April 7, 2022
(SCRANTON, Pa.) — Ammie Feduchak keeps going. A mother of three boys between the ages of 5 and 13, Feduchak lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and sits on the board of the Catherine McAuley Center, a nonprofit organization in the city that assists women and children in emergency situations by giving them temporary shelter with the goal of acquiring affordable, safe, and permanent housing.
Feduchak was once a client of the nonprofit for around two years, and after she stopped using the services directly, Brooke Grunza, her former caseworker, mentioned that the center was looking for a client to serve on the board of directors who had utilized all of the services, was familiar with the Rapid Rehousing Program, and could offer a client’s perspective.
“One of the other reasons that Brooke had said that I would be a good fit was how well I advocate for my children,” Feduchak said of her appointment to the board.
On an afternoon in late February, Feduchak spoke with The Click about her journey to the Catherine McAuley Center and what her life is like today.
Life Before The McAuley Center
It started with a bad day in March 2017, the same day as the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Scranton. Feduchak was pulled over while getting back on the highway after picking up prescriptions for two of her children who were sick with bronchitis. She drove without a license, which happened often, a consequence of an unpaid fine. The fines began accruing when she was 18 and using heroin. She started using drugs to cope with the sexual abuse she survived as a very young child.
She did not tell anyone about the molestation until she was 18. That’s when she told her mother, and they went to court against the accused man. The court proceedings took a toll on Feduchak, especially when she had to take tests to prove to the man’s lawyer that she had an accurate memory.
Having to go through all of that and not having the proper therapy and counseling was tough, Feduchak said. “I couldn’t … take it anymore, you know, so that’s why I started using.”
But past experiences continue to linger at times.
“It just kind of haunts me,” Feduchak, now 38, said of acquiring the fines. She said she strives for peace today, but back then “the world for me was chaotic, everything about it.” Through therapy and having a stable home life today, Feduchak now sees there is so much left to do in the world.
The police who pulled her over in March 2017 discovered that Feduchak had an unpaid $250 fine from tickets that had turned into a warrant for her arrest. At the time, Feduchak and her boys were in between apartments and staying with a friend in Forest City, a small town north of Scranton just over a half an hour drive away.
The cops ended up arresting her.
“They put me in the car, and they say, you know, ‘Who can come and get your kids?’” Feduchak said.
She immediately said her mother, but the kids were not allowed to go to her mother’s because she lived in a high rise for the elderly in Scranton. “So then they called … my kids’ father,” she said. “He would not go pick them up. There was nobody that could get my children … CYS [Children & Youth Services)]was contacted, and they put them in foster care.”
Her former partner was abusive and has not been involved in her or her children’s lives for the past five years, Feduchak said. He is still required to pay child support.
Feduchak spent the next 10 days in jail because it took her that time to come up with the money to pay the $250 fine. “I had to wait until I got paid, the check cleared, paid the $250, got out, and here I’m thinking I’m going to go get my children. So I went in regards to go get my kids and CYS said that I did not have a stable living situation. I did not have my own apartment. And they could not give them back to me,” she said.
Feduchak added that she did not know her kids were taken by Children and Youth Services and thought that they may have been picked up by their father or taken to stay with her mother. “Everything in me, I mean, I … died that day,” she said.
Feduchak was assigned to work with a caseworker from Children and Youth Services. She had to attend four meetings a day, which included parenting programs and getting drug tested regularly. She never failed a drug test and found her own apartment within about a month and a half on Lafayette Street in Scranton.
“And then CYS still would not give me my kids back. It took 10 months,” Feduchak said.
“So here I’m sitting in these parenting groups, and … I’m hearing these parents who literally … broke their children’s limbs and … got their kids right back,” she said. “So I didn’t understand why this was happening to me. You know what I mean? It wasn’t because of drugs. There was no abuse. There was no neglect … I feel like I just got lost in that system and I couldn’t get out.”
After a few months, Feduchak ended up getting a different caseworker from Children and Youth Services who didn’t see a reason why there was even a case open. She got her children back in January 2018 and even explained in advance to her Lafayette Street landlord that her children would be coming to stay with her. She put their names on the month-to-month lease when she got the apartment.
“So I get my kids back and literally, within two weeks of them being back, the landlord decided that he didn’t want to rent to someone with children and evicted us,” she said.
This was in March 2018.
Feduchak panicked because she did not have the money for rent and another security deposit. She was losing her apartment and feared the possibility that her kids may be taken away from her again.
A Phone Call Brings Renewal
She called the Catherine McAuley Center, which she did not know much about prior to making the phone call, and spoke with Tara Joyce, a case manager.
“I explained my situation and she said that day, ‘Can you be here tomorrow?’” Feduchak said. “If she didn’t say that, and if I didn’t go into the Catherine McAuley Center because of what I just went through with CYS, … I don’t know how I got through it. But my children were like my driving force. I needed to get them back.”
