A bike, a bus and the will to keep going -

Friends & Neighbors

A bike, a bus and the will to keep going

It’s not easy to rise when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, but with a helping hand, it can be done.

Just ask Joe and Sherry (not their real names).

Married with two sons and a third on the way, they’re finally out of the homeless shelter and into their new apartment. But it’s taken some doing: two shelters, a 300-mile move, a donated bicycle and a 2 a.m. daily wake-up call.

“We came down from New York City on the bus.”

“We came down from New York City on the bus,” Joe said. “We’d spent 18 months in a shelter in New York but it was $1,800 a month for a studio apartment and the shelter wasn’t helping us get one.”

If you can make it there …
Joe said they had ended up in a New York City shelter in the first place just because rent was so high. They’d each been living with their parents, working, but not making enough to move out. They got married and tried to make a go of it, but the sky-high price of Big Apple rent was beyond their means.

They didn’t want to be married and living in their parents’ houses, he said, so they thought they’d try a shelter temporarily in the hopes of getting assistance finding an affordable place of their own. But the months dragged on, a son was born, time passed, Sherry got pregnant again, more time passed and they were still living in the shelter with no end in sight.

Rent in New York was just more than they could afford.

So they packed up, boarded a bus, and moved south to Richmond, where they had a few local connections and a lot of hope that they could afford rent on a place of their own in RVA.

They arrived in Richmond six months ago and a few months later, they moved into Hilliard House, the interim shelter at Housing Families First.

And that’s when they realized they’ve got a different problem in Richmond.

“We don’t have licenses or permits,” Joe said. “We can’t drive.”

Like many New Yorkers, Joe and Sherry had never needed a car so they’d never learned to drive. Once in Richmond, however, they discovered that while rent is comparably cheap, it’s hard to make it without a car. Despite having a bus line, the Richmond area just isn’t designed for public transit or for easy walking – especially if you’ve got small children.

“If you don’t have any transportation, you can’t do anything.”

“If you don’t have any transportation, you can’t do anything,” Joe said. “There’s so many things we want to do with the kids but without transportation, you’re stuck.”
They do manage to get to work though. It’s just not easy.

A hard commute
Housing Families First gave Joe a used bicycle from their storage shed and he used it to commute 10 miles to work every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet.

“I had to get up at 2 a.m. because I have to be at work at 4,” Joe said.
He handles inventory for a local company and while the hours are long and the bike commute makes it even longer, it’s a good job.

Sherry works 25 hours a week at Kmart, which is only a 15-minute walk from the Hilliard House.
But she’s pregnant and the couple already has a 3-year-old, a 6-month-old and no help with childcare.

“I had to get up at 2 a.m. because I have to be at work at 4.”

“We take turns with the kids,” Joe said. “I work 40 hours but I can’t leave until my jobs are finished and then after I’m finished, I have to wait until the other guys are finished. I wake up at 2 in the morning and I get there at 4 a.m. and I usually don’t get home until 7:45 at night.”

When Joe isn’t on the road or working himself, he keeps the children so Sherry can work.
“It’s just hard,” he said.

But it’s starting to pay off.

Upwardly mobile
After two months at Hilliard House, the couple were approved for an apartment of their own and moved in at the end of May.

“It’s in Highland Park,” Joe said. “It’s closer to my job – only 22 minutes on the bike – but it’s further from hers. She still has to walk but we’re trying to save up enough for a scooter.”

A scooter can be operated without a driver’s license and it’s considerably cheaper than a car, so it’s a good option for them, Joe said.

Between the two of them, they’ll make enough money to pay the rent on their apartment and will hopefully be able to save enough to buy a scooter at some point, Joe said.

“It’s a struggle every day but you appreciate what you’ve got.”

“We may need a little bit of help but we’re trying to pick up more hours at work,” he said.
But by the time their third child is born in the fall, Joe and Sherry are expecting to be on their feet.

“You learn not to take anything for granted,” Joe said. “It’s a struggle every day but you appreciate what you’ve got.”