This is the story of a mama, a daddy, and a little four-year-old boy. I invite you to read along and help this family with their problems.

Billy lives with his mama. He loves her very much. Billy loves his daddy, too, but his daddy does not live with them anymore because of his drinking. Billy does not like his daddy when he’s been drinking beer. His daddy is not nice and does not smell good when he’s been drinking.

Billy’s mama does not like Daddy either when he’s been drinking. Billy and his mama leave Daddy and their home.

But where can Mama and Billy go?

CHOICE ONE (Make a choice before reading further.)

  • Rent an apartment
  • Go to a shelter
  • Live with a friend or relative


  • “Rent an apartment” is probably not an option. Apartment rentals often begin at $600+ a month. Also, rental units require a deposit in addition to the first month’s rent. Utilities (gas, water, electricity) will also require a deposit.
  • “Go to a shelter” is an option…if the shelters have openings. Fortunately, Billy is young enough to stay with his mama in a shelter. If he was ten or older, he would have to stay in a men’s shelter. There may be little privacy in a shelter and many have definite time limits.
  • “Live with a friend or relative” is the most likely choice assuming that friends or relatives have space and resources that can be stretch to accommodate more residents in the home. If the host lives in government supported housing, people who are not already on the lease are not allowed to live there.

Billy and his mama went to live with her brother and his family for now. Uncle Max’s house is very small and there are already five people living there. Billy and his mama make two more. Uncle Max works construction (except when it’s raining.) He helps Mama get a job, so they can all have enough to eat. Most nights everyone gets a piece of meat but sometimes Mama does not eat. She tells Billy it is because he is a growing boy. She eats whatever Billy leaves.

What can Mama do to have more food for herself and Billy?

CHOICE TWO (Make a choice before reading further.)

  • Get a different job
  • Apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a food stamps)
  • Apply for Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)
  • Eat at a soup kitchen
  • Make do


  • “Get a different job” may be difficult because of transportation issues or scheduling demands. Education level and work experience/history may limit job options.
  • “Apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program” is a possibility. Food assistance is based on the entire number of people in the household. The application process can take weeks.
  • “Apply to Temporary Aid to Needy Families” is an option. However, lifetime limits total five years. Many states limit TANF to two-year increments and have work requirements. They require proof of identification and age. The application process can take weeks.
  • “Eat at a soup kitchen” is an option. Different communities have different options for day(s) of the week, time of day, and location for soup kitchens. Accessibility may be a problem for Billy and his mama.
  • “Make do” is often the choice taken. Red tape and inability to make and keep appointments make E a choice (at least for a while.) “Magic thinking” tends to lead people to believe that things will “magically” work out.

Mama takes time off from work and goes to the Department of Social Services to apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Unfortunately, she does not have all the documentation she needs so she must come back later to try again.  Mama and Billy also go to the local soup kitchen two-three times a week.

Billy’s daddy comes to see Billy and his mama. Billy loves his daddy so much. Mama knows Billy loves Daddy and she loves Daddy, too. She begins to think that she and Billy and Daddy can be a family again. Daddy wants to be a family, but he did not pay rent on their former home. Now they have no place to live. Daddy sleeps wherever he can: under bridges, in empty buildings, or with friends. He wants to get a job, so he can get a nice place for his family to live.

What can Billy’s daddy do to find a place to stay?

CHOICE THREE ((Make a choice before reading further.)

  • Go to Job Connection or a state employment office to get a job
  • Stay at a temporary shelter for men
  • Visit a day shelter or drop-in center for homeless people


  • “Go to Job Connection or a state employment office to get a job” is certainly a consideration. With addiction problems and probably a poor work history, this option offers little immediate change in the situation.  Such programs may offer suggestions for addiction treatment. If Daddy has served time in prison, his employment opportunities drop even further.
  • “Stay at a temporary shelter for men” will certainly get Daddy off the street…if there is room for him, and if he does not drink while there since most shelters require non-use of alcohol and/or other substances while in residence. This option provides no way for Daddy to provide shelter for his family.
  • “Visit a day shelter or drop in center for homeless people” is a good choice when the community provides this service. There Daddy will encounter a supportive environment and will receive services that can help him address issues that are part of his homelessness. He will be able to take care of basic hygiene needs there, as well.

Daddy visits a day shelter to see what kinds of options he has. After a review of his situation, a staff member gives meeting times and locations for Alcoholics Anonymous to Daddy. She also refers Daddy to Job Connection. Daddy visits one time but is not sure if he’ll return.

Mama and Daddy start making plans about living together again as a family. They are excited.

Mama believes she could get a better job if she had a car. However, she does not earn enough money to make a down payment on a used car. She also can’t afford license tags or car insurance. For now, she rides a bus or gets someone to take her to work.

Uncle Max gets mad at Mama because she’s talking with Daddy again. Billy does not understand why Uncle Max is so unhappy. Billy is happy because he, Mama, and Daddy will be a family again. But Uncle Max gets so angry he tells Mama and Billy to leave.

Where can Mama and Billy go?

CHOICE FOUR (Make a choice before reading further.)

  • Temporary shelter for women and children
  • Church sponsored shelter for a week at a time
  • Motel
  • Under a bridge


  • “Temporary shelter for women and children” provides a place for Billy and his mama to stay for a limited time…if there is room in the shelter.
  • “Church sponsored shelter week” is a program where congregations provide space in their facility for a week at a time. Availability is limited. However, families can stay together and work on issues that resulted in their current situation.
  • “Motel” means money is needed. Cheap motels are often not ideal places for children to stay.
  • “Under a bridge” is an obvious but dangerous choice.

Mama decides to stay in a motel for a few days until she can figure out what to do. Daddy comes to stay with them.

During the day, Daddy looks for work and visits with his friends. Mama cannot leave Billy alone and so she quits her job. Soon Mama has no more money for the motel.

What will Mama and Daddy do?

CHOICE FIVE (Make a choice before reading further.)

  • Go to a shelter
  • Go to a human services organization
  • Live outside


  • “Go to a shelter” is an option IF the family has not already used up their time in shelters, if there is room, and if the shelter provides accessibility to other services the family needs.
  • “Go to a human services organization” is an option in communities that have human service organizations that provide basic services and/or an integrated services process for addressing multiple needs and issues. Getting there during service hours may be a problem.
  • “Live outside” as a last option is very dangerous. The family may be reported to Child Protective Services for neglecting to provide Billy adequate shelter and safe living conditions.

Daddy’s mother lets the family stay with her for three days. Mama, Daddy, and Billy go to an integrated services helping organization. They access several programs there, such as employment, education, and budgeting. They learn about addiction treatment programs. They are approved for temporary shelter for families. They begin to figure out what to do.

Will they succeed?

What do you think?

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