Searching for shelter for a mother and her unborn child

COLUMBIA—There is a village of people and groups trying to help Lola Brake and her unborn baby remain together, but time is running out.

Brake, who is mentally disabled, fled a bad situation in a group home and has been living on the street for most of her pregnancy. Now her due date is coming up just after Christmas and the Department of Social Services said she must have permanent housing to keep the baby.

“We’re certainly happy that she chose life for the child,” said Cathy Hood-Pittenger, a client advocate at Catholic Charities in Columbia. “She’s definitely bonded with the baby and it’s her goal to parent this child.”

Brake will find out if the baby is a girl or boy at an upcoming ultrasound, but said she’ll be happy either way.

When Brake ran from the group home in fright almost a year ago, she left behind all her possessions, including her ID. A friend brought her to Catholic Charities so she could acquire new identification, and the two became frequent visitors to the Clean of Heart outreach.

Over time, a friendship developed between Brake and the volunteers and workers. After a rough life of foster and group homes, Brake said she felt like a lost, stray dog they had taken in, but Hood-Pittenger clarifies that she is a cherished child of God.

“I consider them as my family because I don’t know who my real family is,” Brake said. “It means a lot to me because at first I felt like nobody really cared.”

It’s been an especially rough year. Finding herself homeless and searching for a safe place to sleep every night was a shock. The baby’s father tried to stay with her and protect her, but Brake refused to live in group settings again and staying on the street violated the father’s probation. Eventually, he was sent back to jail for the probation violation, and asked Catholic Charities workers to look after Brake.

Since then, the two have been writing letters and planning a future, including names for the baby. The first step is finding a place to live, which has proved daunting.

Hood-Pittenger said Brake is too far along to find shelter at a maternity home, and other affordable options are mostly for singles or have long wait lists.

For now, volunteers and other groups, including Our Lady of the Lake Church women’s group and St. Vincent de Paul from St. Joseph Church, are providing shelter at a motel.

If they can find permanent housing, the village will rally around to help mother and child succeed. Hood-Pittenger said there are organizations that provide comprehensive support to “wrap their arms around the whole family situation.”

“We’ve been praying real hard for her health, her well-being and her safety,” Hood-Pittenger said.