Deborah’s Story: Raising 4 grandchildren while homeless

“When I came to [Pratt], I was kind of broken. My children who I thought were going to be such productive people in society—two of them were not. And you go through this thing where you blame yourself…but eventually you say, ‘God, it is in your hands.’”

–Deborah Leight, former resident of VOAC’s Pratt Transitional Housing Program

Six years ago, Deborah Leight got a desperate phone call from her son who was in prison.

“He called me crying, saying they were going to take his three kids and put them in foster care,” Deborah recalls. “They were living in bad conditions with their mothers’ families.”

That night, Deborah packed up her van and drove from her home in Ohio to Baltimore to claim the children before social services could take them away. A judge granted her full custody, but would not allow her to take all the children back to Ohio.

“I told the judge, ‘Then, your honor, I moved here ten minutes ago,’” Deborah says.

She decided to give up her stable job and apartment in Ohio to keep the grandchildren together. At the time, she was already raising another grandchild as her daughter struggled with drug addiction.

Without a job or house in Baltimore, Deborah and the young children ended up in a shelter.

“At 55-years-old, I was sleeping on a yoga mat with four little ones,” she says.

Deborah’s grandchildren and friends

She heard about VOAC’s Pratt Transitional Housing Program from a friend, applied for an apartment, and got approval within a month.

“That was a blessing because I was thinking, ‘what am I doing; you can’t properly take care of children like this in a shelter,’ but it was the best I could do,” she recalls, tearfully.

At Pratt, she and the children moved into a fully-furnished three-bedroom apartment and paid $26 a month until she found a job. She was assigned a case manager, who helped her set goals to find permanent housing and identified health, dental, and other resources for the children. They also attended church services, were assigned academic tutors, and participated in wellness activities within Pratt’s walls.

Deborah says:

“Shelters don’t give you that type of push. They might hold a workshop, but it seemed like they didn’t care if we went or not. At Pratt, they checked up on you. They would see you in the hallway and remind you to go to the seminar you needed. They gave you so much encouragement; you felt like you could conquer the world.”

Deborah and her family stayed at Pratt for about a year, but she says the staff became a second family.

“They made me feel calm, cool, and collected when I wasn’t. I wasn’t; I was a mess,” she says. “I felt safe there, and I felt like the children were safe. I knew we weren’t going to be there forever, but it was such a blessing at that time.”

Deborah (far right), grandchildren, and friends at Pratt

Since leaving Pratt, Deborah and her family moved into a permanent house in Dundalk. As her adult children continue to struggle, Deborah has taken in two more grandchildren and now raises six in all. They range in age from eight months to 13-years-old. She says they are all well-adjusted.

“We are really doing well now, and I credit a lot of that to Mrs. Eaddy (case manager at Pratt),” Deborah says, praising the holistic support she received at VOAC’s Pratt.

“You can go to a shelter, stay for a few months, and leave in the same shape as when you got there, but the problems that got you there still aren’t addressed,” she explains. “I’m not sure if there are places like Pratt that cover all these bases. You need that mental and physical support or you will end up in the same spot in a year or two.”

Watch Dorothy tell her story in the Facebook videos below:

Part 1

Part 2

These were recorded during a check presentation with TD Bank back in November 2016.

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