A Rising Star
July 23, 2020
Logan Park, Northeast Minneapolis, Minnesota
Alisha is an employee of Freedom from the Streets and did almost all the interviewing for this book. Virginia interviewed her.
My name is Alisha. I am twenty-five years old. I live in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I was born and raised in Minnesota and I grew up in St. Paul.
Tell me about your childhood.
I don't remember most of my childhood, but I do remember growing up with abuse and neglect. I was placed in the foster care system twice, and now my children are in the system. I have two children, two boys. One is one year old and the other one is three years old. Both are in foster care, mostly because the system is accusing me of abuse and neglect. My sons’ cases are based on when I was in the foster care system. The only difference is, I was with family members, and my children are with strangers.
Do you have siblings?
I do, but I don’t remember how many. They were in foster care. My youngest sister is still in foster care.
Do you see any of your siblings?
No, I haven't seen my siblings in a while. I know there were nine of us, before my youngest brother was killed. He had Shaken Baby Syndrome. I didn't know about that until I turned seventeen. I only know two out of the eight so far. I'm the oldest.
Who did you like the most growing up?
I would say growing up I liked Mariah Carey. I grew up liking her songs and loving her music. She was just a great inspiration for me. I grew up liking Justin Bieber, too. I could relate to most of the songs that they were making. Mariah Carey made a lot of songs about sex, but I didn't really notice that when I was a teenager. And with Justin Bieber, it felt really cool to hear about his relationships.
Did you graduate from high school?
Yes, I went to two different high schools. The first was a Catholic high school, and then I switched to a public school, Johnson Senior High School in St. Paul. I graduated from Johnson.
Did you have friends in high school?
I would say I had some friends, but I grew up being teased a lot. Even through high school I was being teased, so I didn’t have a lot of friends.
A lot of kids back then liked to be bullies and liked to degrade others to make themselves feel better. They were probably going through a rough patch or something.
Tell me about the person who’s been nicest to you in your life.
My Aunt Mary has been the nicest to me. She’s currently in a nursing home. I say she's been the most kind to me, because even though I haven't really grown to know her as an individual person, I've been close to her for the past six years now. I'm grateful that she's been supportive of me and helped me. I don't really talk to her much, because of what I'm going through, being homeless. But it's still great to know that we have a connection, regardless of if I'm busy or not. She understands. We’ve got that relationship; it's not going to disappear.
What was one of your best memories?
I have two best memories. My first one was when I first went to Disney World in Florida. I've actually been there twice. My Aunt Sarah, when I was in the foster care system, took me to Florida twice and I had fun times there. My second best memory was when I first became a mom.
What is one of your toughest memories?
I would have to say when I was taken from my mom twice and then having the PTSD kick in when my two children were taken from me.
What jobs have you had?
My very first job was when I went back to live with my Aunt Sarah in Blaine. I worked at Super America for maybe a month. I lost my job there over an ID check. A person came in to check if people were showing their IDs when I gave them cigarettes. I thought the test person was over thirty, so I didn’t ask for her ID. She wrote up that I failed the test. I was fired the next day.
I hoped that wouldn't show up when I applied at McDonald's. It didn’t and they hired me right away. I worked at McDonald’s for almost two years. I was eighteen when I started working at McDonald's. Then I started looking for other jobs to get more income, because McDonald's was my full time job and I wasn’t making as much as I wanted to. And I wanted to be closer to where my Aunt Sarah lived, so I didn’t have to walk all the way from McDonald’s to her house. So, I worked at Walmart, which was a lot closer to where she lived.
Tell me about you and your aunt.
We got along best when we went to Breezy Point Resort, which is in, I believe, Brainerd. We stayed there for a week every year. We would go swimming a lot and play bingo and do a lot of other fun stuff. We listened to the Elvis impersonator sing there. We’d go to a lot of different concerts, so it was pretty fun and relaxing.
Tell me about someone who has had a big impact on your life.
I would probably say my boss, mostly because before I met her I was not outspoken. I was letting a lot of people take advantage of me. When my boss first trusted me to help others, it actually helped me know what to say -- know how to be an inspiration for other people. Her belief in me helped me build a network and figure out who I am as a person.
What do you feel most thankful for in your life?
I feel most grateful for my children, but also being a part of all these different organizations that I'm in, like Freedom from the Streets. Just knowing that I have a purpose in life and knowing that it's not just me that's going through homelessness and knowing that I'm helping others really makes me happy.
