The heels of Natasha Givens’ shoes click and echo off the hardwood floors of the empty two-story, frame house she moved into in November. She looks around at the bare walls and the curtain-less windows and imagines where she would put a Christmas tree, if she had one.
Givens, a single mother of six (two boys and four girls), wants this Christmas to be special for her children, whose ages range from 16 to 5. The family has come a long way from being on the brink of homelessness — bouncing from one relative’s house to the next — to having its own place.
“I’m kind of looking forward to Christmas,” said Givens, 35. “I just want to make it nice. I want to be able to cook diner for us, to eat together. … So hopefully we have a kitchen table by then.”
A kitchen table only scratches the surfaces of what Givens needs to fully furnish her new home on North Lockwood Avenue. She and her family moved back to Chicago after living nearly three years in downstate Harrisburg.
Givens fled — taking her children with her — to southern Illinois to escape an abusive relationship that ended in a bad divorce. She split her time between public housing and a relative’s house, subsisting on unemployment benefits from her former job with the Chicago Housing Authority.
But Givens left Harrisburg because the small town had little in the way of job opportunities other than the local Wal-Mart. They moved back to Chicago in June with literally the clothes on their backs. Givens couldn’t afford to bring her belongings back with her.
“I actually had to start all over. … That is why we are in a place where we have nothing,” Givens said. “We barely got clothing.”
Givens’ Christmas list is simple. Cookware, bedding, kitchen table, window treatments — practically everything a new homeowner needs to furnish a house.
“We’ve got four bedrooms with no beds in them,” Givens said, adding that the children sleep on air mattresses. “I really want to see them on some beds, because they are going to school and they need to get proper rest.”
While her situation may seem dire to some, Givens counts herself as blessed. When she moved back to Chicago, first settling in Cicero then Austin, she wondered how she was going to make it. Job prospects she had lined up in Chicago fell through. Jobless and dependent on others for housing, Givens knows the situation has been stressful for her children.
“There were seven of us in this one room for two months, and we slept in a bunk bed. There were four of us at the bottom and three at the top,” Givens said. “It was really hard seeing them go through that, but they stayed smiling.”
Through it all, Givens said she drew her strength from her children and God. She said she knows she made bad choices by being in two abusive relationships, but she says she is “trying to correct things for my kids.” They deserve better, she says.
“They are strong,” she said. “I think they are drawing off my strength, but I am more so drawing off theirs. I have to survive for them.”
Givens’ luck began to change. She landed a job at the end of October working in the corporate office for a hospital bed manufacturer. She found the job through job leads provided by state Rep. LaShawn Ford’s office. She said his office has been good about supplying leads and resources for assistance.
“There’s really no help out there right now to me, but I did see him trying,” she said of Ford, who recently pleaded not guilty to federal bank fraud charges.
With a job in hand, finding a place became a priority. She was staying with relatives a few blocks away when she saw the house for rent. Givens said the landlord took a chance on her when she called and explained her circumstances. The landlord, she said, thought her family would be a good fit for the house.
“I work for a good company now and we are in our own home,” she said. “We just need some help getting settled.”
By Thanksgiving, Givens and her children had a place to lay their heads. She likened the house to an early Christmas present, but that was surpassed by the excitement her children had for having their own place.
“Just for them to be able to walk through the house, it just puts a smile on my face,” she said. “Their whole reaction is like, ‘Mommy you did it!'”
Givens’ 14-year-old daughter can speak for her siblings when she says she is excited about having a place to call her own. She already has plans for her room. She wants to deck the walls in Justin Bieber posters. (Austin Weekly is withholding the children’s name and schools to protect their privacy.)
“It’s nice to have our own house instead of living with others,” the 14-year-old said.
Her older brother has plans, too. The big Dwayne Wade fan can’t wait to put a hoop up in the spacious backyard. But the 16-year-old said being in a home for the holiday makes this Christmas special. He looks forward to his mom’s cooking and sitting at a table as family enjoying diner.
“That is the best part,” he said.
To see how you can help, please call, Ms. Givens at 708-990-1522.