I cried.

I cried tears of joy and relief almost two months ago when I first entered my unit with my two boys and my West Niagara Affordable Housing worker. I walked in and the tears started falling down my face. I was overwhelmed – still am. This is a huge difference from the shelter we’d been in for so many weeks prior.

This was our new home. This is a fresh start. This is my chance to get back on track with my boys. Deep breaths I told myself. My 6 and 8 year-olds started exploring for their rooms immediately! They couldn’t wait to see what was finally going to be theirs after months of not having a real home. They played rock-paper-scissors over their rooms while I talked to my YW worker about move-in options.

We’d been on the waitlist for the West Niagara Affordable Housing program for months, as soon as we knew we were being evicted, right before COVID-19 hit.  We exhausted all of our options between couch-surfing at family and friend’s places until there were no more options. We had to move into shelter while we waited to finally get the call with a place. It’s been a process as my social worker says.

After getting behind on rent with a single-mom’s minimum-wage job and an ex who doesn’t pay child support – let alone check in on them -, things changed really quickly. Way too quickly. We were doing okay, but the bills were just too much to handle. I didn’t know what to do. For a while, I thought I’d have to live in my car but my West Niagara Affordable Housing Worker made sure I had options like the shelter for a safe place to stay. And thankfully they kept me on the waiting list until a spot opened up.

And here we are. I never thought we’d be so excited to make meals together as a family. It’s those little things you take for granted. The things that feel like another task on your never-ending list daily – make meals, clean dishes, sweep, do laundry. But once you don’t have that option anymore. Once you can’t just go into your kitchen and make a sandwich with your children, or take a shower whenever you feel like it without waiting in line, you really miss it. But now, we’re back making meals together every day and I get to ask them to clean up their dishes. I can do laundry, and shower, and have a regular routine.

I can breathe knowing that I have up to three years in this place, in this program, working on my goals with my support worker. I can go back to school and find a job that will support us enough to continue living in this unit and be involved in my community.

I cried when I first saw the unit and I cried harder when I got the keys to it and my worker said, “Welcome Home.”

What has been keeping Penelope’s spirit up? Having breakfast with her two boys and looking at our Coldest Night of the Year West Niagara website. They continue to watch the walkers, teams, and funds sky-rocket in order to make sure, her two boys and her have a home. Every supporter of our CNOY West Niagara event has helped to keep her motivated and bring them all joy. Thank you for making a difference in their lives!