It’s just housing until it’s safe, and then it’s “home”

Harmony took this picture of this high school graduation gift for her son, who she is so proud of. It is wearing a Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) branded mask, where her son currently attends school in his freshman year.

Born in Northern Virginia, Harmony* has lived her whole life in Fairfax and Arlington Counties.  Harmony was a happy mom of two when she, her partner, and their three-year old son moved to Arlington in the early 2000s while her daughter, then an adult, remained in Fairfax. Harmony had stable work, first as a government administrator and then at a local church, he owned a small business. They were happy, healthy, and financially stable – in part because they had an affordable home, owned by her partner’s family.

But, when the rent was significantly raised on her partner’s small business space, their financial stability was disrupted. As their income was reduced, their financial problems grew and tensions flared. Eventually her partner lost his business space. “He became a whole other person. Sometimes when people lose things, like a business or home, they just don’t know how to live after that.” She made excuses for him and tried to work it out, absorbing the stress. Despite her efforts and after nearly 20 years of a happy partnership, Harmony found herself in an abusive relationship.

Making matters worse, Harmony lost her grant-funded position at the church. She had no income and nowhere else to live, but fearing for her life, Harmony left her home. “We had 19 good years, and I didn’t expect that to suddenly change. How do you pick-up when you’re in your 40s with nowhere to go and no job?” About to be homeless, she made the difficult decision to leave her son with his father. It devastated her, but she knew it was the most important that her son had shelter and a stable place to live. He may not have been a good partner anymore, but “he was always a good father,” she insisted.  Harmony was able to negotiate that she could spend weekends and holidays with their son.

For a few days, she stayed with her daughter and grandkids in Fairfax, but she couldn’t stay for long – there wasn’t enough space.

She lived in a variety of places, but never for very long. She stayed with friends, family, and slept in her car in parking lots. She changed her phone number so her partner couldn’t find her and lost connections to many friends and family.

Her lack of housing, growing social isolation, and continued financial instability wore on her. She finally met a social worker who helped her to fill out forms for assistance. Through this process, Harmony learned she was accused of committing fraud, because her partner deliberately lied about her location so she would lose access. His vengeance would be a permanent mark on her record through her unsuccessful search for jobs, though at least now she understood some of why she had so much trouble finding employment. She lost access to SNAP benefits for a year.

Harmony was tired. She lived for the weekends and holidays when she could see and spend time with her son and dreamed of the day they could live in a safe home together. It’s what gave her the strength to submit an application to live in a shelter. She vividly remembers it was a Tuesday, and that just a few days later, on Friday, she went back into the Arlington County offices to fill out another application. Technically she spent eighteen nights at the shelter, but only slept there for three of them. She had found a new job working nights at Safeway restocking shelves. And was hired for another church job during the day. She was rarely sleeping, feeling a need to work herself out of the situation at every cost, including her physical health.

When her housing application was approved, Harmony was relieved. In late 2017, she moved into a two-bedroom at APAH. “I spent the first night crying,” she said. “It was almost too peaceful. I couldn’t believe I had this affordable place all to myself.”  Once she filled her apartment with some furniture, which took about a month, her son moved in with her now that she could finally give him a safe home. And now, he’s a first-year college student. Despite the chaos and uncertainty the pandemic has brought, Harmony is finally at peace.

She has lots of friends now and likes to walk outside. Since disappearing during the period she experienced homelessness, she is still reconnecting with people in this new stage of life. All extra money goes to her son to help pay for his textbooks at college.

She appreciates AFAC’s grocery delivery service, especially since her car doesn’t work right now and she’s unable to pay to get it fixed. She’s taken the Money Smarts Pays class and attended the job fair to work on her resumes and submit applications with the hopes of finding a better paying job.

“I love how spacious my home is,” she says. “I can see the street from my living room and watch sun come up from inside my own home. When people knock, I might not hear them if I’m in my bedroom. I’m not [living] in my car anymore – I can stretch out in a real bed and make breakfast for my son and me.”

*Names and some details have been changed to protect Harmony’s privacy and safety.

Half of all women and men will experience psychological aggression in an intimate relationship, and 1 in 4 women have been the victim of severe physical violence according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

If you or anyone you know needs help, you can call 1−800−799−7233, log onto and chat with someone, or text 1-866-331-9474.