Tag Archives: Hector Stewart

Pride and Property


Songbird with a Passion  Painting by Demond Williams
Songbird with a Passion
Painting by Demond Williams

By Hector Stewart

One of my favorite classes during my junior year of high school was Religion because the cornerstone con­cept of that class was social justice. As someone with an interest in social concerns, I’d found this class to be one of the few that operated as a win­dow for students to the greater world and not one that concealed them from it.

One day I walked into class and sunk into a daydream the second I took my seat. We had been discuss­ing homelessness the day before. I glanced at what my teacher had written on the board–the definition of homelessness. It set off an alarm of awareness within me; it read like a familiar but forgotten story.

The story was of a woman I had known all my life but, until that mo­ment in class, never knew was, by law, homeless.

Patricia was a hardworking, single mother. She worked as a property manager for a housing association she resided in. Her three-bedroom apartment was the gathering place for family and friends.

As the oldest of six, Patricia gladly wore the hat of Big Sister even into adulthood, and because of this, her front door was always open.

It would often seem that thirty people were living in her apartment–not three. These appeared to be some of the happiest moments of her life. But injury would change everything. In a whirlwind, Patricia found herself looking for an open door and welcom­ing home like the one she had just lost.

A slip and fall on the job forced her into temporary disability, and after filing a lawsuit and being fired, the 15-year employee was out of work and without a place for her ten year old son, 5 year old granddaughter, and herself to lay their heads.

Patricia was a woman of dig­nity, which meant she would prefer her own place – no matter what the conditions were. So after weeks of bouncing around the living rooms and guestrooms of others, this career-ori­ented woman checked her family into a temporary residence hotel designed as a temporary haven for the city’s penniless, aimless, and hopeless.

Ironically, as she rebuilt her career in housing management while liv­ing in such a decrepit and dangerous place, she landed a job as an assistant manager of a comfortable and clean high-rise apartment complex. It had a community center, laundry, and backyard, and it was just three blocks away from that very same decrepit and dangerous residence. With rent due weekly, hotel policy had it that one could not stay at the hotel for longer than a three-month period. While Patricia’s assistant manager position came with a respectable salary, her tuition and the living expenses for her children kept her there passed what of­ficial policy would allow.

Every morning she would walk into her office and be greeted with the shouts of residents who were months behind in their rents and too upset to have to talk with an assistant manager they believed – because of her profes­sionalism and presentation – was of a higher socio-economic class. Little did they know that the same woman whom they believed pitied them, ate and fed her children chicken-noodle soup from a hotplate nightly. They would never know that when Patricia left her office she would go “home” to an 8-story nightmare, riddled with roaches and rival gang members. She would work to create the best living experience for hundreds of residents, while, by state law, she herself had no legal residence. This psychological dynamic could only be weathered by one of great strength.

Patricia was promoted to manager, but her family continued to spend their nights inside a sweaty, gray two-room box of an apartment where, from the bar-covered window, Patricia could see the building she ran but could not live in, the building that the Mayor’s office would annually recognize for its excellent upkeep and management. She was the award-winning manager with no legal residence of her own – secretly shattering preconceived notions of what homelessness looked like.

For two years Patricia would spend her nights, sleepless at that window, reminiscing on the roller coaster she’d been riding – not to mention the night­ly fighting heard down the halls, that would keep any parent at attention throughout the night. Three bodies in a full sized bed was an uncomfortable experience. With uncanny wisdom and foresight, she would always say that her passion for creating the ideal living experience for her hundreds of tenants was fueled by her understand­ing of what it means to have the most aberrant living experience – an experi­ence she returned to daily after a day’s work surrounded by everything she did not have.

After years of saving, Patricia and her family finally moved to a secure and modest normative apartment. Over months she furnished it with everything she had to live without. For the first time in roughly three years, Patricia had a kitchen, a stove, a key, and a dresser. She could open her front door as well as her arms to any and all that needed a haven or a hug. But most importantly, she had a good night’s sleep.

By the end of my flashback, class was ending. The bell rang and I hur­ried over to my teacher and told her Patricia’s story and how, until that class, I never realized that Patricia and her family were homeless. As we fin­ished talking I began to head toward the door.

“Wait! You never actually told me who this woman is? Did you know her family? Her son?”

I looked over my shoulder as I walked out, smiled, and replied, “I am her son. That was my family.”