Bianca and her two sons, clients of Community of Hope, a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand, with them is Amy Dittmer, their former Community of Hope case manager, at right. (Stephanie Tran)
Columnist

In April, a 6-year-old boy was shot after someone kicked down the door of his apartment in Southeast Washington. Two bullets passed through his left arm.

“Non-life-threatening injuries” is what they would eventually call it, but his mother, Bianca, was understandably upset. She cradled the boy, the younger of her two sons, and awaited the ambulance. Bianca’s son kept saying, “Stop crying, mommy. I’m okay.”

Said Bianca: “I was like, ‘You are not okay.’ ”

Bianca asked that I not use her sons’ names or her last name. No one has been charged in the home invasion.

The boy was treated at Children’s National Medical Center, where doctors were fighting to save the life of another innocent victim: a 7-year-old girl shot in the abdomen while walking home with her parents a few miles away.

Bianca’s son was discharged from the hospital the next morning. In some ways the cruelest twist awaited them when they returned home.

“Our stuff was gone,” she said. “TVs, clothes, the jewelry . . . .”

Since the front door had been kicked off its hinges, she hadn’t been able to shut and lock it behind her. While Bianca and her sons had been at the hospital, their apartment was stripped of its contents.

“I don’t know who took it,” she said.

Life has not been easy for Bianca, though in the days after the shooting, things improved, thanks to Community of Hope, a local nonprofit group that works with homeless D.C. families and is a partner in The Washington Post Helping Hand.

Bianca is a client of Community of Hope’s permanent supportive housing program, which provides housing assistance for people chronically unable to lift themselves from homelessness. They were able to move Bianca and her sons into a safe apartment. A Community of Hope case manager continues to offer support, touching base regularly and helping Bianca work toward her goals.

“I call her and she’s right there,” Bianca said. “I will call her about jobs, say, ‘I just got this application. You think you can come over and help me?’ I talk to her about personal stuff, about how I feel.”

Bianca told me that in the winter of 2009, a tenuous living situation with a family member became untenable. That’s not uncommon for homeless families in Washington. When you’re desperately poor, your relatives probably are, too. Though Bianca shared what little she had — food stamps, mainly — she and her two then-infant and -toddler sons were deemed to be too much of a drain on the household.

It was snowing when a relative dropped Bianca and her sons off at a bus stop on Benning Road. Bianca called the District’s help line and was told that the snow was too heavy to send a vehicle to take them to a shelter.

It seemed to Bianca that if there was too much snow for cars, there was too much for a mother and her young sons to be outside. She pleaded, cajoled and threatened until they were picked up and taken to the family shelter at D.C. General. (The boys’ father was nearby, in the D.C. jail. Bianca said that during visits, he is honest with his sons. “Daddy made a bad decision,” he says. “This is where I got to be.”

Bianca and her sons lived at D.C. General for a little over a year. A series of apartments followed that. Bianca still shudders at the memory of some of them. One had termites in the carpet and possums in the wall. Another had a landlord who considered himself a handyman. The circuit box caught fire after he fixed it.

And then there was the apartment where the shooting took place. They couldn’t stay there, so Community of Hope helped Bianca’s family move to an apartment in Northeast and replaced the items that had been stolen: beds for the boys and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles bedding, a dining room table, towels, washcloths, school uniforms, gift cards for clothes and shoes.

“They helped us out a lot,” said Bianca, 26.

We read a lot about homelessness, see it on the local news, look at it from the outside in. I asked Bianca what it’s like to experience it.

“You got to be in it to understand the struggle,” she said. “Being out here on the street, to be honest with you, the way people treat you, the way people look down on you, the way they talk to you, it’s like you’re just nothing, like you are nothing.”

I asked Bianca what she wanted for the future.

“I just want the best. I want to own something in life. I want to be honest with you: I just want my sons to be mindful, successful, smart.”

And safe. It’s all any of us would want.

You can help

Bianca started life without the advantages many of us have. She told me she was raised by a single mother who was herself homeless for a time. With Community of Hope’s help — an apartment, job counseling, therapy — she’s striving to overcome those barriers. Your tax-deductible donation will help others like her.

To donate online, visit posthelpinghand.com. To donate by mail, make a check payable to “Community of Hope” and mail it to: Community of Hope, Attn: Helping Hand, 4 Atlantic St. SW, Washington, D.C. 20032. Thank you.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.