Where do you go when the legal representation of last resort cannot help you? The answer is...nowhere.
Christine and Serenity had spent the previous night on the floor in a hallway of a local housing complex with little heat and no access to running water. They had been living with the baby’s father in a transitional living program for the past six months until he violated the program’s rules and they all had to leave, even though the program readily acknowledged that Christine had done nothing wrong. The family applied for emergency shelter but was denied because their homelessness was a result of the father violating one of the program’s rules.
Christine then attempted to apply for emergency shelter on her own with Serenity but was told she also was not eligible because she had been given an emergency shelter placement within the past twelve months which she had abandoned to move into the transitional living program.
With the baby now homeless, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) got involved. DCF gave Christine an ultimatum: Get a roof over Serenity’s head by the end of the week or they will take her baby away and place her in their custody.
Christine’s MWLS attorney thought that the emergency housing agency must have made a mistake. She accompanied Christine to help her reapply. An intake worker told them that nobody was there that day to take shelter applications and that they should come back the following Wednesday. When questioned further about the ridiculousness of waiting nearly a week to apply for emergency shelter, the worker shrugged and gave them a list of places to contact that might be able to help. MWLS called each number, but no one answered.
With Friday’s deadline looming and the very real possibility that Christine could lose her baby, MWLS contacted the agency’s central office and demanded that Christine be able to apply that day. After being passed from one office to another, the office agreed to take an application over the phone from Christine but not until the next day. It was clear from speaking with a supervisor, however, that they intended to deny her again. Furthermore, they refused to refer her for a seven-day temporary placement for families who had been denied emergency shelter.
MWLS got in touch with the legal department of the agency to discuss Christine’s case further. The MWLS attorney argued that it was the baby’s father, not Christine, who had caused them to lose their placement; that Christine had not abandoned her placement earlier in the year but had given notice before she moved to the transitional program; and that Christine and the baby had a right, as a distinct household, to apply for shelter without the baby’s father and to receive immediate housing for seven days while she appealed the shelter denial.
At 5:15 pm Thursday evening, a taxi came to MWLS to pick up Christine and Serenity to take them to a hotel. The agency had finally agreed that Christine was eligible for a temporary seven-day placement. By the end of the next day, after advocacy by MWLS, the program agreed to take Christine and Serenity back provided that they have no contact with the baby’s father. They had just made the Friday deadline.
DCF was now satisfied that the baby had a roof over her head, and mother and baby were spared separation. Serenity Faith can sleep soundly knowing her mom is nearby, and mom Christine is benefitting from the skills she is learning in the transitional program which will be invaluable once she moves into permanent housing.