Roanoke family shares story of homelessness, importance of stability

The Smith family is living in a new home. (Courtesy: Huong Fralin)
The Smith family is living in a new home. (Courtesy: Huong Fralin) (Copyright by WSLS - All rights reserved)

ROANOKE (WSLS 10) -  Being homeless can come with shame especially if you're a child trying to fit in and not let others know you're struggling.

"I wanted to be a running back because I'm a fast runner," said 8-year old Xavier as he showed off his flag football trophies while 6-year old Aniya shows off the rest of the bedroom.

"When we were at our old house we had to share the same bed," said Aniya.

The Smith family knows what it's like to struggle.

"At one point, we were all in one room. We've rented rooms in houses before. to be able to have your own bed was a big deal," said Chiquista Smith, the mother of three. "When I couldn't come up with the money to pay the rent I just really knew that I had dropped the ball and wasn't doing what I was supposed to do to protect them."

Two years ago Smith moved into a homeless shelter with her three kids.

"It wasn't on purpose it was the circumstances of life that we had to deal with and when we get to that point we just need help to get back on track," said Smith.

"We did have struggles as a child," said Afira Devries, United Way Roanoke Valley CEO.

Devries grew up as a middle child, hiding what was going on at home.

"I know what it feels like to be cold at night. I know what it feels like to be insecure about what the world will perceive me if they really knew what I was struggling with. I know what it feels like to be hungry," said Devries.

Now years later as United Way CEO she is passionate about helping the more than 500 homeless children going to Roanoke City Schools.

"The memories that I have of those struggles are fresh for me when I think about what its like for a child to go to school hiding secrets and feeling as though they are less than and worried about being exposed," said Devries.

Teachers saw Smith's children and told her there was a problem.

"They seemed like they never got to rest so they were always tired, just not really stable mentally being able to think about what they had to. They were always worried about other things so at school it was hard for them to focus and concentrate but at the same time they're trying to be kids and make friends and be included as well," said Smith.

That changed last school year when they moved into their own place after working with ARCH, a non-profit that helps with new beginnings after homelessness.

"They've gotten some really good reports as far as their grades and how smart they are and how much potential they have," said Smith.

Now after a year on their own the Smith Family is stable. Smith works two jobs and goes to Virginia Western taking classes to get better jobs. It's the work of ARCH giving her a place to stay, a way out of homelessness and support that she calls a miracle. A miracle she wants for the more than 200 other homeless families with children in Roanoke schools looking for hope.

"When you really think about what that means for a child it clarifies how important this is. You cannot focus when you're in crisis and the only thing you're going to learn how to do is survive," said Devries.

It's these services the 10 Cares RYSE Up Roanoke telethon is raising money for to get these children into homes by the start of school. From 5 a.m. to 8 p.m on Wednesday, June 29, WSLS 10 and United Way of Roanoke Valley are teaming up to hold the 10 Cares RYSE Up Roanoke Telethon. While the telethon will be happening throughout the day, starting at 7:30 p.m. WSLS 10 will be airing a live half-hour telethon special!

RYSE, which stands for Rehousing Youth for Success in Education, is an initiative by the United Way that works with local schools to identify homeless children and put their family on the pathway to self-sufficiency.

On June 29, there'll be three different ways for you to donate and help this cause.

  • Call: Just dial 1-866-975-7697 and you'll be connected to someone in our phone bank who will take your pledge
  • Online: Go to www.uwrv.org/ryseuproanoke to donate
  • Text: Send the message "RYSE" and a dollar amount to 41444. You will then receive a link to fill out an online form. Standard message and data rates apply
  • If you want to donate before the telethon, that's fine too!