Single Mothers Find a Haven in Hell's Kitchen

Posted on 06. May, 2010 by in SHELTER SYSTEM

by Rochana Rapkins

From a non-descript building on the western border of Hell’s Kitchen, the sound of a child wailing rang down the street.  A short, pale-skinned woman emerged from the Clinton Family Inn with her child, en route to his grandmother’s house.

The twenty-six-year-old woman, who asked to remain anonymous, has been at the shelter for three months. As a domestic abuse survivor, she is glad for the security officers who buzz her family in at the door.

“It’s a real nice place,” she said. “There’s security all over. They don’t give out passes, but as long as you’re back before 48 hours you don’t get kicked out.”

She says she is on the verge of receiving a housing voucher through section 8, a federally funded program that provides affordable housing to low-income families. She is also getting assistance finding an apartment, and hopes to find a job after settling into her new home.


The Clinton Family Inn is one of four shelters run by Homes for the Homeless, a non-profit organization that serves approximately 2,500 families each year. The Clinton Family Inn is the only one to cater exclusively to single moms. In addition to providing temporary shelter to families in need, the organization runs daycare and afterschool programs for homeless youth, and even a summer camp. Mothers get services as well.

“There’s yoga, there’s jewelry classes, there’s a Mom’s club,” said the woman, whose child stopped crying and began to play on a nearby scaffolding. “On Tuesday the bus comes and picks us up with the kids and we go to the Children’s Museum. We get a free membership and stuff. It’s nice. They do a lot of activities in here in order to stay positive.”

Last year 541 youths from New York City attended the camps in Harriman State Park, said program associate Margaret Menghini. Homeless youth, children on public assistance, and foster children kayak, swim and do art activities at the camp, which is about an hour outside of New York City.

“For many of the children who come to summer camp, it will be their first time out of New York City,” said Menghini.

Some of the kids arrive without basic toiletries and other items they need for life in the cabins. Through donations the youth are outfitted to spend 16 days outside the concrete jungle.

During the academic year, young children attend the in-house daycare while parents look for work or attend school. Once a week older children that need extra help with reading are driven to Bideawee, where they read to a shaggy black dog named Missy.

“In school kids can feel nervous if they are not reading well,” said Menghini. “But animals don’t judge you the way people can. The dogs are specially trained and they help the children if they start to falter.”

While one parent reports that she was discouraged from going back to school before she could get a job, Menghini said that literacy and education are the organization’s key focus.

“Many kids are on the GED track,” she said. “We encourage them to be on the high school track and look toward going to college, even if no one if their family has ever done that before.”

While the children get to enjoy trips to local landmarks and museums, many of the women at the shelter have more practical matters on their minds.

“Do you know where I could get a housing voucher?” one resident asked, as she stood in the sunlight outside the facility.

Clinton Family Inn resident Nadine Watkins, 24, called the vouchers “a revolving door back to the shelter.” Her eyes teared up as she talked about her desire to go back to school, rather than spend her life working at unskilled jobs.

“Seven dollars an hour is not enough to take care of my children,” Watkins said. She was told to focus on looking for work. Yet to get a job, she pointed out, she would need to go back to school.

One quarter of the parents Homes for the Homeless serves have never held a job, according to the organization’s website, and half do not hold a high school diploma.

Others are simply happy to have a safe, clean place to stay. One pregnant woman exited the building smiling broadly, and asked for a light as she pulled out a cigarette. She had just registered for admittance, and expects to move in when her child is born. Her infant will have a roof over its head, even if it does not yet have a home.

For one mother, it is cause enough for hope.

A Roof Over Their Heads

Related Stories:
After School, Homeless Kids Find Few Options

LQBTQ Youth: A Disproportionate Amount of the Population

Play the Gimme Shelter Game

Experts Say Many Youth Driven to Homelessness by Mental Illness



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