Feduchak and her boys went down to the shelter at the Catherine McAuley Center the next day and stayed between three and four weeks. The family had their own bedroom area along with a common living room and kitchen. They arrived at the shelter at the end of March and were there for two of her boys’ birthdays. Feduchak made “Shake ‘n Bake” chicken, her middle son’s favorite meal, for him and for at least two other families in the shelter to celebrate his birthday.
The McAuley Center’s Rapid Rehousing Program, which is facilitated by Grunza and another caseworker, eventually helped Feduchak find a stable living situation. But not before two other apartments she found through the center were unsuitable for her and her family.
The first, on Alder Street in the city, was managed by a “slumlord,” according to Feduchak. There were bedbugs and the apartment did not have hot water for about a month, Feduchak said. The McAuley Center got her out of that apartment and helped her to find a new one on Prescott Avenue.
At the second apartment, a familiar set of challenges arose when Feduchak encountered another troublesome landlord and a tenant on the third floor who continued to threaten to burn down the apartment with Feduchak and her children in it. She had to leave.
Finally, she found a suitable apartment in 2019 with a good landlord. It’s the same one she is in today.
“We’re happy here,” Feduchak said.
When she first moved into her current apartment, she continued receiving rental assistance from the program, according to Grunza. The support was for 24 months, tops.
But right when the support from the McAuley Center was set to expire, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) granted waivers removing the monthly cap on support due to COVID-19. This allowed Feduchak to continue receiving financial support while she waited for her Section 8 housing application to be approved. Feduchak was approved for Section 8 housing in September 2020 after being on the waiting list for three years. Today, her monthly rent costs $1,000. She pays $552 while Section 8 covers the rest.
Affordable Housing Statewide and Across the Country
In Pennsylvania, 27 percent of renter households, or 429,829 households, are extremely low income, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition. There is also a shortage of 261,060 rental homes that are affordable and available for extremely low-income renters, who are more likely than other renters to go through housing instability circumstances like evictions, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.
“Evictions and their resulting housing instability can have a myriad of harmful consequences for these families,” said Abby Boshart, a policy coordinator at the Metropolitan Housing and Communities Policy Center at the Urban Institute in Washington, DC. The families Boshart is referring to include those that have had an apartment eviction or stayed in an emergency shelter. “This includes detriments to mental and physical health, and poor performance in employment or at school,” she said.
Boshart added that in the long term, eviction can make it more difficult to secure housing because they have an eviction ruling on their record. “We call that the ‘Scarlet E,’” Boshart said. “For up to eight years, landlords will be doing kind of a check on backgrounds for a lot of tenants and so if they see that eviction ruling, that is an immediate disqualifier for many landlords.”
There are also trends of children being listed on eviction rulings, according to Boshart.
“So if they live in a household … with their parents and they are being evicted, landlords will list them on the court documents in the court ruling so that a child will have an eviction ruling already, and so that will follow them for the rest of their lives and can really trap them in a cycle of housing instability and poverty.”
But despite these overwhelming odds, Grunza has seen Feduchak remain strong.
“I think there’s just been so much growth from where she was when she first came and to where she is now and all she’s accomplished and just her self-awareness,” Grunza said in a Zoom interview. “She knows what she needs. She knows what her children need. She’s an amazing advocate for her children and herself and I just think it’s really awesome to see that confidence built in her over this time that she knows she can do it.”
Feduchak wants a better life for her children and has goals that stretch into the future for their growth.
“One of the main goals for my children, I want them to be kind people. People go through so much in life and are judged. You know, you don’t know what someone is really going through,” she said.
As for her driver’s license, Feduchak got that back in September of 2021. She paid off the thousands of dollars in traffic fines from previous tickets and received assistance from the McAuley Center to get a new car. Feduchak said the center has a fund to help with transportation for current or past clients.
“They gave me a grant for $2,500 towards a vehicle. And that’s how I have a car right now. And I’m a licensed driver,” Feduchak said.
She recalled a time when her second-oldest son started playing football and the family lived in South Scranton. She didn’t have a car but would walk with him every day before practice in the summer to the Junior Invaders’ field in West Scranton. Afterward, they would walk home together after the city buses stopped running.
But things changed for the better when she got her car. She laughed when recalling the memory.
“In September, I’ll never forget the first time that I was able to drive my kids to practice and they were just beaming with excitement,” she said. “They didn’t even know I was getting a car.”
She said one of her son’s favorite things to do is to go for long drives in the mountains.
And as for the Catherine McAuley Center, Feduchak is grateful.
“I can’t stress this enough, they say it takes a village to raise a child and they were, and still are, my village. They came into my life when I just felt so beaten and alone and, you know, it was tough. And they’re just amazing, amazing people.”
She also hopes to inspire another woman who may be going through a similar situation.
“If I can just tell my story, and another woman, if it’s just one woman, reads it and knows … You can be at your darkest moments but … you can’t give up … and things will get better. You have to have hope. You never give up hope,” she said.