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Where we live: The way home

Ariel Tarawally and her kids Linus and Pandora in their “tax credit apartment.” Photo by Joshua Huston

Where we live: The way home

Finding housing security after a child care crisis

After speaking with Ariel Tarawally for a few minutes, one thing is evident: She is a survivor. 

In 2019, Tarawally found herself in an unthinkable situation: She and her kids (ages 8 and 9 at the time) faced homelessness after she lost her job. 

Before the COVID pandemic, Tarawally, a single mom, relied on Boys & Girls Club childcare services to cover her kids while she worked. Her son has autism and requires specific care and attention. However, lower staffing during the pandemic meant Linus could not get the individualized care he needed. 

A crisis hits

While her employer had been understanding of Tarawally’s unique child care situation when she was initially employed, they eventually told her they could no longer provide flexible work accommodations. In May 2019, Tarawally was let go. Unable to pay rent, she, Linus, and her daughter Pandora ended up at Mary’s Place, the region’s central shelter program and wrap-around support provider for unhoused families. The family remained in the shelter for 66 days.

Tarawally says of her child care and housing challenges: “Our situation requires unique parameters for us to work. And it’s not stable. Maybe I can stay with a company for almost a year until something happens with my child. Maybe too many times I have to leave early to do something for him.” 

A common challenge for families

Dominique Alex, CEO of Mary’s Place, says Tarawally’s child care conundrum is not uncommon. 

“The lack of affordable high-quality child care impacts a family’s ability to work and pay rent, or even where they choose to live,” Alex says. “It’s one of the most challenging barriers to helping families move back into stable housing.”

With the help and support of Mary’s Place, Tarawally and her kids found permanent stable housing in August 2019. To get there, the nonprofit organization paired Tarawally with a housing advocate who provided support while she navigated finding the right place. The organization also helped with moving costs. 

Loving their ‘tax credit apartment’

Now ages 12 and 13, Pandora and Linus can be left home unsupervised for longer periods of time. And that makes parenting while working full-time a little easier for Tarawally. She feels as though she is making progress in what she calls her “tax credit apartment” in Kirkland — a building close to her work and from which it is more difficult to be evicted. 

The years spent cycling through doubt, child care concerns and related employment issues still haunt Tarawally. 

When she returned to work post-pandemic, Tarawally turned to the club’s child care services once more since staffing levels had returned to normal. Unfortunately, concerns arose about her son’s care that Tarawally could not ignore. She found herself spinning in circles to solve her child care challenge. 

Stable doesn’t stop the worry

Although she’s been in stable housing for more than four years, she can’t help but worry about long-term housing security.

“Even though I have basic milestones that consider someone an adult, like job, car, place, all those things are highly conditional in our situation,” she says.

That unease is understandable. Now that Tarawally, a college graduate, makes $25 an hour, she no longer qualifies for food stamps. This single change in income is a significant contributing factor to Tarawally’s accumulating debt. Still, Tarawally’s tenacity keeps her going. Even as she worries about putting food on the table, her positive attitude feeds her hope for a bright future for her family. 

‘Reinvention every time’

“In order for me to stay motivated, stay proactive, and have some hope and belief that I can somehow create a better situation, I have to do some form of reinvention every time things happen,” she says.

Tarawally credits her daughter with the family’s transition from unhoused to stability. Because Pandora cares for her brother with a disability, Tarawally is able to continue her full-time employment and avoid being let go. 

A mix of pride and guilt

Still, “mom guilt” weighs heavily on Tarawally. She worries that her heavy reliance on Pandora will have long-term repercussions, and she regrets that her daughter was forced to step into a role that she may not have been ready for — all for the sake of staying housed. 

With her finances and housing relatively stable, Tarawally lives on hope. 

She is proud that her children do not feel the effects of her financial struggles and that she is able to meet all her family’s basic needs.

“By any definition, we’re poor. But my children really aren’t feeling it. And that’s my only credit,” she says. “It’s that I make a lot happen for them with what little I have.”  

Read more: 

Where we live: Two families own one home

About the Author

Joan King

A national Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) conference presenter and consultant, Dr. Joan King has a BA in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing, an MA in English, and a Doctorate in Education. Her articles regarding Asian American voices have been published in, Mochi Magazine, Memoir Magazine, and Writerly Magazine.