By Lakisha Smith
On March 18th I officially graduated from First Step. A job training program for low income and homeless women, it’s just one of the programs provided at the Coalition for the Homeless. I remember when I first decided to embark on this journey, I never imagined that I would gain so much or discover new qualities about myself; as well as old attributes that I thought died so long ago.
I have to thank my best friend for giving me the information to this wonderful program that I believe every woman should take advantage of; this program is for woman who have lost themselves, woman who need direction and women who are looking for a fresh start. When I started First Step I had no real expectations from the program, I just expected to take full advantage of the opportunity that they were giving me. Once I started the program I realized that the computer training wasn’t the hard part for me. Mr. Barnes is a great instructor who is genuinely invested in teaching the women of First Step.
It was the social workshops that I found most challenging. Through these workshops I was forced to dig deep and ask myself some difficult questions. Who AM I? I couldn’t answer that and hadn’t the slightest idea even where to begin. I thought to myself who are you Kisha? This was the hardest question that I ever had to answer. I had no clue. I was lost with no direction and no voice. It was these types of questions that Liz, Elena, and Jacqui created that forced me to look within and find my voice, find my passion, find out who I am. It made me look at who I used to be, who I am now, and who I wanted to be. I am truly thankful for the entire staff at First Step. I appreciate them for their support and dedication to helping women who are lost, broken and beaten down by life. You never made me feel less than, or like I wasn’t worthy. You actually did the opposite. You gave me hope when I had none. You saw what I was capable of when I doubted myself, and most of all you gave me a chance when so many people had written me off and counted me out, myself included.
It wasn’t easy; however my hard work and dedication to the program did pay off. In Phase Two of the program I was chosen to be the intern in Eviction Prevention at the Coalition for the Homeless. I enjoyed working there. I felt I was part of the team and was no longer insecure about the things that I didn’t have. I found my passion for helping people. While interning In Eviction Prevention an Administrative Assistant position became available and I applied. I am honored to say that I am now employed at the Coalition for the Homeless, and I am surrounded by an entire supportive team that has one common goal: advocating for people in need. I would not have been afforded this amazing opportunity had it not been for First Step. I thank you for the time and effort that you put into each group of women that enters into the program. It is much needed and much appreciated.
Who am I? My name Is Lakisha Smith, and I am an advocate for individuals who need assistance. I am a mother, sister, daughter, friend and co-worker who has a passion for fighting for injustice and so much more. I was not able to answer this question before attending First Step. I found direction, I found my passion, I found my voice, and most of all I found myself.
Last Friday, the Bloomberg administration hit a new milestone in counter-productive and harmful treatment of homeless and vulnerable New Yorkers. At the end of the day, theadministration announced that they would end the hotel program for Sandy evacuees on April 30th, just a few short hours after they detailed a plan to help house evacuees using federal CDBG funds. What initially seemed like good news turned into a looming disaster, as the April 30th deadline will come long before these new housing resources are realistically available to Sandy evacuees.
There are still close to 800 households, with nearly 2,000 individuals, staying in the hotel system. The vast majority of these households are struggling to survive on very low incomes and cannot be stably re-housed without access to permanent affordable housing assistance.
With this cut-off date looming, the administration has now essentially guaranteed that Sandy evacuees will soon contribute to the already-record-high shelter population. In an unfathomable defense of the announcement to kick families out of hotels, DHS Commissioner Seth Diamond indicated that he believed the majority of families will be able to miraculously find new housing overnight by “return[ing] to repaired homes, mov[ing] in with family members or find[ing] housing outside the city.”
Sandy evacuees themselves reacted a bit differently:
Tamara Wigfall, a 20-year-old pregnant woman, lived in a rented room in Queens before the storm. Ever since, she and her boyfriend have found a temporary home at Kings Inn, a hotel in Brooklyn’s Sunset Park neighborhood.
The process of applying for one of the available public-housing units hadn’t led to a solution yet. “The city is just getting you appointments,” Ms. Wigfall said. “If they close this, I’m not going to have anywhere to go and I have a baby on the way.” [WSJ]