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4 addresses in 4 months: This is what poverty looks like for this family

Cincinnati Enquirer logo Cincinnati Enquirer 6 days ago Mark Curnutte
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The Enquirer followed a Cincinnati Public Schools family that has experienced homelessness for the nine-month academic calendar. It is part of a year-long commitment to tell stories about people who live, work and struggle in the heart of Greater Cincinnati.

a girl sitting on a bed © Provided by Gannett Co., Inc.

The face of the clock radio casts a soft orange light through the hotel room. It reads 5:51 a.m.

April Austin is already out of bed. Genea Bouldin, a month shy of turning 18 and the oldest of four children, is right behind her mother. 

In the next 45 minutes, April and Genea will make sure the youngest three are fed and dressed for school.

Six-year-old Jasmine and 4-year-old Solomon don’t want to get up. Genea sits on the edge of the bed and pulls clean socks onto their feet.

She heats Toaster Strudel in the microwave. Gerald, who's 12, takes the pastries from the oven and places them on napkins for Jasmine and Solomon. After they eat, Genea takes a quiet moment to repaint three of Jasmine's fingernails. 

The sky is still dark when they tumble out of Room 302 of the Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale and down two flights of concrete stairs. As their mom straps the youngest two in a 2004 Honda minivan, Genea and Gerald run through the lobby to grab a granola bar and muffin and drop them into their backpacks.

When time and money are tight, every little thing matters more.

The family's first stop will be Withrow University High School. Genea is a senior. Gerald is in seventh grade.

Every academic year, Cincinnati Public Schools' Project Connect program serves an average of 3,000 students whose families are experiencing homelessness. In 2018-19, April's four are among that number. 

The family lives at four addresses the first four months of school. They live in this hotel room for five days.

The hotel stay is the lowest of the low. It's worse for April than staying in a homeless shelter. She spends money she doesn't have. The bill comes due and must be paid in full.

a person sitting on a bed: Gerald Bouldin, 12, makes the bed at an Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Gerald Bouldin, 12, makes the bed at an Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018.

It is not their first bout with homelessness.

Children in such families normally fall two to three years behind their peers in school, and half of the time they’re fleeing domestic violence.

April's four also count among the estimated 27,500 children growing up in poverty in the city of Cincinnati. They and the more than 93,000 impoverished children regionally in Greater Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky are more likely to be in poorer physical and mental health, have a lower sense of well-being, and they might live with the consequences for the rest of their lives.

April will spend the next nine months working to protect her children's future.

Their unstable, uneven life sometimes overwhelms them.

The stakes are high. April was a teen mom who didn't graduate from high school. She focuses on seeing Genea through her senior year and on to college.

Gerald craves a relationship with a sometimes absent father.

Jasmine and Solomon suffer occasional mood swings and meltdowns.

Through it all, April keeps her focus on her children and fights to give them a better life than the one she's living.

It's late afternoon, Aug. 16, the second day of school. The family is in the upstairs living room of a shotgun house where McMicken Avenue bends sharply in the northwest corner of Over-the-Rhine.

April heats Hot Pockets sandwiches in the microwave for dinner.

Genea wears an orange "Withrow Class of 2019" uniform shirt over black leggings. Her thick hair is tied up in a bun. It's a new high school. She had attended Miami Valley Christian Academy in Newtown her first three years.

"How was it today?" April asks.

"All right," says Genea, sitting down next to her mother.

Genea does her homework on her bed. She has to write in notebooks and lug a backpack filled with heavy textbooks. She does not have a computer or internet access at home like some of her classmates or many students at other high schools.

Jasmine and Solomon push a pink plastic Barbie Doll car back and forth on a tattered tan rug between two couches. 

Built in 1875, the house has sold for $5,000.

April keeps count. The address is the seventh for Genea since she started high school three years ago. The list includes two weeks in a homeless shelter near Batavia in Clermont County.

The family stayed with friends of her mother's in Blue Ash and Avondale – couch-surfing, Genea calls it – since her mom and her second husband separated in April.

A friend of April's knows the man who owns the house on McMicken. He agreed to help her.

They find crack pipes in kitchen drawers and cabinets when they move in July. A thorough cleaning by April and Genea reduces the odor of acrid smoke and stagnant alcohol.

The owner gives April two months' free rent. She pays the utilities. Then rent will go up to $1,000. April doesn't have the money. The family has to be out by Sept. 18.

April has no idea where they will move until a house in Madisonville is ready. A friend of a friend told her they could move in once repairs are finished, but no one seems to know when that will be. 

