These residents of Annapolis are challenging a public housing policy that bans certain individuals from being on or near public housing property. The policy has torn these families apart, but with the help of the ACLU, they are fighting to get their families back together.
Glenda Smith lives in Annapolis public housing with her four-year-old great-grandson, Rico Johnson. Rico’s mother (Glenda’s granddaughter), Kierra Green, lived together with them until she was arrested two years ago at the age of 17 and placed on the banned list.
After Kierra was arrested, Glenda received a notice from the housing authority that she had 30 days to vacate her apartment because of her granddaughter’s arrest. Glenda appealed the eviction, and was informed that she could remain in her home but that Kierra would be banned from public housing once she was released.
Kierra has since been released from the juvenile justice system and completed a rehabilitation program, but is still banned from her grandmother’s home. Now, Rico only sees his mother sporadically, because she does not have access to a stable home with her family. This separation has been heartbreaking for the whole family.
The banning policy has torn apart Glenda’s family and disrupted their lives. Glenda faces the threat of being evicted if she allows Kierra into her home in order to participate in Rico’s upbringing, and she is deeply upset by the inability to have a closer relationship with her granddaughter and to provide the guidance and supervision she needs. “It’s like your life is being dictated in Annapolis Housing Authority,” says Glenda.
Dalanda Moses was forced, as a 19-year-old mother with an infant, to move out of her family’s home in Annapolis public housing so that her boyfriend James Alexander, who is on the banned list, could participate in caring for their baby.
From the very beginning, James wanted to be involved in his daughter’s life. James played football and basketball in high school and wants to go to college to study Business and Nursing so he can make a good life for his family. James was placed on the banned list after a single juvenile arrest, for which he was never prosecuted or convicted.
Because of the ban, James was not allowed to visit and take care of Dalanda during her pregnancy, even though she suffered from health problems including a potentially dangerous pregnancy complication. When she was six months pregnant, housing authority officials threatened to evict Dalanda and her mother if James was caught at the house.
After Mariah was born, Dalanda would bring her to James’ grandmother’s home so that they could be together as a family. But on top of working and going to school, it was too much for Dalanda to keep traveling back and forth and she was forced to choose between raising her daughter without a father and leaving the support of her family.
“James and I want to be a family,” says Dalanda, “but because of the banning policy, the only way for us to be together was for me to leave my family and my home.”
“I want to be a good father and I’m just trying to stay out of trouble,” says James. But it is because of the banning policy that James has a criminal record at all. Most recently, James was arrested for trespassing when he went to Dalanda’s mother’s house to pick up baby bottles for Mariah.
Delray Fowlkes is a loving and dedicated father, but is banned from living with his three year old son, Delray Jr., in Annapolis public housing. Delray wants to be fully involved in his son’s life and help his mother to raise him, but he can’t even take him to and from pre-school or attend parent-teacher conferences because the program Delray Jr. attends is on housing authority property.
Delray was placed on the banned list five years ago following a drug arrest for which the charges were later dropped. The only other times Delray has been arrested were for trespassing on housing authority property when he was trying to visit his family, most of whom live in public housing. When Delray’s father was killed in July, he had to request special permission from the housing authority just to be with his mother, grandmother, and son on the day of the funeral.
Despite numerous appeals to the housing authority, Delray has not been able to get off the banned list. In one letter Delray wrote, “I am simply a young father trying to make a difference in my child’s life, and give him all of the love, time, attention and affection that he deserves. Please consider my request, as it will serve a purpose that not many young fathers try to make a reality.”
Esther Sharps, who is 71 and has lived in Annapolis public housing for over thirty years, has been isolated from her family because three of her sons and eight of her grandsons are on the banned list. Esther has been warned that if any of them visits her she will be charged with a lease violation that would put her in danger of eviction.
Esther is in poor health and does not drive, so her grandkids take her to the doctor and the store. But because of the ban, she has to walk to the edge of the property to be picked up.
Esther loves to have big cookouts and her house used to be a gathering place for the whole family. But she rarely hosts family events anymore because it is too painful knowing that many of her kids and grandkids will not be allowed to come. On Mother’s Day, Esther and her family had to gather at another relative’s house because the ban prevented most of her family members from coming to her house.
“The only thing I can say about the banning list is it’s destroying people’s families. I don’t mind the banning list if you did something serious,” Esther says, “But my kids are not criminals.” She lives in constant fear that her sons and grandsons will be arrested for visiting her.
