Arleen gets a call back from a young landlord named Pana. She has told him about her evictions, though has lied about receiving child support. Pana says he will take her on, but stresses that it is vital that she pays her rent on time. Jori is overjoyed, even though this means he and Jafaris will have to change schools. Living at the domestic violence shelter has caused Jori to miss a lot of school. When they leave the shelter, Jafaris cries and says he can’t bear to look as they drive away from the building.
Housing instability has a devastating impact on the lives of children, who inevitably inherit their parents’ stress about finding a home. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to succeed in school without a stable, decent home.
The new apartment is in an industrial district within the North Side, but it is clean, and everything functions perfectly. Soon after moving in, Arleen learns that her relative Terrance, nicknamed T, has been shot and killed by his cousin. On the day of T’s funeral, Pana tells Arleen that she is on thin ice after she called 911 while Jafaris was having an asthma attack. The building is at risk of a nuisance citation, so Arleen can’t call 911 even if she is trying to contact an ambulance rather than the police.
The fact that ambulance calls count toward nuisance citations is extremely disturbing. The implication of this policy is that tenants will avoid seeking medical help because to do so puts them at risk of eviction. This is one of the most horrifying details in the book about today’s housing system.
Meanwhile, there has been a delay with Arleen’s food stamps after she submitted her change-of-address, and she needs to get her possessions out of storage or else she will not be able to afford next month’s rent. At T’s funeral, Arleen feels supported and “held” by her family. T’s death has disturbed Jori, who is already struggling in school and daunted by the prospect of fitting in somewhere new. One day, Jori kicks a teacher at school and is followed home by the police. When Pana finds out about this he tells Arleen if she moves out immediately he will return her rent and security deposit. Pana helps her move, which is a help, but Arleen is still miserable.
Rather typically for a young black man, Jori finds that the people around him are highly unforgiving of his bad behavior. While kicking a teacher is clearly unacceptable, the amount of stress and anguish Jori has had to endure should inspire leniency. Yet where such leniency is often granted to more privileged children, black boys like Jori are too often quickly condemned.
Arleen and the boys go to stay with Trisha, who tells them that Little was run over by a car and killed. Jori punches a pillow in wild anguish. Trisha has started sex work, seeing clients in her home, and continues to do so after her boyfriend, Sunny, moves in. Sunny has just come out of prison and takes the money Trisha earns. Sunny’s parents and sister move into Trisha’s one-bedroom apartment, and Arleen observes that it now looks like a slum. A CPS worker shows up asking for Arleen; Arleen suspects that Trisha reported her. She calls J.P., hoping he will help calm her down.
This is perhaps the lowest moment in Arleen and the boys’ story, even worse than when they were sleeping at a shelter. Their housing situation is clearly inappropriate and risky to their wellbeing. The fact that someone then calls Child Protective Services on Arleen is devastating news to her, though an intervention is arguably needed in order to ensure the boys’ safety.
Spring arrives in Milwaukee, and everyone is delighted that the cold is finally gone. Trisha, Sunny and his relatives disappear from Trisha’s apartment. Arleen enjoys the time alone, assuming they’ve gone to visit family. However, then movers show up and begin taking out the furniture. Trisha’s ex-boyfriend Chris is out of jail and her case worker has determined she needs to move into a new apartment for her own protection. Arleen is devastated.
The ubiquity of eviction means that Trisha does not even bother to tell Arleen that she has been forced to move out of her apartment. (Although in this case Trisha was not technically evicted, the impact of her move on Arleen and the boys is basically the same as an eviction.)
Arleen and the boys move in with her sister, who charges her $200 a month even though they do not have a room to themselves. Arleen loses everything she has in storage after she gives Boosie money to pay the fee and he either loses or steals it. She eventually finds another apartment, but while there she and the boys are robbed at gunpoint, and her caseworker determines that she has to move for her own safety. The apartment she gets next costs almost the entirety of her welfare check, so before long the electricity is shut off. Jori goes to live with his father and CPS places Jafaris with Arleen’s sister.
Arleen’s inability to secure housing means that the rest of her life steadily unravels with little hope of coming back together. Much of the negative things that happen to her aren’t actually her fault, but together they take her life completely out of her own control to the point that even her children are taken away.
Arleen cannot cope, saying she is going to have a nervous breakdown. She borrows money from Aunt Merva to get her electricity back on, and the boys come back. She moves into a new apartment that doesn’t have a stove or refrigerator. Jori has decided he wants to be a carpenter when he grows up so he can build a house for Arleen. Arleen dreams of the boys becoming successful, and of the three of them looking back on their hard times and laughing.
Although Arleen getting the boys back is a positive twist, her story ends on an ambivalent note. It is likely that Arleen will continue to be plagued by housing insecurity, and this in turn will hinder her ability to get a job and negatively impact Jori and Jafaris’ prospects at school and in life.