Her mind spins. 

I called the homeless shelters. There's no room. We've used up all of our options to double-up with relatives and friends.

There's one option left.

I guess we can just sleep in our van if we have to.

a person standing in front of a car: April Austin leads her children, Jasmine Austin, 6, and Solomon Austin, 4, into John P. Parker School in Madisonville on Sept, 14, 2018. She takes her two older children to Withrow University High School before dropping off the two younger children. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin leads her children, Jasmine Austin, 6, and Solomon Austin, 4, into John P. Parker School in Madisonville on Sept, 14, 2018. She takes her two older children to Withrow University High School before dropping off the two younger children.

Friday, Sept. 14: At 7:41 a.m., the parking lot of John P. Parker School in Madisonville. First grader Jasmine pulls a math worksheet from her backpack.

"I forgot to show this to you last night," Jasmine says.

"OK, let's do it," says April, standing at the open sliding door of the van.

Just eight minutes later, Jasmine and Solomon walk hand-in-hand toward the front door.

With her children in school, April will make two stops designed toward relocating her family in Madisonville. Her job will be there. So will the rehabbed house. The youngest two go to school in the neighborhood.

She drives first to Tiny Steps Development Center on Whetsel Avenue to finalize her employment at the day care. She will have orientation Monday and start part-time on Tuesday at $12 an hour. It's not enough to jeopardize her family's government food and medical benefits.

She thinks as she steers through the streets of Madisonville: I feel trapped, like I can't win. I don't have many options.

She then goes to a self-storage location and finds out it's running a special. The first month's rent is free, and the $33 charge for the second month is less than April expected. She also receives $20 worth of packing boxes at no cost.

April thinks of how rare a financial break is, even 20 or 30 bucks: I'll treat the kids. I have a LaRosa's Buddy Card in my purse. Two large pizzas in the restaurant for them right after school. They'll be so excited.

April can't remember the last time her family ate in a restaurant. 

Gerald Bouldin, 12, carries cardboard boxes for his mother at their rented house on McMicken Avenue Over-the-Rhine on Sept, 14, 2018. April Austin and her four children stayed at the residents for two months before they were asked to pay $1,000 a month in rent. "It smelled of mold, and you could tell people were doing drugs like crack cocaine. I grew up in a household (like that), so I knew what it smelled like, as well as cigarettes. It was all in the walls, like the walls smelled of cigarettes," she said. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Gerald Bouldin, 12, carries cardboard boxes for his mother at their rented house on McMicken Avenue Over-the-Rhine on Sept, 14, 2018. April Austin and her four children stayed at the residents for two months before they were asked to pay $1,000 a month in rent. "It smelled of mold, and you could tell people were doing drugs like crack cocaine. I grew up in a household (like that), so I knew what it smelled like, as well as cigarettes. It was all in the walls, like the walls smelled of cigarettes," she said.

The joy is fleeting.

After having the early dinner, April's plans for moving that evening fall apart.

At 4:49 that afternoon, her estranged husband, Brandon Austin, calls and says he is still working and can't come over. Brandon, the father of Jasmine and Solomon, lives Downtown with his mother and has to help her tonight.

More bad news. 

One of April's sisters, who'd promised to let April use her pickup, is unable to make it to the house on McMicken.

April allows herself a few moments of frustration after she hangs up the phone.

She can't get into subsidized housing. She has applications in, but is stuck on long waiting lists. Meanwhile, the bills keep piling up.

Her struggles don't make sense. She lets her mind wander: I am a good person. I love my children. I am a good mother. I don't drink. I don't smoke, don't club, don't hang out late.

My life revolves around my kids. It's hard that I have family that won't let all of us come in. It seems like we're always moving. I am a strong person but I need help. I'm not going to cuss you out. I'm not going to be aggressive.

She lets out a deep sigh.

Wearing pink Mickey Mouse leggings and a matching pink top, April stands on the peeling white tile floor amid boxes and plastic bins in the first-floor bedroom in the house on McMicken.

The door at the foot of the bed leads directly to the street.

