For one family, a house is a fresh start

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Eric Shelton/The Natchez Democrat — KeyKey Moore gets a hug from her children Malachi, 5, Serenity, 8, inside their new house Friday night. Before moving into her new home, Moore was living in her car while her children were living with family members.

Editor’s note: This is the first story in a four-part series examining child homelessness in Adams County.

Keykey Moore and her two children might have seemed like any other family during Christmas break from school.

Eight-year-old Serenity and 5-year-old Malachi, looked longingly at the wrapped presents stacked by the Christmas tree, avoided behaving naughty to impress the Big Guy come Christmas Day and kissed their mother’s pregnant belly goodnight before bed.

But just a few months ago the children were classified as homeless, and Moore felt hopeless.

Santa found Serenity and Malachi at a new house this year, but the Christmas angels who bought and wrapped the gifts didn’t come from the North Pole. These angels work and volunteer at the Guardian Shelter, where Moore and her children lived for 30 days before settling into a Section 8 apartment in Natchez after fleeing Moore’s abusive boyfriend in July.

KeyKey Moore combs Serenity’s hair before bedtime.

The barely two-foot fake Christmas tree, also given to Moore by friends at the battered women’s shelter, added a cozy feel to the apartment, which was sparsely furnished entirely with donated couches, beds, lamps and rugs.

The traditional tree and presents provided Moore’s children with a holiday routine most children simply expect. But for Serenity and Malachi routine is anything but ordinary.

Moore and her children originally moved back to Mississippi nearly five years ago from Colorado because her mother was ill.

But when Moore arrived, she discovered her mother was in a group home and that she, Serenity and Malachi, were left without housing, forcing them to move around in her car, in trailers or with family members and friends.

In four and a half years, the family lived in five different counties.

Just over a year ago, home was Moore’s broken down Ford Taurus.

Friends or family members, with whom Moore was only loosely acquainted, who learned she was sleeping on the streets would sometimes allow the family to stay the night, she said. If there was little space to offer, Moore would sleep in the car and the children would stay inside.

Malachi plays with a toy in his bedroom Friday night.

“But (my children) were clean and fed,” Moore said.

Along the way Moore began a relationship that became abusive. She fled once, but went back.

The move to the Natchez shelter came after Moore sustained the most recent beating that left her initially unable to walk.

“My situation got pretty bad, and the kids were getting older,” Moore said. “I thought, ‘I cannot keep taking this abuse.’”

After a month of personal growth with the help of what she described as “tough love” at the shelter and with the school year approaching, Moore said her Section 8 housing came though and the family had a place to stay, if only for a while.

Now settled in the Section 8 Housing apartment in Natchez, she has hope — hope to gain stability for her children that she never had growing up.

“It’s the most peace I’ve ever had in my life,” Moore said.

Now pregnant with her third child — a pregnancy she discovered after arriving in Natchez — Moore will raise her family on her own, without letting a man dictate their schedules and her thoughts.

“I have my own room, my own space, and it’s home — away from the abuse and drama,” Moore said.

Moore’s story and the story of Serenity and Malachi is just one example of the rain storm of events that can occur before children become homeless in an instant.

In many people’s eyes, the term “homeless” summons pictures of people living on the streets, panhandling and sleeping on park benches.

But for a child, the lack of permanent housing — which is less easy to spot — renders them homeless according to federal standards. And homelessness can come in a multitude of faces.

“People think (homelessness) never happens in a small town,” Sunshine Children’s Shelter Director Matilda Stephens said.

“They don’t understand that there’s a lot more people in this community who do not have a permanent home than what people realize,” she said.

Moore said she doesn’t blame her situation on her abuser or the fact that she feels she never had a childhood.

KeyKey Moore and her children Serenity and Malachi hopped from house to house in five counties during the past five years. The family has a new house and a new start now, but Moore won’t soon forget what it’s like to raise homeless children.

At age 13 she got her first job to earn money to give to her mother by selling candy to neighbors from a bicycle.

By sixth grade she said she figured making good grades wasn’t bringing in money, so she dropped out of school.

“I thought, ‘Screw school.’ I wasn’t thinking about the long term,” Moore said.

Moore said her mother gave legal consent for Moore to marry an older man at age 16, and she’s since had a series of unsuccessful relationships.

Moore said she used to be angry about her situation and envy those who had “a perfect life,” or wonder why she couldn’t have what other people had.

But the clarity she gained through the staff at the Guardian Shelter made her accept that her own poor decisions to act irresponsibly and continue to return to her abuser caused her current woes.

“The definition of insanity is to keep repeating the same steps and expecting different results,” Moore said she realized.

Moore said she is working to earn her GED and is a certified nursing assistant who has worked a number of jobs at nursing homes, a day care and in the hospitality industry since moving to Mississippi.

But with the baby due in less than two months, she cannot work for the time being.

“It gets worse before it gets better,” Moore said.

“I’ve come out in a rain storm, crying and in tears, but I’m starting to see a rainbow.”

Moore said her children have seen a lot and know how to survive.

And now, with her past behind her, Moore wants to focus on being a mother to her children, so their worries are those of a child’s.

She said she wants to teach her children to learn from her mistakes and think about the consequences of their actions.

“What do I always tell you to be?” Moore asked Serenity.

“A leader,” the 8-year-old responded. “Not a follower.”

“OK, go play,” Moore told her daughter, satisfied.

“(My goal) is just to see them be happy, to see them have a better life than me,” Moore said.