Meet Kamilah

One rainy morning at 5 a.m., Kamilah woke up, called her best friend, and said, “I’m going to a shelter and I’m not going to turn back. I have to go because I need the support.”

One rainy morning at 5 a.m., Kamilah woke up, called her best friend, and said, “I’m going to a shelter and I’m not going to turn back. I have to go because I need the support.”

Her friend drove her to the city’s Office of Supportive Housing and watched her three young boys while Kamilah stood in line.

Like many people entering shelter, Kamilah and her boys had really been homeless for years, crowding in with friends and families, sleeping on floors, wearing out welcomes and always being ready to move on. Her life started to take a turn for the worse after her mother’s death in March 2011. “It was very hard to stay grounded and focused,” she said. “[My mother] was more than just my biggest supporter … [she] was my best friend, and when she died, I didn’t want to live anymore. From then on, it was up and down situations.”

That same year, Kamilah lost her job and the apartment where she and her sons lived. She then moved in with her sister who needed help as she battled cancer. When Kamilah’s sister eventually lost that fight on Christmas Day, 2011, Kamilah was left homeless, unable to legally take over the Section 8 lease. That was the start of moving from house to house.

“Living conditions weren’t what I wanted. I was tired of living on people’s floors. A lot of people have roaches and I was tired of having to sit up all night and make sure they don’t crawl on my boys,” Kamillah said. “I was tired of people thinking I was a built-in babysitter for them. I would clean the whole house from top to bottom, wash the clothes, cook and make sure the kids are in line, then people would disappear and I wouldn’t see them for weekends or days at a time. I had their kids, plus my three. It was just too much.”

After a stay at a shorter-term emergency shelter, Kamilah and her boys came to the ECS St. Barnabas Mission for homeless women and children. It was a rough transition for the single mother. At first, she especially struggled with having to wake up at 6 a.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. on weekends, but understood that the rule is in place so that everybody in the shelter can shower, get ready and be at work or school on time.

“It was very different than going to visit someone or live with someone. [There are] a lot of rules that took a while for me to get used to, but being a humble person, it was a little easier. If you come here, stay positive, stay open, go with the flow, it will make it easier for you. Just do what you’re supposed to do; you’ll be okay. Before you know it, you’ll be getting out of here.”

Kamilah stays busy by keeping herself and her boys, ages five, seven and 10, active in school and the community. Her two oldest sons are entering football season and her youngest is starting kindergarten. It is clear that Kamilah wants nothing but the best for her children, and with them in mind, she makes sure to participate in all St. Barnabas activities, citing the parenting classes as especially helpful. “

[They] are a very good eye-opener on how you can affect your kids with certain words or certain things you do that made me look back and say, ‘I need to change some things.’ I don’t want my boys to grow up and be a statistic. I want them to be well-educated and known for something positive and nothing negative.”

Currently unemployed, Kamilah also takes full advantage of the resources available at St. Barnabas.“There’s a lot more positive things here than at the other shelters. There’s access to a whole computer lab that you can use to job search or study and see about schools. It motivates me to do what I have to do to get out of here. There’s a lot of staff here that want to see you do better.”

When her sons are older and require less of her time, Kamilah hopes to attend college to study either history or law. However, as their biggest fan, if her sons’ dreams of becoming professional athletes come true, she would happily take on the role of sports manager.

Until then, she reminds her children that school is the way. Not just high school, but college, too. “Doors open even wider. It makes you know that there are so many beautiful things in the world.