She pulls open a dresser drawer and starts putting her clothes into a black plastic garbage bag. Solomon and Jasmine rest on the bed. April's concerns are quiet as she starts to pack. Keeping busy, doing something, doing anything, can calm her mind.

a person sitting in a box: April Austin packs her family's belongings on Sept. 14, 2018. Jasmin Austin, 6, watches her mother. "I'm persevering, I'm a go-getter, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to take care of my children," she said. "If I have to clean this house and paint, I got paint and everything, then that's what I'm going to do so my children can have stable housing, because I really wanted them to have that." © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin packs her family's belongings on Sept. 14, 2018. Jasmin Austin, 6, watches her mother. "I'm persevering, I'm a go-getter, I'm going to do whatever I have to do to take care of my children," she said. "If I have to clean this house and paint, I got paint and everything, then that's what I'm going to do so my children can have stable housing, because I really wanted them to have that."

April lifts from another drawer a portfolio filled with formal school portraits and snapshots of her children. Among them, she finds a photograph of Solomon pasted to a piece of blue construction paper.

She takes her time with the photos. The images help her mind escape to a happier past, even briefly, from a present that feels hopeless.

Solomon has been writing in pencil since he was 2. My protector. What a good boy. So outgoing. He could be an actor or dancer, I know it.

April turns to a school portrait of Genea.

I feel so badly for her. We have moved more times than years she has been alive. She has done very well to be in 12th grade. She draws so beautifully. She is a gifted dancer.

Jasmine is asleep on the bed. April looks at her.

The little girls need a lot of attention. She is about drama and singing. That sweet little voice. She belongs on stage.

She pulls a wallet-size photo of Gerald from the stack. Her thoughts turn to a young man who also is artistic, animated, very computer-oriented, gifted at science.

I'm worried. He is angry beneath his calm outside.

The respite ends.

April returns the photos to the portfolio and puts it on the bed. She unfolds a cardboard packing box and secures it with clear packing tape from a roll.

Solomon plays quietly with a miniature toy car at the foot of the bed. April wishes she could lie down and fall asleep next to Jasmine.

a man sitting in a box: Solomon Austin attempts to look inside a box while his mother packs their belongings on Sept, 14, 2018 at their temporary residence in Over-the-Rhine. "I'm not about to pay $1,000 for something that's not worth a $1,000." She said. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Solomon Austin attempts to look inside a box while his mother packs their belongings on Sept, 14, 2018 at their temporary residence in Over-the-Rhine. "I'm not about to pay $1,000 for something that's not worth a $1,000." She said.

It takes April two days to find help moving.

After a few back-and-forth phone calls, Brandon comes over Sunday morning. His white Kia minivan is parked in the driveway next to the silver Odyssey.

Six garbage cans overflowing with plastic bags, loose pieces of clothing and paper waste line the McMicken curb like sentinels. A green turtle-shaped plastic sandbox leans against the cans. Two plastic tricycles are parked beside the sandbox.

April is trying to throw out as much as possible to save on storage. Her deadline to be out of the house is just two days away.

a girl sitting on a bed: April Austin embraces her daughter Jasmine Austin, 6, as she wakes her up to get her ready for school at the Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018. Austin and her four children stayed in the two-bed hotel room for five days while trying to obtain other housing. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin embraces her daughter Jasmine Austin, 6, as she wakes her up to get her ready for school at the Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018. Austin and her four children stayed in the two-bed hotel room for five days while trying to obtain other housing.

The ironing board squeaks when April unfolds it in the kitchenette of the hotel room.

It's a few minutes past 6 on the morning of Wednesday, Sept. 19, the family's third here.

The scratching sound catches the attention of Jasmine, who's sitting on the edge of a bed.

"I don't want jeans," the 6-year-old first grader says.

"You're going to the park today for a field trip," her mother says. "You don't want mosquitoes to get you."

End of discussion. Jasmine takes the pressed jeans from her mother and walks into the bathroom to change clothes.

Solomon turns onto his stomach and pulls the comforter over his head. "Come on, big boy, we've got to get you ready for school," says April, lifting her son to her before hugging him and kissing his cheek. "Here's your clothes."

Bleary-eyed, the child smiles.

April uploads a devotional to her phone and turns up the volume. A female preacher's recorded voice fills Room 302.

The room is quiet, except for the preacher's breathless exhortations.

"I am a success-oriented individual," the preacher says.

Gerald sits at the dinette, where he drinks a juice box and eats a Toaster Strudel.

"The Lord says, 'I drive away depression and oppression and demonic spirits.' "

Genea massages gel into her hair.

"I want today to be the day where I see God's finished product in my life." 

April wets a washcloth and wipes fruit filling and frosting from the corners of Solomon's mouth.

