Single mother defies pandemic problems to create a safe home for her family

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Kristina Holt was already having a tough time before the COVID-19 outbreak. A single mother of four children, Kristina moved into a new apartment early last year with plans to split household costs with a roommate. But the roommate quit paying her share, and Kristina soon fell behind on the rent, utilities and other bills.

“We got evicted and had to move into a hotel, the week the pandemic started,” Kristina said. “Four weeks we spent there. It was a hard time. I felt hopeless, and that’s not a very good feeling. You have your kids looking up to you, and they depend on everything that you do, and you as a mother, especially a single mother, have to be the one to figure it all out.”

She heard about Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Rapid Re-Housing program through Burlington County’s Housing Hub, which provides housing advocacy and supportive services for people at risk of or experiencing homelessness.

Rapid Re-Housing is a nationally recognized “Housing First” model of rental assistance intended to move people out of homelessness permanently. Besides rental help, program staff teach clients how to budget, offer food assistance and work to connect them with other needed resources to ensure long-term stability.

Catholic Charities provides Rapid Re-Housing in Burlington, Mercer and Ocean counties.

In March 2020 with Rapid Re-Housing’s help, Kristina and her kids moved into a nice apartment in Bordentown.

“I’m very thankful to have Catholic Charities by my side and know that I do have that support from them,” Kristina said. “Without Catholic Charities, in all honesty, I wouldn’t be here.”

Eviction crisis looming

Life since then hasn’t been all smooth-sailing. The pandemic created new challenges. Kristina had a good job in a podiatrist’s office, relying on public transit to get there because she has no car. But when schools closed and shifted to virtual learning, she suddenly had four children ages 6 to 17 schooling at home. Transportation posed new problems, because the health concerns and new restrictions that came with riding public transit during a pandemic meant she’d have to use costlier ride-sharing services like Uber or Lyft to get to work. As a single parent on a limited income, she had to make a tough choice.

“My boss basically told me it’s the job or your kids,” she said.

That’s a plight millions of people share. Census figures show there are nearly 14 million single parents – mostly mothers – raising 22 million children in the U.S. A recent national survey done by University of Oregon researchers found that single parent households are more likely than other households to be experiencing financial difficulties and to have become unemployed during the pandemic.

Many workers have lost their jobs or had pay cuts during the pandemic, making it tough to pay the bills. With government-mandated eviction protections expected to end soon, economists estimate up to 40 million people in America could be at risk for eviction. Indeed, phone calls to Rapid Re-Housing for assistance have more than doubled since the pandemic started, said Kristine Bodnar, a Catholic Charities housing specialist.

Kristina (pictured with her youngest daughter, right) is now juggling job-hunting with parenting and home-schooling.

“Through everything, Kristina has remained hopeful,” Bodnar said. “She does always look forward to the future that things will get better.”

Kristina credits her faith with giving her strength when things get hard. “I do a lot of praying,” she said. “I talk to God a lot. That’s my go-to.”

Good life lessons

She looks forward to getting a new job, hopefully in a hospital or the medical profession because she loves helping people. Like so many others, she is eager for the pandemic to end.

“I can’t wait for my kids to go back to school and everything to go back to normal, for their sake,” she said. “When you go through stuff, it’s not only you going through it. It’s your kids going through it as well. This pandemic has caused a lot of stress and depression for them and for me.”

But hardship – and how you handle it – can hold valuable lessons.

“Everything that I go through, my kids are well aware of,” she said. “There’s no beating around the bush with me, and this is life. This teaches them that nothing comes easy, and you have to work for what you want in life. I hope this helps them see me as a strong mother, see me trying to do everything I can to provide for them. I just want my kids to be happy, and succeed better than I did.”

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FOR INFORMATION about Rapid Re-Housing, contact Supervisor Mosudi Idowu or Housing Specialist Kristine Bodnar at (856) 764-6940 in Burlington County; (609) 394-8847 in Mercer County; or (732) 363-5322 in Ocean County. For information about Catholic Charities, contact Dana DiFilippo, communications, at ddifilippo@cctrenton.org or (215) 756-6277.

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