By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — Tears streamed down Terrika Gray’s cheeks as she recounted the predicament that haunts her at every turn. The arrival of the New Year didn’t make it any better.
A single mother with four children, Gray is losing hope trying to find permanent housing, food for them to eat, and daycare to send the youngest two so she can work to earn a living.
Gray’s efforts to overcome her misfortunes fell short during the past year. If good fortune doesn’t smile on her this year, a grim reality awaits and the prospect of losing it all seems likely.
“I know what the root of the problem is,” said Gray, 25, the mother of Taureon, 7; Tavion, 5; Tylene, 4; and Ta’Leah, 3. “I do not have much help. I do not have many people to lean on. I need help with childcare.”
Gray has already exhausted the assistance she was getting from Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a federal assistance program for low-income families. Five years, or 60 months, is the maximum benefit period.
She has also exhausted 18 months of transitional childcare. “My transitional childcare is up and my regular childcare is up. I have no other options,” said Gray, realizing “there’s nothing left but to pay out of pocket.”
But that’s not possible, given Gray’s inopportune circumstances, which began three years ago. And those circumstances seem to multiply. Now hard times keep nipping at her fragile state of mind.
Back in 2015, her son Taureon’s father was killed. “He was coming to Memphis to take Taureon back with him to Johnson City (Tennessee) until I got back on my feet,” she said. “But he got killed the day before.”
Gray was staying at a hotel at the time and needed a break to find a way to avoid long-term homelessness. His death, she said, occurred two months after Ta’Leah’s father became disabled. So the help she expected from both fathers just didn’t pan out.
With nothing but Food Stamps to live on, Gray has moved around so much until the principal at KIPP Elementary asked her to sign a contract promising not to take Taureon and Tavion out of school before the school year ends.
“We keep bouncing around,” said Gray, who bounced all the way to jail after writing some bad checks. “They were my own checks. I wrote them so I could get food and clothes for my kids.”
Gray and her children were staying at Elvis Presley Boulevard Inn when she broke the law. Since then, a judge has issued a warrant for her arrest at least seven times, she said, for violating probation.
As a result, her job prospects are limited. If she lands a job, she can’t keep it, even after she explains her dire situation. “I want to work. I want to take care of my own kids,” she said matter-of-factly.
“Within the three years, I have went to MIFA probably a maximum of 10-15 times crying out for help. I have been to (Shelby County) CSA (Community Service Agency) and other agencies.”
MIFA tucked Gray and the children in at Family Promise, a homeless shelter for families. “You have to be out by 6 a.m. and in by 6 p.m.,” she explained. “I can understand that. I am willing to work with your rules.”
But then, she added, the rules didn’t allow her to job hunt and tend to her children during the day. Again, there was no money to pay a babysitter, which is the gist of her problem.
Gray bounced again and ended up staying two months at South Pointe Townhomes on Shelby Drive. But MLGW wouldn’t turn on the lights. “Come to find out, it was a stolen meter,” she said, “and I got hit with the charges.”
In mid-October, she moved into a rundown, dilapidated duplex in the Hyde Park community. “I had funds still left over from MIFA,” she said. “And I found this place for $350.”
Gray couldn’t get lights turned on in the duplex either, because she still owes MLGW. The landlord, who lives in Indianapolis, had advised her to use someone else’s name. But the utility wanted the landlord to come in to the office. He refused and threatened to evict Gray.
McDonald’s on Jackson was a temporary pit stop for Gray during this time. She worked there two weeks and quit. Meanwhile, her cupboard was bare and cold weather started sweeping through the decrepit duplex.
With desperation now setting in, Gray called Wanda Taylor, CEO and president of Ladies In Need Can Survive, Inc., a transitional home in Frayser for troubled women. But LINCS is not set up to take in mothers and their children, only mothers seeking help for their addictions.
“Even though I couldn’t house her, I still reached out to help,” said Taylor, who notified MIFA and called a friend. Both resources led to Gray and her children spending two days in a hotel.
Taylor also purchased three-days worth of groceries and ice for Gray, who stored the perishables in an ice chest in the chilly duplex.
“All the emergency shelters are full,” said Taylor, using all the resources at her disposal to help Gray. But Gray’s predicament is still haunting.
“I know what I’m capable of. I know what I can do,” said Gray. “It just seems like I’m being held back.”
Gray graduated from East High School in 2010, then enrolled at Southwest Tennessee Community College to study nursing. She also studied for a nursing degree at Concorde Career College in 2012.
“Now I feel like I’m letting myself down,” said Gray, trying to hold back the tears. “I feel like I’m letting my kids down.”
(Wanda Taylor is accepting donations and help for Terrika Gray and her children. She can be reached at 901-351-9864.)