Home and Charity

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Enough space for nine-year-old Charity Norwood to play. Space for her older sister, Essence, and space for her older brother. Micah. Space for her younger siblings: JoVaughn, Autumn and Majesty. And finally, some space for Lisa Norwood, the mother of the six children who has kept her kids a step away from homelessness for the past four years.

Charity and her family were living with Grandma when I met them two months ago and began working on a story about how Charity sees the world. But Grandma’s health was deteriorating, and on April 1 the family had to move again. With nowhere else to turn, they wound up in a Denver hotel room where all seven of them shared one room with two beds.

It’s rare that I advocate for the people I write about. But this family needed it, so I called Jamie Van Leeuwen, project manager for Denver’s Road Home, a ten-year plan to end homelessness.

Van Leeuwen called Volunteers of America, which found Lisa a four-bedroom apartment in Commerce City. Finding the apartment was the easy part, though: Lisa had to prove that she didn’t earn too much money to qualify for the discounted housing, as well as muster up some letters of recommendation and proof of previous rental agreements. After she finally secured the place, Lisa was referred to the Denver Rescue Mission’s Family and Senior Homeless Initiative, which provided her with a deposit and the first month’s rent. In exchange for that financial help, Lisa will have to go through eighteen weeks of one-hour mentoring sessions to help ensure that she doesn’t find herself in a desperate situation again.

And even before she got it, Lisa had to undergo a criminal background check. By the time her background and all of her references were checked, six weeks had passed since I initially inquired about housing for the Norwoods.

“It does take a while. That’s why we want to get as many people into housing as possible,” Van Leeuwen says. “We’re really excited because we have a process that’s working.”

Although Lisa came damn close to ending up on the street, her kids didn’t go one night without a roof over their heads. But the first night at their new place was kind of rough. The kids were afraid to go to sleep because the cockroaches came out at night. They wound up huddled together in one room, just like at the hotel where they’d lived for six weeks. Lisa’s now looking for some way to get rid of the roaches.

In the meantime, the kids have a playground and a basketball court to enjoy. The four-bedroom place seems huge because it has no furniture inside, but a generous Westword reader has offered to help Lisa out by purchasing some furniture.

Charity had predicted that her family would have a home of their own by April. She was off by a couple of weeks – the family moved into the apartment on May 14 – but that hasn’t deterred Charity from dreaming big dreams. She thinks that one day, she could be America’s first female African-American president. But before she moves to the White House, she’ll enjoy this new home of her own. – Luke Turf

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Crystal Preston-Watson