What lessons have you learned in life?
One of the lessons I’ve learned would have to be “Don't give up.” Keep fighting for what you want to fight for because there's a lot of ups and downs like a battle. Know that you're not alone. It really changes everything to know that there are others that have gone through the same experience that you're going through and to know that they're fighting, too.
What memory do you like the most of the last ten years?
When I became me. When I found out what kind of person I am. When I found out how to change what I did in the past that was wrong and change myself into becoming the better person that I am today. That happened in 2016.
What were the circumstances?
When I was five months pregnant with my oldest, I didn't know how to ask for help. In a way, I'd say, I was brainwashed. Instead of asking for help, I stole money from Walmart. I used to work there. It took them three weeks to figure out what I was doing. It came to the point where I wasn't able to stop myself from doing it, because I was struggling. At that point I had a car and a dog that I had to take care of.
When Walmart caught me, they fired me that day. I was paid for that month that I worked with them, but after that my finances just went downhill.
This felony has been holding on to my life. The courts found it to be a felony, but I did probation. So, I'm done with probation and I'm trying to get my record expunged.
What are you proudest of?
I'm proud of being outspoken. I'm proud of having a voice. I'm really proud that I'm going back to school for criminal justice. And I'm really grateful that I'm able to share my knowledge with other people through my job with Freedom from the Streets.
When in your life did you feel most alone?
I would have to pick the situation currently. I’m dealing with child protection for my two children. It's really hard to get support, especially when there are not enough resources for low income parents. There are not enough resources for parents that are struggling to get the education that they need.
I guess asking for help is where I feel most alone. My kids have been gone for a year now. It's really hard for me to ask for help from my case workers, because they don't see me as a human being, they see me as a criminal. Everybody deserves a second chance.
How has your life been different than what you thought it would be?
I would say it's different because I would never imagine myself actually becoming homeless. I've been homeless for almost a year now, mostly because my children were taken from me.
How does that work, that if your children are taken from you, you become homeless?
Because I was already financially unstable. But when my children were with me I was getting support from a program that helps families who are low income. I was on food stamps and I was getting cash for my children so I could provide for them.
Then child protection found that my youngest had a broken ankle. That's when they started pointing the finger at me, because I was the primary caregiver. But I wasn't the only person watching my children. There were other people watching my children and they never got investigated. After my children were taken, I was evicted from my apartment in Brooklyn Park.
When did you start living in a hotel?
When I first came to downtown Minneapolis from Brooklyn Park, I was jumping from shelter to shelter. At these shelters, whenever I would complain or others would complain to managers about some guests’ disrespectful behavior, the managers wouldn't listen to us, they would only listen to their staff. Then in March of this year, I moved myself over to Elim Church because I felt safer there. It was much nicer.
But then a lot of guests started arguing and cussing people out and it was just like being downtown. It had a lot to do with their mental health. Some of them were actually seeing things and, at that point, I wasn't surprised at all. I saw people like that at First Covenant Church and the Salvation Army. It's a matter of me not interacting with them. Otherwise, when I got mad at them or tried to persuade them otherwise, they just wanted to attack me.
So, I talked to Freedom from the Streets when Elim’s shelter closed at the end of last winter. Elim’s shelter is only open when it is cold. Freedom from the Streets and Elim Church helped me get into a hotel then. The county and the state were transferring a lot of people into hotels. At first, it was only for COVID-19 patients, but then they switched it up and allowed the homeless people to go into hotels, too. So, I got into the Millennium Hotel, where a lot of other former shelter guests are, as well.
Now I’m able to do my homework and concentrate on getting my children back. I've been staying in the hotel for maybe two months. I’m grateful that Hennepin County was able to extend their guests’ hotel stays until the end of the year.
But I’m having trouble with the rules of the staff for the shelter guests. They want us to wear masks, but I can’t breathe with a mask on, because I get too hot. I get bloody noses when I get hot. When I'm so hot, because of a mask, it doesn't matter where I'm at, my nose just starts bleeding.
Masks are exempt for people who have disabilities, which I have. I can't breathe with a mask on, and I have PTSD when I see people wearing those things. It just freaks me out. Makes me want to go crazy wearing those things, so I wear a bandana. I breathe better with a bandana, but it's still hot, I still can't breathe well with a bandana on, but I try to push through it.
Are you going to school?
