This is the story of a mother, Michelle Magee. She has two sons, Rajown, who’s 4 and diagnosed with autism, and Tayshun, a 2-year-old whose physical coordination has been slow. She has a third boy on the way, due June 1. And, at the age of 27, she and her children are homeless.
Michelle Magee’s life began in a Hispanic home in Indiana, where her brother was doted upon and Michelle and her sister weren’t. Without going into detail, her home life was physically and emotionally abusive, a place where alcohol came into play.
So Michelle went to Chicago and through Job Corps training got a job in the copper-based cable networking field involving installation of telecommunications cables. That’s before fiber optics became the dominant player in the field.
At 22, she married a man who was roughly twice her age, a quality assurance inspector for a subsidiary of the 3M Co. As she came to find out, he wanted a servant for a wife. He then decided that she didn’t need her friends.
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As bad as it was, at least she knew she had a roof over her head and a bed at night.
And then came the violence. After five years, she moved out.
So, with two suitcases and Rajown and Tayshun in tow, she left the Midwest and wound up on the Central Coast in August, where her life is now measured by county Social Services and a daily routine that’s defined by bus schedules and waiting.
The Magee family’s day begins by leaving one of the overflow shelters that are overseen by and rotate monthly among community churches and synagogues.
Leaving the shelter, they take a bus to the Prado Day Center in San Luis Obispo, where they will eat through the good graces of Prado and The People’s Kitchen.
Michelle will wash their clothes, meet with a case worker, make telephone calls, get Rajown ready for his 11:30 a.m. bus ride to C.L. Smith Elementary School — where he attends a preschool for kids with special needs — and then wait.
Tayshun, who’s been diagnosed with developmental disabilities and receives therapy, has a place to play at Prado through the center’s Children’s Program. A special treat happens each Tuesday when a coalition of church volunteers called Serving Sisters comes by the center with snacks and toys for the children.
(Since being at Prado, Tayshun has come out of a shell, says his mother, and his smiles are now infectious enough to paste a grin on some of the center’s most grizzled homeless.)
Michelle and her boyfriend, Jessie, meet Rajown’s bus at 3 p.m. and the family has time together — Michelle and Jessie perhaps working crosswords while watching the children play. They catch a 5 p.m. bus to the Maxine Lewis Memorial Shelter on Orcutt Road.
There, they’ll take showers, have a hot meal and then be taken to an overflow shelter for the night.
With some variations — a bus ride to the city’s Transit Center near City Hall for a couple of hours of reading in the library, or a bus ride to a park to play — that’s life for Michelle Magee and her boys, day in, day out.
Michelle is somber, yet articulate, when I talk with her recently at Prado; Tayshun was sleeping in a stroller.
“I just want to get settled and find housing,” she says quietly. “It’s a waiting game.”
Michelle receives $1,300 a month in Social Security and other sources and puts half of that away through a case management program called Family Ties.
“I’ve saved up for housing,” she explained. “Money’s not the issue; it’s finding a place. I don’t want to get a high-priced place only to find I can’t afford it and then end up back here. One day, I want to go back (to the Midwest) where the cost of living is cheaper.”
Toward that end, she wants to “go back to school (to work in the high-tech field), provide for my family and get a home where my kids can have their own room.”
And what does she have planned for Mother’s Day?
“I don’t know. I’ll probably come here to Prado and let the kids play.” And wait.
Michelle’s story may, and probably will, evoke anger in certain circles: Why did she come here? Why is she homeless and pregnant? Why should our tax dollars be spent on her when she created her own situation?
To those, I can only say that not all of us have been fortunate in having had a solid, loving home as a foundation for our lives. A foundation that helps us cope and hopefully learn from our own poor choices and decisions.
For those who want to blame Michelle on those counts, fine. But who among us hasn’t been guilty of lapses in judgment?
If you’re angry about the face of motherhood that Michelle represents, a face that is growing ever more prevalent in our society as the tenuous strands of our social contract and safety net are slashed, here’s a suggestion: Read the Beatitudes within the Sermon on the Mount.
You may want to pay extra special attention to The Golden Rule. If you haven’t time, here’s a brief summation: Give others the treatment and consideration you’d expect from them — regardless.
Happy Mother’s Day, 2011.