Tree Lane: Building Family Through Housing

At the time that Elector was interviewed for this story, she was sitting on her own wrap-around couch in her own four-bedroom apartment. The kids were all at school, Elector was folding laundry and boiling some water for dinner that night. Once dinner was prepared and the interview was finished, the day’s work would only be starting for Elector. In just a couple of hours there would be homework at the kitchen table, and young ones to help guide into the future.

Elector has called Madison home since she was six years old. Her parents brought her family up from Arkansas back in the 70s, and ever since she’s always seen her hometown as a land of opportunity. She works hard to ensure that is the case for her children as well.

“I have four girls and one boy, and my son has money saved for Madison Area Technical College. He’s not even in 8th grade, and he already has a path toward his secondary education. There’s a lot of hope here.”

Here in Madison, Elector is confident that her children are receiving a quality education. A single mother of five, she spends most of her days making sure everyone is ready for the next day’s lessons. She’s reviewed countless essays, spent hours own worksheets, and written out reams of flash cards over the past decade.

To her, it’s all worth the effort. There’s a future in this town for her and her children, and she’s not leaving that opportunity for anything. Even when her family fell onto hard times and into homelessness five years ago, Elector held that hope for the future close to her heart.

“Everybody thinks that people want to live in a shelter for free. They think that we enjoy free heat, free food, and a free place to say. But trying to raise a family like that is not easy or free – it’s more work than you can imagine.”

For Elector’s kids, nightly homework sessions don’t stop if there isn’t a kitchen table to sit at. There’s still work to be done – and whether they were sleeping on the floor of a friend’s apartment or staying at a local shelter, Elector’s family was putting in the time. Work sheets and essays still had to be finished, no matter the circumstances.

“Raising your family while homeless means you can’t eat what you want or cook what you want. You have to be on someone else’s schedule, your kids have to constantly be protected. Waiting and hoping to see if you have a room for your family every night, trusting that your stuff will be taken care of when you step away, and making sure their ready for the next day, you’re in a messed up situation.”

So when Heartland Housing’s new Tree Lane Apartments were built on Madison’s west side, Elector was almost too busy to care. The new permanent supportive housing initiative was opening 45 new apartments for moms and families just like Electors, but she was far too concerned with her day to day struggle to pay attention.

“I remember the guys at Heartland had to bug me multiple times to come and see the place. I was still skeptical that one of these apartments could actually go to my family. I just thought we couldn’t actually have something like this.”

But just as the school year was about to ramp back up, the family moved into a four bedroom, two bathroom apartment. The in-unit washer-dryer and full-sized kitchen gives Elector the chance to get all of her mom responsibilities without worry. The kids have a hassle-free journey to school and back now that they aren’t in a shelter, and Elector gets to watch them walk to the bus from her window. Sometimes she’ll see them walking home from the same vantage point, and she knows it’s time to put on her homework cap.

“My kids absorb everything. The school system has been a good tool for them. Now, to have steady housing, steady school districts, and everyone in my family working as a team – it’s given us the opportunity to grow. Now I have people outside of my family that work as part of my team.”
Now, the school year is nearing the final quarter. The kids will soon have some time off, and their own rooms to enjoy for the first time in five years. It will be the first moment of respite for her and her children in half a decade.
“This place, my place, this gives me hope. I thought I would never have the chance to live in a place this beautiful. There was no way that I could afford this rent and take care of my kids at the same time. You guys gave us the best opportunity in Madison.”
For Elector and her family, hard work has paid off. Elector takes pride in the struggles she and her children survived, and she’s even happier to prove to her family that this city is the land of opportunity her parents thought it was.
“Now I get to tell my kids ‘see I told you something good was going to happen to us.’ I can tell them to never give up because good things do happen.”