about her 15-month-old son Corey, who has just returned from the hospital.
In the kitchenette of the hotel room where they have been staying since June, Donna Wood pulls out her calendar as she prepares to call the pediatrician about her 15-month-old son Corey, who has just returned from the hospital. Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Team

Thanks to Ehren Hunt, a housing specialist at the Tri-County Community Action Agency, Wood was able to use funds from the Rhode Island Coalition to End Homelessness to move into a single hotel room at the Extended Stay in Warwick.

They’ve been there since June, all five crammed into one room. Wood says there are 10 to 15 other families staying at the hotel under the same program.

Each of the children has been sick and the baby is “constantly sick”. Last week he was rushed to the emergency room, again, because he was unresponsive. She takes him in the car around 4am when he moans around the room, his sobs howling in the hallway.

“But sometimes,” she said, “it just doesn’t stop. And it’s not his fault. It’s neurological.

Wood’s 11-year-old daughter has gone from a social butterfly to a depressed child who would rather stay in bed, alone, than go to school. Her 15-year-old son found a job after school. Her now 20 is helping in any way she can, knowing the family could be kicked out of the hotel at any time. The program that placed them there ends on October 31 for Wood and his family. Others are due to leave this week.

Hunt, of the Tri-County Community Action Agency, said Wood’s situation illustrates “multisystem failure” in Rhode Island. And it is not the only one.

“There is a mother with cancer who is sleeping outside in a tent with her 4-year-old child right now,” Hunt said. “There are social workers and housing specialists who keep quitting because they are tired of telling people, ‘There is nothing I can do for you. You’re gonna have to sleep outside tonight. It is demoralizing.

Wood says she found an apartment in Warwick for $ 2,300 a month, starting November 1. But Section 8 still needs to inspect the property, so there’s a chance she and her family won’t be able to move in.

If approved by Article 8, the family will finally have stable housing again. Otherwise, they will be on the streets, even the baby and his medical equipment.

“I haven’t done anything to deserve this mess we’re in. I have always worked hard. I am a good person and have raised my children to be. But here we are, lost and homeless, ”said Wood, as she bit back tears. “And I don’t know how much more I’m supposed to be able to handle.”

Donna Wood brings her severely disabled 15-month-old son Corey in her stroller inside the hotel room where she and her four children are currently staying.
Donna Wood brings her severely disabled 15-month-old son Corey in her stroller inside the hotel room where she and her four children are currently staying. Jessica Rinaldi / Globe Team

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.



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