Michelle Frazier sat on a battered couch in the living room of Bethesda's Greentree Shelter and talked about the fear she has lived with since last autumn that, someday as dusk falls, she and her 5-year-old daughter will have no place to sleep.
"Sometimes it's like a dream -- I'm going to wake up tomorrow and it will all be over," said Frazier, a former nursing home assistant.
Frazier, 27, had to give up her $400-a-month Silver Spring basement apartment when her husband, an insulation installer, was sentenced to prison on drug charges, and she could not pay the rent on her $143-a-week salary.
In October, after leaving her apartment, Frazier and her daughter, Marsha, moved into a friend's town house in Gaithersburg. By the next month, the landlord had discovered the doubling up and ordered them to leave.
"I was freaking out, thinking, 'Oh my God, what am I going to do,' " she said.
Going home to Florida was not an option, she said, because she has been estranged from her father and her stepmother since she, a white woman, married a black man.
Frazier called the county crisis line and got the names of various shelters. She tried Stepping Stones in Rockville, but she was told that she would not be able to continue her night job because of the shelter's midnight curfew. Greentree had space and no such limitations. There was no one available to look after Marsha when she was at work, so Frazier gave up her job and applied for public assistance.
Meanwhile, her 1974 Chevy Nova broke down, and she had no money to fix it, limiting her ability to get to the housecleaning jobs she had advertised for in the local paper. And, not wanting to take her daughter out of kindergarten in Gaithersburg, Frazier found herself spending much of each day ferrying Marsha to school, a process that involved three buses and took two hours each way.
"Sometimes I have to keep her out of school just so I can get other things done," she said.
After six weeks at Greentree, she was told to leave. Frazier located an aunt who agreed to take in her and Marsha for a few weeks, squeezing the family into the two-bedroom apartment that the aunt shares with her two sons. Frazier is still there, job-hunting when she can find a baby sitter and waiting for a refund check from the Internal Revenue Service that she hopes will give her money for a down payment on an apartment.
"I'm kind of in a rut, but I feel like things will work out," she said. "They say, 'All things come to those who wait,' and I've been waiting an awful long time."