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Home Again, at Last

Sara, a high school graduate, vividly remembers the traumatic day in 2020 when she and her boys, ages 2 and 4, were evicted from their Columbia apartment. She was 27 years old and 5 months pregnant.

“It was one of the hardest days of my life,” Sara said. “I packed what I could into a friend's car. As for everything else - our furniture, all our stuff - I couldn't believe it, all these people - my neighbors - were just standing there watching me, waiting to swoop in and claim the things I couldn't carry.”

It had taken only a few short months for Sara's life to fall apart. First, her long-time partner broke up with her, offering no financial support. Within weeks, she learned she was pregnant. A minor wreck resulted in an unaffordable car repair bill not covered by her high insurance deductible, so she was left without transportation. Then the Covid shutdown ended her daycare center job.

“I felt almost numb,” she said. “I thought, God, you’re going to have to make a way because I do not know what to do.”

A friend gave her and her children a place to stay for a few weeks while Sara frantically called shelters and various public services. Toby's Place, a religiously-affiliated shelter for women with children told her that if she was willing to abide by strict rules, she could live there for up to two years. Sara agreed, and she and her boys moved into the shelter where they - and eventually her new baby - shared one room. For the next 24 months, she attended the required Bible and group classes, met regularly with a caseworker, took medication prescribed for her severe depression and anxiety, and day by day, tried to rebuild her broken self esteem. Toby's Place did not rush her to find a job, and the staff provided Sara with support and everything she needed for her new baby.

Still, it was a time of tremendous stress.

“I felt so scared and worried about everything, I couldn't even bond with my baby daughter,” she said. “I had to attend classes after she was born to help me establish that maternal bond.”

Sara said she had a hard time relaxing primarily because she knew she and the kids would have to leave Toby's Place at the two-year mark. Although she eventually began working and saving some money, she couldn't imagine how she would be able to afford the sizeable deposits or the furniture and supplies they'd need.

Then, one day, Sara's caseworker told her about a partnership Toby’s Place had established with Mirci for shelter residents with a mental health diagnosis.

“When Mr. Terrance (Mirci's Outreach Coordinator) told me that Mirci could find me permanent housing if I wanted it, it seemed almost unbelievable," Sara said. "Even before the eviction, as a single mom, it was so hard to make ends meet. But Mirci would limit the rent to what I could afford, so it made the impossible seem possible."

A few months later, Sara unlocked the door to her new three-bedroom apartment.

“I knew what Terrance said Mirci would do, but until the day it actually happened, a part of me wouldn't allow myself to believe it,” she said. “When we walked in the door, I was stunned. Mirci had given us everything we needed – a table, chairs, couch, beds, sheets, pillows, silverware and dishes.”

When she closed the door of her new home behind her, Sara said she was flooded with utter relief and peace of mind. At the same time, her boys were so excited to have a bedroom of their own again, they exhausted themselves running in circles, laughing.

“I thought to myself, after everything that has happened, we’re finally home again,” Sara said.

Today, Sara sleeps soundly. She is working as a cashier, and the kids are enrolled in daycare. There’s food in the cupboard thanks to the SNAP benefits Mirci helped her obtain. She sees her Mirci mental health caseworker monthly and she appreciates how quickly Mirci responds when she runs out of her medication. She feels she is a better, stronger person for her harrowing journey. Still, she is grateful that Mirci's mental health support staff remain available by phone 24/7.

“Today, I feel a sense of hope," Sara said. "I'm determined to make a good life for my family.”