With the situation that I'm going through with being homeless and dealing with child protection, I am going to American Intercontinental University, which is online. I'm going for criminal justice, because I feel like there's a lot of attorneys for children, which is fine and dandy, but there aren’t many attorneys for the parents. Where is the help for the parents? There are not enough attorneys that are willing to do pro bono work. Everybody's worried about money.
I had to fire the last public defender I had, because I felt like she wasn't really helping me. She was being rude and brushing aside concerns I had. I continuously complained to her that my children have been coming up with bruises at visitations and she refused to investigate that or talk to child protection about that.
Last Wednesday, my best friend and I went to a visitation. (I named my best friend as the godmother, because we've been friends for a long time. She's like a sister to me.) My friend noticed that my youngest, who is one year old, had a big bruise on his back. And we noticed that you can literally see his ribs. His gut is really big, but his back is really skinny and the other parts of him are really skinny. And when my friend brought that to my attention, I took a picture of it.
I saw my children again last night, and my youngest still has the bruise. I don't know if it's from the foster family or if it's from daycare. I've made numerous complaints to the Child Protection Division in the past, and they didn't take any of those concerns seriously. So over the weekend, my best friend and I made a child protection report against the foster family.
This is really hard for me to do, because, as much as I'm angry about my children being taken, I can't see the foster parents as abusing my children. But at the same time, I have to protect my children, because I'm their biological mother and I still have my rights. And I care about them.
When I first thought about it, two days ago, I started to cry. And it was just like, I wanted to end my life. It was killing me inside to know that children are being abused every single day in foster homes.
I got some advice from people I know at Dignity Center. I go to Dignity Center every day. People can just go there. It doesn’t matter if you're homeless or not. They have free food from nine till noon. They have some advocates there that will help you with legal help or anything else. If you need a bus card or if you need help with rent or if you need help with a phone, they help.
But the catch is you have to be going there consistently. You can't just show up randomly and say, “Hey, I heard you guys do this. Can you help me?”
They have some great resources to use, so I go there every single day. And I feel safe talking to the friends I’ve made there. I see them every day, so they know a lot about me. I'm one of those types of people that will just blurt out what I'm going through. Then my friends there will ask, “What’s going on?”
I told a really good friend there, who's Native American, about what I was going through and he gave me a resource to look into. I guess the Native children are going through the same thing that African Americans are going through, so it's basically like every race is going through it in a way.
So, my friend told me to call whoever I can and just keep following up with them. He said I should be persistent with emails and calls saying that they should do something. He said if I stopped, that would make it seem like I don't care. So, I am doing what he told me to do.
Yesterday I saw my social worker. She dropped my children off at the visit and we talked about my complaint. She said that she got the picture. And then I also told the supervisor of the visit. She said that she would file a report, too. Now they’re investigating. They're trying to figure out what's going on.
I'm hoping that they can come to the bottom of this. I've been telling them that my children should be with family members. But at the same time, I don't want to confuse my children more. It's hard for me to see if I am hurting my children by saying something. Now they'll probably be removed from the only home my youngest has known. It’s a hard decision.
What would you like your legacy to be?
That I was a strong, independent woman who fought through a lot.
Do you regret anything?
I grew up being yelled at a lot. And in most cases, when it comes to children growing up being yelled at, they tend to yell at their children when they become older. And that's my biggest regret, because I realize that children are innocent. And I didn't want that for my children. There's a lot of parents out there that probably do the same thing and they get judged for it. I get that it's emotional abuse, but it wasn't my intention to hurt my children like that.
What are your plans for the future?
I am hoping and praying that I can get a positive outcome and get some permanent housing. Hopefully, I’ll get my children back after I become financially stable.
Is there any last thing you want to say to me?
Yes, I would like to say that I'm grateful for meeting you. And that I love you as an individual. I just pray that you stay safe.
Is there anything you’d like the next generation to know?
Keep your head up, be strong, and don't give up. A lot of other people are going through situations that could be similar to your situation. There are other people out there that actually care for you and love you. Regardless, even if you feel no one knows you as an individual, just know that somebody out there will finally hear your voice and see you for you.
What brought you to the streets of Minneapolis?
I came to Minneapolis after getting evicted from my apartment in Brooklyn Park. The suburbs are very expensive. But when I came down here, I found out that Minneapolis is even more expensive. I’m grateful that even though I went through a bunch of shelters, I met some great people along the way.
Thanks for the interview, Alisha.