Mom of four overcomes homelessness and cancer
with help of Catholic Charities
DeSera and DeNaysa can’t stop laughing. DeVon, their brother, is telling them knock-knock jokes. From the other room, their mom Maxica tells them to settle down. “We have guests over!” But she’s laughing, too.
The Williams family lives in the Kenwood-Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago in a winding three-bedroom apartment. Two years ago, they were homeless – so desperate for a place to live they found themselves in a southside shelter where the rooms had no doors.
In their new home, they have privacy, security, and comfort. The brown leather couch where Maxica sits is soft and cushy, and feels like new. A dining room table is packed into the corner with chairs on every inch for the four-person family. It was all donated, thanks to Catholic Charities New Hope Apartments program, the same program that got them to where they are today.
“Do you want a tour?” Maxica asks, showing off her bright smile. The kids run out of her bedroom where they were cuddled together watching TV. “I have my own bedroom!” DeNaysa practically shouts, and leads the tour through the kitchen and into her room. She holds up one of the many trophies on her bedroom dresser. She’s received them year after year for perfect attendance at school. In DeSera and DeVon’s bedroom, DeSera shows off her stuffed dog (while wearing a bright blue T-Shirt that also has a dog on it). DeVon grabs his trophies – he had perfect attendance, too.
“All my babies are on the honor roll,” Maxica says. Her oldest son, DePriest, is the only one not present today. He graduated a year early from high school and lives in Wisconsin, where he attends the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Maxica tells the story of how they became homeless with every date precisely etched into her mind: On June 11, 2015, she was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. On September 29, 2015, she went into surgery. When she woke up, she got the news.
“They saw that it was actually Stage 3 breast cancer, not Stage 1, and it had spread to my lymph nodes. I needed a double-mastectomy,” she said. “I was never thinking Stage 3. And when I woke up, I didn’t have breasts. I wasn’t expecting that and it got me feeling really down and depressed.”
Maxica then began a 19-month journey into chemotherapy and recovery. She often passed out and was no longer able to continue her work as a certified nurse’s assistant. In October of 2016, the owner of their building sold the property without telling its tenants. Maxica, because of her credit history and current financial situation, had already paid six months of her rent: $6,000. It was lost with the building owner. Maxica packed up her three kids and went to the City of Chicago Family and Support Services at 10 S. Kedzie. From there, they were sent to a southside shelter.
“There were too many families in that shelter for the staff to keep up with,” Maxica said. “We stayed there for a little bit, but we never got any sleep. There were no doors on the rooms.”
One day, everything the family owned was stolen while Maxica was at chemotherapy and the kids were at school.
“There was a family who was moving out and they took everything we had with them: my pain medication, my kids’ clothes and shoes, my chemo wigs. Everything in our room was gone,” Maxica recalled. “That was a rough couple of months. It was a blessing we didn’t have to sleep on the streets but it was hard. When I looked at my babies faces and saw what they were going through, it reminded me they didn’t have anybody but me. So I had to fight and fight. Even on those tough days when I thought I couldn’t take it anymore. It wasn’t about me. It was about them.”
She knew she needed to move her children to a better place. When she heard about Catholic Charities Madonna House shelter for families, she said it gave her the will to survive: to keep fighting.
“The women there helped me with my chores once they found out what my situation was. I gained a whole bunch of friends,” she said. “I cooked meals once a week and talked with the ladies and shared with them. It was good to talk to another adult and have somebody listen to what you’re going though.”
Maxica and her family lived in the Madonna House for nine months before they were ready to move on to permanent housing through Catholic Charities New Hope Apartments program. Her case manager connected her with a support group for cancer survivors, which she balances between doctor’s appointments. In August of 2018, they found their dream apartment, where they currently live.
“I love it and the kids love it. There’s always something going on in the park or in the community,” she said. Their first night in the apartment there was a jazz fest in the park. Later that summer they went to a Polish food festival. The Obama house is right around the corner and Rainbow Push Coalition, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had his offices, is two doors down. The kids go to school across the street.
“I just turned 40,” Maxica shares, showing that bright smile again. “I made it to see it. It didn’t seem like I would three years ago, but it feels good. We made it.”
You can help family’s like Maxica’s find home again. To donate furniture for those overcoming homelessness, please call Sherry Tabor at (312) 655-7939. Give financially at www.catholiccharities.net/donate.