Genea and Gerald have to be at school in 25 minutes. This school is 17 miles away.

a man sitting on a bed: Genea Bouldin, 17, helps her sister, Jasmin Austin, 6, paint her nails while getting ready for school at an Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Genea Bouldin, 17, helps her sister, Jasmin Austin, 6, paint her nails while getting ready for school at an Extended Stay America hotel in Springdale on Sept. 19, 2018.

The storefront church in a Mount Healthy strip mall is awash in waves of organ swells.

April and her four children fill the fourth row of chairs from the small altar that's ringed by red curtains.

April and Genea sing. Solomon rests his head on Gerald's lap and falls asleep. Jasmine sits on Genea's lap. April is on her feet more than she sits.

"Your word, Daddy  God!" she shouts.

Overseer Pastor Waymond Dean is in the pulpit, and April feels like his sermon is meant just for her. 

"God, everything is hard, but glory, glory, glory to you," the pastor, Bible in hand, says as he prowls the low altar. "You angry? You messed up in the head? You hurting? Get closer to God!" 

April often thinks of what her faith has done for her.

She says she met Jesus when she was 7, that God helped her through the hardest times of emotional and physical abuse and neglect. God was there when she was suicidal at 12. 

And when she was pregnant with Genea at 15. April planned the pregnancy. She says now that she knew that she could be a better parent than the adults in her life.

The service ends almost two hours after it started on a cool fall Wednesday night, Oct. 10.

April buckles her youngest two into the silver minivan, steers out of the parking lot and turns north toward Forest Park and the family's third home since the start of the school year. 

April thinks constantly about school, about trying to give them as much stability as possible, so they can rest and learn.

She thinks as she turns the van north: heir future depends on it. I have to do this.

a person sitting in a kitchen: April Austin prepares a frozen pizza for Solomon Austin, 4, at the home of a family friend in Forest Park on Oct. 10, 2018. She and her four children stayed there for a month through the end October while waiting for a house to be ready in Madisonville. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin prepares a frozen pizza for Solomon Austin, 4, at the home of a family friend in Forest Park on Oct. 10, 2018. She and her four children stayed there for a month through the end October while waiting for a house to be ready in Madisonville.

With 3,300 square feet of living space, including 1,600 in the finished basement, the tan brick ranch spreads wide across the manicured lot in Forest Park.

April met the owner when they moved in. They call her Miss Clara. She is the mother of April's supervisor at the day care.

On Sept. 22, after six nights at $65 each in the Extended Stay hotel, April and her four children move into this house. They will stay here for more than a month.

The house in Madisonville still isn't ready. No pressure, Miss Clara tells April. Stay here as long as you need. 

Shortly after April and her children arrive, they are joined by Brandon Austin, her estranged husband. The couple are still trying to reconcile.

April and Brandon sleep in the guest room. Gerald and Solomon sleep in bunk beds in a room normally used by Clara Cuyler's grandchildren. Genea and Jasmine share a queen-sized bed in a basement bedroom.

a man sitting on the floor: Solomon Austin, 4, plays with toys on Oct. 10, 2018, at the house of a family friend in Forest Park, where April Austin and her four children stayed rent-free for a month while awaiting a permanent housing solution. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Solomon Austin, 4, plays with toys on Oct. 10, 2018, at the house of a family friend in Forest Park, where April Austin and her four children stayed rent-free for a month while awaiting a permanent housing solution.

Solomon pushes toy cars across the red carpet in the finished basement. Miss Clara watches him play.

She had to discipline him once when he was getting too wild. She made him sit in a timeout upstairs. His behavior since has been perfect. She is 61 and has a professional federal government job.

She is in a position to help.

Her daughter told her about April and her children. Miss Clara prayed briefly about opening her home to strangers.

She charges April no rent. The refrigerator and pantry are stocked with food when the family moves in. 

The frozen pizzas, the Lunchables, the juice boxes, the apples and bananas – they mean something more to April. 

They feel like understanding. They feel like she and her children are not being judged. 

She can breathe. She can sleep. Jasmine and Solomon are less emotional and happier. Gerald is less sullen.

Genea's anxiety comes and goes, and the time at Miss Clara's is a time of reduced worry for Genea. She concentrates better at school.

It's like April and her children have known Miss Clara all of their lives. Like she is family.

Like they are home.

April is concerned about her 2004 minivan. It has almost 210,000 miles on it. The front brake rotors are bad. They've gone from making a squealing sound to scraping. The estimated cost of replacement parts is $250.

April has to get the kids to and from medical appointments, regular checkups and frequent ear infections. April has to get them to school. Genea also has to get to her pre-surgical appointments at the Cleveland Clinic, 250 miles away. 

