My parents and I spent a recent weekend out of town. It was the first time we had stayed in a in a motel room with my almost two-year old son. At home, it is not unusual for him to run laps around the couch, turn cabinets upside down in mere seconds, and beg for a few more minutes outside. So, in just under a half an hour in his confined quarters, the phone was unplugged to ward off toddler pranks, the remote was missing and my mother was shushing his wild activity in fear of disturbing the neighbors.
I couldn’t help but acknowledge the irony of our circumstances. In my line of work, I run across families sometimes two and three kids each who have piled themselves into motel rooms for weeks on end. And here I was, wondering how we would possibly keep the little man out of trouble for a few short nights.
In one particular case, Micah worked with a young mom of three toddlers whose family and friends maintained a steady party of eight. At $350 per week, pooling their money was all any of them could do to keep a roof over their heads on minimum wage jobs and social services benefits. In this mom’s case, she’d spent the majority of her 21 years watching her parents do the same thing; and she had more than once experienced the consequences of coming up short on cash for the bill.
She wanted a better life for her kids. That was resoundingly clear in every one of her weekly visits to inquire whether we could help her find an apartment. But for many months, Micah overlooked this situation.
At least she had a place to stay, we said. There are so many who only have a tent or sleeping bag.
She alone wasn’t making nearly enough money to afford an apartment, we justified. Unless she could get a better job, there was no way she was ready for housing.
Perhaps she could go to the shelter first or a two-year transitional housing program, we urged. Only after saving money, learning some skills and completing a program could we be sure of her success.
But she wasn’t having any of it. Housing was what she wanted to give her children, and housing she was bound to find whether we helped her or not.
Within her parameters, we did our best to set up sustainability precautions. Our Step Forward Program, an effort that helps people achieve sustainable employment, placed her in a full-time job and wrapped her with every tool to achieve her GED and maintain child care. We moved her into an apartment and set out to support whatever needs would help her family stabilize.
She stopped going to her GED classes.
She schemed up an idea of starting her own cleaning business.
And not six months in, she had quit her job.
Everything we knew about homeless services, at the time, told us this would happen. 
Historic best practices touted programmatic shelter models where clients must meet certain benchmarks in order to graduate into housing.
      But for many months prior, stakeholders in our field were nurturing a newer approach called housing first, where people experiencing homelessness enter housing as quickly as possible and receive stabilization assistance within their private apartment.  Although young in implementation, housing first maintains a success rate of 83%. People are generally more successful because they are working to keep what they have been given, not trying to obtain something they can’t yet imagine.
      We had bet on housing first in this instance, and lost– or, so we thought.
Our mom and kids survived in housing the same way they always did–odd jobs, renting couch space and public benefits. The thing was, the “rent” was 50% cheaper and the space more than ten times large than any motel room.
What seemed to be heading for an eviction in five months, would become progress in 15. Just recently, she came back to Micah for help finding a sustainable job. She re-enrolled in GED classes, started attending, and on September 20, her school would report that she scored the highest in her class on reading and writing.
She will soon start work in a full-time job. When her GED is complete her earning power and job possibilities will multiply. 

    Looking back, we can’t bear the thought of where she would be had we made her wait any longer than we did for  housing. It may have been risky. It might not have made sense.  But when we really think about it now, we wonder what the idea of “housing readiness” actually means.
Human beings belong in safe, adequate, stable living quarters. 
 Who are we to keep the golden key to ourselves, when planting people in housing may be their only chance to grow?