She wishes she could sleep late in her own home, but whatever happens, this Mother’s Day will be different.
Likeyshia Thompkins won’t be sharing a bed with her three children.
She will bathe in her own bathroom. And if she decides she needs a moment alone, she will head down the hall to a private place to just, well, be.
That’s how it is at Hagar’s House. No one comes and goes as they please at an emergency shelter. Rain or shine you must be up and gone by 7:30 a.m. and back no later than 6:30 p.m. No one gets to stay more than 90 days, but at least for now, she and her children no longer have to live pillar to post. At least now her life is starkly different than it has been for the last six years.
But if she were granted just one wish for this day, it would be to finally sleep late in her forever home, to “have my own key.”
If you somehow missed the full significance of that, try and imagine what it’s like to enter “home” only after you’ve knocked or rang a doorbell, to always wonder if you’re welcome, and even worse, how much longer your stay will last.
For six years, this was 28-year-old Thompkins’ lot as she tried desperately to carve out a life on $800 a month, working at McDonald’s, for herself and her children.
At any given time, there are five moms at Hagar’s House and as many as 25 children, but they represent only a small portion of homeless women and children in metro Atlanta.
More than 10,000 people in metro Atlanta experience homelessness on any given night. More than 40 percent of them are women and children. In Georgia, there are more than 58,000 homeless children, according to the National Center on Family Homelessness. Of those, 42 percent are under the age of 6.
Thompkins was at the end of her rope when she finally gave up and came to Hagar’s House, the temporary shelter operated by the Decatur Cooperative Ministry and named for the Egyptian handmade in the 16th chapter of Genesis.
As the story goes, Sarah, having no children, requested that her husband, Abraham, take Hagar as as his concubine. But after Hagar gives birth to Ishmael, Sarah became jealous and thrust them into the burning desert, rendering them homeless.
It’s a great story, another reason for my hope. In it, God hears Hagar’s cries for help and answers.
Thompkins believes He has heard hers. Why else, she asks, would she have been led here to Hagar’s House? Why else would she finally get a job with a livable wage, as a cashier at Lowe’s? Why else would Program Director Sybil Corbin chose her to share her story?
Thompkins arrived in February after years of moving between friends and relatives, of never quite feeling at home. In 2010, when her fiance was murdered in northwest Atlanta, things got worse.
“After that, there was no one to help me,” Thompkins said. “I was at the doctor with my kids when something told me to call Hagar’s House.”
She felt uneasy, moving into a homeless shelter, but Thompkins said, “I had this urge. Something told me to stop being afraid.”
And so she did. It has been the best thing that has happened to her in a good long while. Both she and her children finally feel welcome, like they belong.
Thompkins’ story is typical of the women who seek shelter at Hagar’s House, said Corbin. Not only are they homeless, but they must carve a living from low wages with little family support. They often lack transportation and affordable child care.
“Those are the kinds of things that keep women in a homeless cycle,” Corbin said.
And when their 90 days are up, it’s like starting from scratch because more often than not the women and their children come with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.
I read recently that the vast majority of us mothers were hoping this Mother’s Day produced either a spa day or a gift card to a favorite store or dinner out. Topping the wish list, however, was a clean house.
Being the “neat freak” that she is, Thompkins wants that, too, and a driver’s license.
But on this day, her focus is on what she has. Four twin-size beds instead of one. One for her and one for each of her three children: Nadia, 6; Randy, 4; and Danielle 2.
“We don’t have to sleep in the same bed together,” she said. “My kids feel comfortable. They have food and clothing. They have people who come and help them with homework. They have smiles on their faces.”
She was about to keep going when I asked, “What about you? What’s your wish this Mother’s Day?”
Furniture for the forever home she hopes to move into soon, she said. And, yes, her own key to the door for keeps.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.