One Teen’s Story: Homeless, Abused Teen Embraces New Life at Perennial House

“I have become a true believer”

By Claireece R.*

When I first walked through the doors of Healthy Babies Project, Inc. (HBP), I felt scared and hurt, both physically and emotionally, even beyond repair. I was six months pregnant, exploding out of my clothes, and had lost all of my hair. Emotionally, I was ready to jump off a building, asking God for forgiveness as I fell to my death. I had lost all hope in myself, others, and even the world. I did not know that there were people that truly care and want to help, but gratefully, I found them at HBP.

African American woman crying - profile

Image: Sylvia Browder

I grew up with an abusive mother and was used to people shouting, hitting, kicking, and degrading me. After I graduated from high school I moved out. I met a guy that I thought was different and lived with him and his family. But I soon found out he was abusive and controlling. He would force me to do things that I did not want to, including using drugs.  When I (an African American woman) found out that I was pregnant, he (a Caucasian male) told me that I had to leave because he was not “raising a nigg** baby.”  Eventually I fled to friends, only to be thrown out. This left me homeless. I took my last bit of money to travel to D.C. to live with a cousin. She too turned me out, explaining her offer of a place to live was “just a joke” and she could not help me.

Homeless with No Hope

I spent my first month in D.C. living at Union Station, dodging the cops and dangerous strangers. One day I found some money and used it to take the bus to an agency that I was told would help the homeless. But they did not do anything for me and sent me away.

I connected with an older half-sister who said she would help but that I could not permanently live with her. Every day she sent me to various agencies to find a shelter or program that would help me. Yet there was nothing that could be done because I was “not old enough,” I “didn’t have a baby yet,” or “it’s not cold enough outside.” I grew more and more hopeless. No one would help me simply because I did not have a story that was shocking enough for them. Luckily, someone finally sent me to Healthy Babies Project, Inc.

My experience here has been different in each and every way! From the moment that I sat down at the front desk, I was overwhelmed warmth and compassion. I could relax and allow the HBP staff to guide me.

HBP Believed in Me

The case worker conducting the intake had a compassionate look of empathy, not a dead look of apathy. She started the whole process by asking about my well-being, rather than asking if I had the proper paperwork.  She genuinely wanted to hear my story, help me, and see me have hope. The Program Director, Regine Elie, personally made sure that all services possible were provided. HBP did not allow me to leave empty handed that first day. Before I left, I was enrolled in the Teen Parent Empowerment Program, had an appointment for prenatal care, and had begun completing an application to move into the new Perennial Transitional House. From that point, I received daily phone calls encouraging me. The staff kept me informed about different classes and programs that I could take to help me have a healthy pregnancy, be a better parent, and become independent.

Up until that day I always felt that I was mistake, genuinely believing I was a blunder of my parents’ activities and simply allowed to live because my father did not believe in abortion. As I got older and went out into the world, I believed that I was an ugly disgrace that could not have been made by God Himself. I believed I was meant to be a punching bag (metaphorically and literally) for the world’s frustrations.

The most peculiar thing about that feeling – now I call it an untruth – was that I let it all go once I knew that someone cared. All I needed was just to have someone say that they saw the real me, not to use me or wrong me, but to help, support, and love me. HBP did that. HBP is a family who was and is there for me and my unborn son. They believe in me. And they helped me believe in myself.

Healthy Babies Project’s True Believers

At HBP, teen mothers are instilled with positive beliefs that motivate them to greatness.  Most adults agree that belief takes place in the mind – when your mind accepts a fact as true.  Yet a child believes differently. She believes from her heart, embracing that anything can happen once she opens herself up to it. I like to call this approach one of “a true believer.”

Healthy Babies Project is filled with “true believers,” those who order their lives based on both fact and heart. HBP partner Lamell McMorris is a prime example of a “true believer,” one who believes with his heart that struggling pregnant girls can have healthy babies and turn their lives around.  He used his heart first then other tools to help HBP launch Perennial House, its transitional home for pregnant, homeless teens.

On July 8, 2013, I moved into Healthy Babies Project’s Perennial Transitional House. That day forever changed my life. That was the day that sparked the end of the abuse, pain, fears, and the sadness. It was the day that my unborn son received a fighting chance. Healthy Babies Project and the Perennial Transitional House have lifted me up and showed me that I was a living, breathing human being that is appreciated, adored, and respected.

Before, I thought that success was just a word that could only grace the lips of those around me, but never mine. Healthy Babies Project has shown me that though my journey as a young mother was going to be long and hard at times, success is always on the horizon. I am renewed. I have become a true believer.

If you know a pregnant District resident age 12-21 who needs support, encourage her to learn more about the Teen Parent Empowerment Program by contacting HBP at 202.396.2809, by email, or by logging onto our website. We care and we will help.

*name changed for confidentiality