April knows she has no money to pay for the brake repairs. She gambles they'll hold up every time she backs out of her driveway.

She was able to get one of the back tires plugged. It had been leaking air and should be replaced. April can't afford even a replacement used tire.

The van is more than transportation.

It's also April's backup plan for housing.

a young boy playing video games in a living room: Solomon Austin, 4, watches television on Nov. 27, 2018, on the floor next to a pile of personal items his family has yet to unpack. It was the fourth place where the family had lived since school had started in August. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Solomon Austin, 4, watches television on Nov. 27, 2018, on the floor next to a pile of personal items his family has yet to unpack. It was the fourth place where the family had lived since school had started in August.

The house in Madisonville that April has been waiting for is finally ready. The many repairs are complete. The family moves after five weeks in Forest Park.

The most noticeable feature of the house on Simpson Avenue is its three doors in the front. Two are on the ground floor, and the upstairs door on the left used to lead to a porch roof that's no longer there.

Unfinished on the outside, the house is finished inside. April and the children move in alone. Brandon, who lived with them in Forest Park, is gone again. April asks him to leave.

The family has been in the Madisonville home a month, but are still living among unpacked boxes. It is Tuesday night, Nov. 27.

There's a private bedroom for April in the back of the first floor, behind a sitting room.

Her daughters have their own room upstairs and sleep on daybeds. The boys are in the front of the upstairs and sleep on mattresses on the floor.

The rent is $600 a month. April knows she won't be able to pay it in full. Her landlord, "a friend of a friend," will accept whatever she can pay. 

She does manage to pay it in-full once – the month she moves in. Ninety percent of her take-home pay goes to food and gas for the van to drive her children to school and medical appointments.

April will later say her landlord in Madisonville is a Christian woman, like Miss Clara in Forest Park, who understands the family's struggle and wants to help.  

April sits at a glass-top table in the dining room. A friend gave her the table.

April is happy. She smiles and thinks, This is a way better situation. We're not bringing any of the chaos or anything bad here.

Genea leans against the dining room wall nearby.

The home is her 10th since she started high school. She is happy, too. Finally, a routine. Her family knows where it will be from week to week. 

Chaos does stay away. The first three months in Madisonville are stable. It's now Feb. 5.

April is able to get 20 to 30 hours a week at the day care.

She has enough money to rent a small moving truck and has help to get a couch, chair hutch, vanity desk and bed frame out of storage.

She buys a used washing machine for $62 from the Salvation Army. She can't afford a dryer.

She also buys the brake rotors at an auto parts store, and a friend installs them. A professional mechanic, he also changes the oil and again patches the troublesome back tire.

April notices the effects of stability on her children. Genea is historically not a good test-taker because of her anxiety. She's less worried in Madisonville and performing better on her exams. She and the other children complete their homework at night, and they get to school on time more often than not in the morning.

a car parked in front of a brick building: Genea Bouldin, 17, carries a box of chips from inside the rented house in Madisonville to the family van March 21, 2019, before a drive to Cleveland for her surgery. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Genea Bouldin, 17, carries a box of chips from inside the rented house in Madisonville to the family van March 21, 2019, before a drive to Cleveland for her surgery.

I'm so ready, Genea thinks as she climbs into the van's passenger seat at 10:21 on the morning of March 21.

Her surgery is scheduled for the next morning at Cleveland Clinic.

She will undergo breast reduction surgery, to ease daily physical pain and partly to rule out cancer.

The surgery is medically necessary, the doctor said. Genea misses several weeks of school because of the pre-operation visits and tests at the Cleveland Clinic. April has to take the other three children. No one is available to help her.

Genea and Gerald do their homework in the van on these five-hour trips. They help Jasmine and Solomon with their work. The little ones color. Gerald plays a hand-held video game.

They sleep, everyone except April.

The day before surgery, April packs her family into the van and leaves the Madisonville house. The final destination is Ronald McDonald House near the clinic.

The first stop, though, is a laundry on Wooster Pike in Fairfax.

April fills two dryers with damp clothes she washed at home.

April Austin sorts her family's clothing at a local laundry in Fairfax on March 21, 2019. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin sorts her family's clothing at a local laundry in Fairfax on March 21, 2019.

Surgery begins at 8:30 a.m. March 22.

April and her three other children get on a shuttle back to the Ronald McDonald House. She slept about two hours the night before.

At 11:48 a.m., Gerald plays a video game in the lounge. Jasmine sits beside her mother on a couch.

