There were nights when Cierra Harris sat awake, cramped in the front of her SUV.
Every few minutes she would look over her shoulder, reassured by the sight of her four children sleeping peacefully under blankets atop the turned-down seats.
Struggling to get comfortable, her mind raced, knowing the sun would be up in a few hours, when she’d have to get them ready for school and make herself presentable for work.
Behind that loomed questions that haunted her days: Where would they sleep that night? How could she afford a place for them all? When would this end?
Focused on survival, Harris could barely register how she got here – a 32-year-old professional woman, separated from her husband and homeless with her kids.
One thing she knew for certain.
“I can’t live like this,” she thought. No matter what it took, she would create stability for her children.
Embarrassed and in need of help
Harris prided herself on being a survivor.
Born in Washington D.C. and raised in Venice, Harris was brought up in a religious, Catholic family.
By her late 20s, the mother of three toddlers – Takai, Tazeon and Tavias – she had overcome abuse throughout her life, including domestic violence. Local nonprofit agencies invited her to speak to other women about her experiences, as a source of inspiration.
For years a stay-at-home mom, by the time her daughter, Cariah, was born two years ago, she decided to go back to school. With a career, she thought, she could always be self-sufficient and be a good example for her kids.
She obtained an associate’s degree in applied science and began classes toward a bachelor’s in business management. Long wanting to work with kids, she took a dream job at a daycare center, climbing her way up to the top post as director – juggling its stressful demands along with the many in her own home.
Meanwhile, she and her husband saved money, sometimes living with relatives, hoping to buy a house – though prices were soaring beyond their reach.
Then this fall, their marriage began to unravel amid personal turmoil.