A Mother And Daughter On Homelessness, Humility And A $6-A-Week Grocery Budget

Nov 29, 2019
Originally published on December 2, 2019 5:05 am

The day before Ashley Baker turned 16 years old, she moved into a Dallas motel with her mom. They were newly homeless.

Sandy, Ashley's mother, then 44, had just left a troubled marriage, scraped together what money she could and left home with Ashley.

For the next two and a half years, they were homeless. They recounted the challenges they faced during a recent StoryCorps interview in Dallas.

"One of the first places that we lived was [an] InTown Suites Hotel," said Sandy, now 54. "And there was nothing sweet about it. It was crazy bad."

When Ashley woke up in the motel the first morning after they moved, it was her birthday. Despite their circumstance, she said, she did all she could to "make the best of it."

In the years that followed, Sandy worked part-time at a deli, and later as a waitress for a small restaurant. For a while, Sandy's wages helped pay for the pair to live in the motel, and later to chip in for rent at a friend's house.

But eventually, they could no longer afford to pay it. For three weeks, they slept in a tent set up in a state park just outside the city.

The pair recalled how much they struggled pitching their tent that first night. The ground was "hard as concrete," Ashley said, which made it near-impossible to drive in the stakes.

Ashley said she offered to sleep in the car, but her mom refused.

"This was not going to be my moment that I failed," Sandy said. "I was going to provide shelter for you that night, and we were going to get it done."

"And the rest we would figure out — and we did," she said.

Ashley and Sandy lived on a biweekly grocery budget of $12.

"I remember seeing your spine," Sandy said to her daughter.

"And my ribs," Ashley said.

So, they would go to Sam's Club and Costco several times a week and pretend to shop. In reality, though, they were hunting for free food samples set out for customers. Ashley remembered that when she did this, she'd catch others giving her dirty looks.

"School was rough. My parents were divorced. I was homeless," Ashley said. "Everything just came crashing down. I wanted to die."

But later, Ashley's youth pastor connected her and her mom to an organization that houses families in converted Sunday schools. That organization, called Family Promise, provided them with a place to stay while Sandy worked and saved money, and while Ashley finished high school.

Fast forward to today, 10 years later, and Ashley and Sandy live together in McKinney, Texas, just outside of Dallas. This past year, Ashley, now 26, graduated college. And Sandy, 54, works on Family Promise's board, and helps provide housing for others in need.

Looking back, they said, the situation wasn't only challenging — it was humbling, too.

"When everything's taken away from you, what you're left with is ... what really matters," Sandy said.

"The people that love us the most," Ashley said.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Kamilah Kashanie and Kelly Moffitt.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.

Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now time for StoryCorps. Ten years ago, Sandy Baker left her troubled marriage, scraped together what money she could and checked into a motel with her teenage daughter, Ashley. They were homeless for the next 2 1/2 years. Recently, they came to a StoryCorps booth in Dallas to talk about that time.

SANDY BAKER: One of the first places that we lived was a InTown Suites hotel, and there was nothing sweet about it.

ASHLEY BAKER: (Laughter).

S BAKER: It was crazy bad.

A BAKER: I woke up the next day, and it was my 16th birthday. And, you know, I really tried to make the best of it.

S BAKER: Our food budget was about $12 every two weeks. And I remember seeing your spine and...

A BAKER: My ribs.

S BAKER: ...And your ribs. And twice a day, Sam's Club and Costco would have samples. And so we would get a shopping cart, and we would pretend like we were shoppers.

A BAKER: Shopping.

S BAKER: And we would go anywhere from three to five times a week.

A BAKER: And I would get dirty looks.

S BAKER: Yeah.

A BAKER: Like, why are you coming back? You already had some.

School was rough. My parents were divorced. I was homeless. Everything just came crashing down. I wanted to die.

S BAKER: Yeah. We'd stayed in the hotel for about nine months, but we ended up living in a tent. And trying to put up the tent that first night...

A BAKER: The ground was hard as concrete. Trying to put it up...

S BAKER: Trying to drive those stakes in the ground...

A BAKER: It's just getting later and later. I said, mama, I could sleep in the car if I had to. And you went, no. We are doing this.

S BAKER: We are doing this. I felt like this was not going to be my moment that I failed. I was going to provide shelter for you that night, and we were going to get it done. And the rest we would figure out. And we did.

A BAKER: I can't believe that we've made it through - what? - 10 years later. It's definitely humbled me.

S BAKER: When everything's taken away from you, what you're left with is...

A BAKER: What really matters.

S BAKER: ...What you need. What really matters.

A BAKER: The people that love us the most.

(SOUNDBITE OF BRYAN COPELAND'S "ELEGIAC MIX")

MARTIN: That was Ashley Baker talking with her mother, Sandy Baker, in Dallas, Texas. Ashley and Sandy now have their own apartment. This year, Ashley graduated from college, and Sandy now works to provide housing for others in need. And if you're spending time with loved ones this Thanksgiving weekend, don't forget to record a family conversation using the StoryCorps app. Details are at thegreatlisten.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.