A couple of years ago Brandon found himself in a tricky situation. He had a diploma, experience in the U.S. Navy, and a job. He also had a beautiful young daughter, Riley. The difficulty in Brandon’s life was that he was going through a divorce. His $10 per hour paycheck didn’t stretch far enough to cover his and Riley’s living expenses plus attorney fees. Brandon was in a place where he needed to make a critical decision for his daughter, and he chose to hire an attorney to help him gain full custody of Riley. It was a rough divorce – by the time everything was finalized, Brandon had a poor credit rating, had lost his vehicle which was his transportation to work, received no child support (although he did gain full custody), and was unable to make his rent.
Brandon and Riley were homeless.
Although many parents and children become homeless across this country, it is a fairly unique situation to be a homeless single father raising a young daughter. When asked about what it felt like Brandon described “It’s maybe not a normal life, but it was my life.”
IV PADS warmly welcomed Brandon and Riley. But, even in a warm secure shelter, homelessness is not an easy road. Because Peru PADS shelter was filled near capacity Brandon and Riley shared a 30’’ military bottom bunk, 1 locker, 1 tote box for storage, and 1 laundry basket. The two were already emotionally close, but their 5- month stint in the shelter forced them to be physically close as well.
Brandon knew exactly what he needed to care for Riley independently. According to him “My goal coming in was to get a job, get medical coverage, and secure transportation.” Through the encouragement and help of IV PADS, he got on track. First he received assistance getting LINK coverage. Then a PADS intern told him of a job opening, which he quickly secured. PADS employees provided transportation for him and Riley to appointments. Probably, most importantly, Peru PADS Program Director and occasionally other staff or volunteers helped make sure Riley was ready for school each morning. Brandon’s new job had him leaving for work at 3:15am, a few hours before the start of the school day. Brandon wasted no time in setting a budget and saving money. To help ensure that he wasn’t tempted to spend anything extra he had his paycheck set up to be direct deposited into a savings account.
Although Brandon was practical about stating his needs, when asked about how he felt about his chances of success he explained that “You want good things to happen, but you fear the worst. There’s a lot of anxiety.”
Fast forward to today: Brandon and Riley live in their own apartment, and Riley has her own room with her own bed and toys, decorated with colorful Care Bears and wall decals of Elsa and Anna. Brandon has retained his job and has set up child care before school for Riley.
So how does he feel about his incredible life transformation? “It took me a couple of months to realize I was independent and it was really my own place. It was surreal. When you’ve had bad luck you’re always expecting the piano to fall from the sky. I still expect it, but now I’m better prepared to handle it.”
Riley never complained about her situation or the close quarters with her dad. She acted like a typical happy Kindergartener eager to learn and talk to people. Now, as a first grader, she enjoys her own space and her own toys and is involved in tumbling and school activities.
Brandon described how Riley thought of the situation in the shelter. “If you ask her she thinks we’re rich. I tell her we are on a budget.”
Brandon hopes that by sharing his story our community will have more insight on what it is like to be homeless while raising a child. One of the greatest needs at Peru PADS is to expand the facility to include family rooms. According to Brandon “it would have given us more room, more privacy, and I would have felt Riley was safer.” Brandon had to use the female restroom at PADS to bathe Riley. Although other clients were accommodating, this was not an ideal situation. The little girl also learned to dress behind bath towels since she was staying in the men’s area with her dad. Also difficult was bedtime as the shelter’s ‘lights out’ policy is 10:30pm and Riley’s bedtime was 8pm. Brandon and Riley laid down in their shared bunk at 8pm and fell asleep with the lights on and sometimes movement around them.
We applaud all of Brandon’s selfless effort to gain independence for himself and Riley. We are proud of his efforts and are glad to have had the opportunity to assist this small family during the most difficult time in their lives.