Jennifer Lang is searching for the words to describe what Christmas is like when you’re the mother of two young children, and you’re homeless.
We are in a conference room at Roxbury’s Project Hope, a non-profit that provides low income women with children access to education, jobs and housing. Lang, a 31-year-old who lives in temporary housing in Dorchester with her husband, eight-year-old daughter and a five month-old son, recently completed a Project Hope training course. She is optimistic she’ll find a job as an office administrator in some sort of medical field. Still, she can’t buck a pervasive feeling of disappointment.
“You want it to be something special, you didn’t want it to be ‘Well we’re homeless and we can’t afford anything. Merry Christmas.’”
Lang is hardly alone. There are currently 3,000 families in the state looking for a place to live, said Elizabeth Zarrella Maglio, the director of sustainability and outcomes for Project Hope.
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“There’s people in hotels, it’s rough,” said Zarrella Maglio. “It’s because of the housing. There just aren’t affordable places to live anymore.”
Lang described last holiday season as a “socks-for-Christmas” year.
The 31-year-old was newly unemployed. Shortly after moving here from Sacramento, California last year, she was working as an administrator for a company she won’t name. She was laid off shortly after Thanksgiving 2013. “It was really rough and it’s kind of been an uphill battle ever since.”
She and her family, husband Adri, daughter Yasmin and five-month old son Terrence, moved around. They lived in Wrentham but couldn’t afford the rent. They then moved into a friend’s place in Randolph, but had to move out because of mold in the basement. They wound up at a homeless shelter in Chicopee.
Starting in October, Lang would make the 90-mile drive from western Massachusetts in a beat-up Buick LeSabre to Project Hope in Roxbury, where she was enrolled in a multi-week career-training course. Depending on traffic, the trip could take three hours, one way.
She moved to Dorchester in mid-November and recently finished the course. She said she has since landed some job interviews. Her husband, whom she met at a Hyde Park church, works in construction but the work is sporadic. Money is still tight.
Like last year, there is little money for a traditional Christmas, said Lang. Her eyes well up with tears and her voice cracks when she tries to talk about five month old Terrence’s first Christmas.
“I have this little guy and it’s his first Christmas and I have nothing,” she said, cradling the boy in her arms. “Not a tree, not a bow, not wrapping paper. Nothing. You want to be able to take pictures and have a memory but there will be no memory for this year.”
She looks for a silver lining.
“Hope for a new beginning is probably the best way to put it,” she said. “This year has been difficult and very trying but it’s also been encouraging because I’ve found so many people who have a big enough heart to want to help.”
She added, “This Christmas is about knowing that this city isn’t just filled with people who only care about themselves.”