Patient Stories

Motel Life is Difficult for Homeless Families

Living in a motel is not a vacation. Families are crammed into one room, with no kitchen, no place for children to play or do homework, and no privacy. Day in and day out. “Marguerite” knows this reality very well. She has been living in a motel near Boston with her 14-year old son, “Nicolas”, and her 1-year old daughter, “Sophie”. The three of them share a single room off a long hallway of rooms housing other homeless families. The motel is almost a mile from the nearest grocery store and they don’t have a car. This inevitably means walking there and back, toting an infant and groceries, or relying on local busses. As a result, Marguerite worries about the number of take-out meals her family eats, stretching her limited income and leading to a less healthy diet. This location prompts Nicolas to leave for school across the city each morning at 5am and he doesn’t return home until 5 or 5:30pm. It’s an incredibly long day, but Nicolas likes school, Marguerite says. He loves art and wants to be a doctor someday.

Before moving into the motel, the family lived with Marguerite’s mother, but this, too, was a difficult situation. With only part-time work, Marguerite’s mother could not support them financially, especially with two of Marguerite’s brothers living there, too. When Marguerite was seven months pregnant with Sophie, her boyfriend pushed her and she was taken to the hospital by ambulance. After the baby was born, with her boyfriend no longer involved, Marguerite’s mother put them out on their own and they were placed at the motel.

Homelessness and a lack of support from her family would be enough of a challenge. But beyond these are the serious chronic health issues and disabilities that mother and daughter face. Sophie was born with Down’s syndrome. At four months old she experienced what was likely a septic infection, starting with vomiting and diarrhea and continuing with her lips turning black and blisters appearing on her skin. Marguerite’s brother dropped her and Sophie off at the emergency room and drove away, leaving her to navigate the hospital on her own. The baby was then transferred to another hospital, where after a month her leg was amputated above the knee. She remained in the hospital for another three months and Marguerite stayed by her side. Nicolas stayed with his grandmother during this time. While Sophie was in the coma, Marguerite, who is diabetic, had a minor stroke and was hospitalized herself. The stress of her daughter’s life-threatening infection left her unable to eat or sleep; not healthy for anyone, but particularly for someone with diabetes.

Although Marguerite was approved for disability benefits for Sophie that help with some of their expenses, it is not enough to support the high cost of rent in Boston. The family has applied for housing, but the wait is long and Marguerite notes that Sophie is quickly outgrowing her crib. In the meantime, a nurse and case manager from BHCHP’s Family Team have been supporting them with some of their critical unmet needs. Now, Marguerite is awaiting health insurance coverage, has received her diabetes medications, as well as clothing for her and the baby. Before these interventions Marguerite was going without her prescriptions and Sophie was wearing the same clothes over and over. Marguerite holds on to hope that her situation will continue to improve. She cries a lot less these days and has dreams of going to school and getting a good job to support her children. But, for now Sophie requires round the clock care—she uses a feeding tube and has frequent doctor visits—and Marguerite’s dreams are dreams deferred. For now.

*Patient names have been changed to protect their privacy.