National Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week: Now a grad student, her family was impacted by public housing

The latest of our daily essays by those who work at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless.

By Caitlin Cubbon, Public Policy Intern

Caitlin Cubbon
Caitlin Cubbon

I grew up in a small suburban town about 45 minutes outside of Detroit. The sort of town where kids get busted for smoking cigarettes underage and where having a hint of brown in your skin made you feel uncomfortably noticed. It was the type of place where you get along best when you just blend in, and I certainly tried. 

My family is Mexican-American and my mother grew up in southwest Detroit. After leaving my father shortly after I was born, she moved in with my grandparents briefly before deciding that she had to do whatever she could to provide for her children and create some kind of stability. She found that stability in a HUD subsidized housing development in a sleepy suburban town, and by choosing to go on welfare, allowing her to raise her kids and to let us grow up in a safe town with good schools.

When I was in high school my mother was evicted from our home. She was an activist in the community and did work to organize the other single mothers who lived in our neighborhood who were being systematically discriminated against by the HUD management. After years of monitoring and harassment by the management, and several court cases, they were finally able to get her out.

My family is privileged enough to have a support system and my grandparents and aunts and uncles were able to step in and help my mother move and support her with rent in a new, unsubsidized place. Since then my mother has moved again and the sense of displacement she felt from losing her home, the place where she raised her children, and the instability and stress of having to rely on her family to keep a roof over her head is something she is still working through.

I do not know what would have happened without the support of our family, who helped to fill in the gaps of the government safety net while I was growing up, and especially when my mother lost her home. My mother is a strong woman. She taught me everything I know about persistence, resilience, and believing in oneself and she lived in public housing and received government assistance to raise her children—people have many truths.

I know that my story is not typical of public housing residents. I am well aware of my privileges – to have had extended family that was financially stable, to have lived in the suburbs where I had access to good schools and supports. At the same time I know what it is like to be scared that you could lose your home, to feel the confusion of not understanding why your mother can’t provide for you like other parents, to feel like you are carrying around secrets about your life and family that if others knew would make you an immediate outcast.

Public housing gave me a home and it gave me stability and safety in my life — all of which have allowed me to be here today, a graduate student standing on her own two feet. I do not know where I or my family would be without it, and I hope that my work will help to provide a similar opportunity for success for others. Being at CCH as a policy intern I feel as if I am coming full circle to the activism my mother was doing when I was young. To be working with people who are not only committed to actualizing the basic right to housing we all have, but to doing so by a process of strengthening the voices of people who are so often looked over and ignored — creating policy and human change at the same time — is a process I am excited to be a part of.

Originally from Michigan, Caitlin Cubbon is a public policy intern at CCH and a graduate student at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. She attended Loyola University Chicago for her undergraduate degree, where she studied social work.