Terrell Downs grew up in Annapolis public housing and lived there until he was arrested two years ago for trespassing. Terrell had never been served with a ban notice prior to his arrest and was banned on charges for which he was never convicted, but has spent a total of eight months in jail for trespassing.
Terrell’s mother and grandmother are both in poor health and have limited mobility, but because they live in public housing, he has been unable to visit and care for them. Last Christmas he ate alone at McDonald’s because he was banned from joining his family at his grandmother’s home.
Ebony moved from her home to live with Terrell's mother to help care for her, but because Terrell is banned from living with them he is unable to have the close, involved relationship with his daughter that both he and Ebony would like.
Nothing is more important to Wayne Blair than his family. He works two jobs (one for the City of Annapolis), cares for his grandmother (Esther Sharps), and provides for his son. For eight years, Mr. Blair was shut out of family gatherings and school functions because he was banned.
He continued to help his grandmother by taking her to her appointments and helping her with her grocery shopping. The ban, however, forced him to pick her up and drop her off at the end of her street because he couldn’t drive onto the property and up to her house. It hurt Wayne to watch his grandmother carry bags of groceries down the street in the dark because he couldn’t drive to her house and help her bring in the groceries.
Providing the love and support that he wanted to give to his son was nearly impossible because his son lives on Annapolis public housing property with his mother. Mr. Blair frequently met his son at the gas station because he couldn’t go to his son’s house, or his grandmother’s house, or his aunt’s house, or his cousin’s house. The ban prevented him from getting involved in the local youth sports league because practices and events are held on Annapolis housing authority property.
Mr. Blair was banned in 2001 for a drug charge. Since 2001, his only arrests have been for trespassing when visiting his family. He's turned his life around and spent over a year trying to get off of the banned list. He wrote letters, made phone calls, and visited the housing authority offices – trying to prove that he had turned his life around and would be a positive influence in the neighborhood. After repeated requests and with the help of legal counsel, Mr. Blair was finally removed from the banned list in June 2009.
Brittany Janey is a hard-working mother of a one-year-old daughter, Serenity, whose father, James Chase, is banned. Brittany was working overtime at a local hotel when Mr. Chase was banned from visiting her and Serenity. It was impossible for Mr. Chase to care for Serenity while Ms. Janey was at work because he was banned from their home, and banned from the homes of every family member in Annapolis. He wanted to care for Serenity, but without a safe home or transportation, they were running out of options. So, Ms. Janey was forced to move away from Annapolis housing authority property. Due to the lack of affordable housing in Annapolis, she moved into a hotel so that Mr. Chase could watch their daughter while she was at work. When they couldn’t afford to live at the hotel anymore, Ms. Janey applied to area shelters and subsidized housing. She is still looking for stable housing and Mr. Chase is still banned.
James Chase is trying to turn his life around and be a good father, but the banned list makes it difficult to care for his family. Mr. Chase is banned from visiting his son, daughter, mother, grandmother, aunt, cousins, and friends because they live in Annapolis public housing. Mr. Chase’s one-year-old daughter, Serenity, and Serenity’s mother, Brittany Janey, recently moved out of public housing in hopes of finding a place where James could care for the baby while she works. James, Brittany and the baby even lived in a hotel so that Mr. Chase could care for Serenity while Brittany worked.
The ban kept Mr. Chase from his newborn daughter, and he has been arrested while visiting his children. He can’t be with his family on holidays and was unable to be with his mother at her home when his aunt passed away.
Mr. Chase plays on the semi-pro football team Annapolis Thunder. The Annapolis Thunder sponsors community outreach programs with youth in Annapolis. Because he is on the banned list, Mr. Chase is unable to participate in these community programs with the football team. In an effort to get permission from HACA officials, Mr. Chase got a letter from the team stating he needs access to HACA property to participate in the outreach programs. Although he was promised a day pass for community outreach, months later he still has yet to receive a response to his requests.
Isaac Watkins lives in Arnold, just outside of Annapolis. Like Delray Fowlkes, he doesn’t have any criminal convictions. He has worked for more than two years at a local painting company and is currently in school to get his Graduate Educational Development degree. Although he has moved out of public housing, his sister, aunts, niece, nephew, and friends all still live in Annapolis public housing.
Mr. Watkins was banned because he was in a house that was raided by the police. Before he even got to court to contest the charges, the Annapolis housing authority banned him from all public housing neighborhoods. He wasn’t doing anything wrong, and was never convicted of any crime. But he is still banned from visiting his family. He wants off the banned list so he can help his sister and spend time with his niece and nephew.