Saturday, October 13, 2012

Children in Poverty: No Way to Live

This was the most intense story I worked on for the Children in Poverty series.  At times, I got pretty wrapped up in the drama of their lives.  I appreciate their company and their openness with me.  Here's the photo gallery.

 Cody White plays on his mom's computer in the garage-turned-home he shares with his mom and brother.  The laptop was provided by Everest College when Cherlyn signed up for online paralegal courses.

 Cheyenne Roberts, 8 months, crawls on a sleeping bag in the basement bedroom she shares with her parents, Ashley Kelly, 19, and Richard Roberts, 21. Kelly, who was homeless for most of her life, wants a better life for her daughter.  "I want her to be so much better than us," she said. "I want to make sure she grows up and has everything she needs."

Cheryln Dixon has multiple sclerosis and no regular income. Dixon, her son Cody, 10, and his twin Chris, who has a mental disability, have faced homelessness often in the last few years.  This spring, they moved into a house with Cheryln's newphew, Richard Roberts, and his family.  Because space was limited--a young couple with a baby was living upstairs--Cheryln cleared a space for her family in the garage.

 Richard Roberts and Ashley Kelly grew up in poverty and want to provide a better life for their daughter, Cheyenne.  Before they moved into a dilapidated home in central Springfield, Mo., they lived for a few months at the Missouri Hotel, a homeless shelter which require residents to utilize rehabilitative programs and life skill training.

 Chris White's mother said he and his twin brother each have only a couple of pairs of socks.  Chris, who is mentally handicapped, put his shorts on inside out.

 Richard Roberts and Ashley Kelly hang out in their basement living room with Richard's aunt, Cherlyn, and her twin boys, Chris and Cody, while waiting for the landlord to collect a partial rent payment.  They usually can't pay the entire amount of $450 per month.

 Ashley Kelly gives her daughter back to a child care worker at Isabel's House after a one-hour visit.  On July 29, police came to the door saying they thought the house was abandoned and that it would be condemned. Children's Division was called and the children were temporarily placed at Isabel's House, a crisis nursery where parents retain custody of their children while they address problems.

Cheryln Dixon becomes emotional while talking about her sons being removed by the Children's Division and her plans to get them back. "Was it better for us to be on the streets and not have a place? At least we had a roof over our head, a place to eat and I'm with family," she said.

 Ashley Kelly hugs her finance Richard Roberts after their daughter and Richard's cousins were temporarily removed from their home by the state's Children's Division, which determined that their housing conditions were unsafe.

 Chris White sits on his bed during quiet time at Isabel's House.

 Cheryln Dixon, Ashley Kelly, and Richard Roberts wait for a bus on E. Norton Road to take them back home after finding out there were no vacancies at a weekly motel. They thought they would be able to get their kids back sooner by moving into a motel for a week, but without enough money to stay longer, they had no long-term plan.

 Richard Roberts and Ashley Kelly make improvements to an upstairs room before a social worker comes over to reinspect.  Previously, the social worker said if they move upstairs--into the portion of the house where a couple with two young children lived until the police came--their housing will be safe enough for the children to return. They were also required to padlock the door to basement and garage.

 Chris White hugs his cousin Richard Roberts, left, as Cody White hugs mom Cherlyn Dixon after learning they can return home from Isabel’s House, a crisis nursery where the boys spent almost two weeks.

Upstairs, the boys will each have a couch to sleep on instead of taking turns sleeping with their mother.   The boys returned home just in time for the beginning of the school year with new clothes and backpacks full of supplies provided by Isabel's House.  For now, the families are together, in state-approved housing.

In early October the landlord summoned Ashley to court for failure to pay rent.  There was no lease and little record of amounts paid. At the same time, a social worker said they couldn't stay in the house because it has no heat.  Cheryln and the boys moved to a shelter in Neosho and Richard, Ashley and Cheyenne secured a spot in a local shelter.  I heard that when they went to court on October 10th, they showed the judge copies of the News-Leader and based on the photos of the house, the judge ruled that they didn't owe any money.  The landlord had taken several of his tenants to court that day and none were made to pay.

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