Jasmine Austin, 6, touches her mother's pregnant belly in the waiting room of the Cleveland Clinic on March 22, 2019. Jasmine said she felt the baby kick. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Jasmine Austin, 6, touches her mother's pregnant belly in the waiting room of the Cleveland Clinic on March 22, 2019. Jasmine said she felt the baby kick.

At 12:16 p.m., April leads her children down a hallway to a cafeteria. There, she fills three containers with lunch meat, bread and chips from a buffet. Solomon sits at a table and takes off his coat. 

"I want to eat here," Solomon says.

"We have to go to the clinic," April says.

"I just want to sit here," he says.

Solomon takes off his coat. April walks to the table and softly says, "You have to put that back on."

Solomon begins to cry. Big tears rolls down his cheeks.

a person standing on a bed: April Austin comforts her daughter, Genea Bouldin, 18, after surgery at the Cleveland Clinic on March 22, 2019. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin comforts her daughter, Genea Bouldin, 18, after surgery at the Cleveland Clinic on March 22, 2019.

At 6:07 p.m., the surgery center sends a text: Genea is out of surgery. The operation lasted seven hours and seven minutes. The doctor removed 9 pounds of tissue. She is in recovery. 

After sitting a couple of hours in the waiting room – Solomon and Jasmine play Connect 4 – April receives another text. Genea is out of recovery and will be wheeled soon to another room.

"You didn't need a blood transfusion this time," April says as she greets Genea on a gurney being wheeled toward her room.

"Really?" Genea says in a whisper. 

A few minutes later, Genea eats Lorna Doone shortbread cookies and sips ginger ale through a straw.

Genea glances down to the foot of the bed and back up to her mother. She says, "Wow, Mom, I can see my legs."

At 18, Genea's medical expenses are covered by Medicaid. Yet the drives to and from Cleveland exact a toll. Even if April makes the occasional stop.

She worries the van will break down on the road. She struggles at times to stay awake. Genea doesn't have a license. April has to take the other three children with them. The trips stretch the family budget. April can't afford to feed them in the hospital. They eat at McDonald's on every trip. 

April and her three children sleep well Friday night. They take the shuttle from the guest house back to the clinic. At 10:55 a.m. Saturday, March 23, they stand at Genea's bedside.

Genea sits up. Her complexion is pale, her eyelids heavy. A drainage tube runs from her upper chest.

"My arms hurt," she tells her mother. "They said my blood count is low. I have to stay another night."

Genea reads messages on her phone from friends. A few minutes later, April takes Genea's right hand and cradles it in both of hers. April begins to pray: "Lord God, you have turned things around. I thank you, Daddy God. Thank you, Lord God."

Genea closes her eyes and remains silent. 

April worries again as she prays about Genea's recovery. She'll need to rest and remain still and won't be able to return to school to finish the final couple of months.

April makes a mental note: I need to follow through with the school and make arrangements for her to finish her classwork at home.

Solomon hugs Genea's leg. Jasmine begins to cry and hugs her mother when she learns that Genea has to stay in the hospital for another night.

a person holding a baby: Jasmine Austin embraces her mother, April Austin, on March 23, 2019. Jasmine broke into tears when she was told that her big sister had to stay another night in the hospital following a 12-hour breast reduction operation at the Cleveland Clinic. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Jasmine Austin embraces her mother, April Austin, on March 23, 2019. Jasmine broke into tears when she was told that her big sister had to stay another night in the hospital following a 12-hour breast reduction operation at the Cleveland Clinic.

"I want her to come home with us," Jasmine says through tears.

Genea dotes on her younger sister. Paints her fingernails. Reads books to her. Helps her with homework. Takes her for walks to the library. Often holds her on her lap at church.

Jasmine will be singing in a couple of weeks in a talent show. April asks her if she wants to sing to her big sister. The child nods yes, sniffles and wipes a tear from her eye. Jasmine holds her mother's hand and begins in a voice that grows from a whisper.

"Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow, you're always a day away."

a man driving a car: April Austin cries alone in her used minivan April 4 outside of their Madisonville home after a tire blew. She didn't want her children to see her desperation. "I don't know what I'm going to do, I can't afford a new tire," she said. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin cries alone in her used minivan April 4 outside of their Madisonville home after a tire blew. She didn't want her children to see her desperation. "I don't know what I'm going to do, I can't afford a new tire," she said.

It's a few minutes before 7 on the evening of April 4.

April sits alone in her minivan outside of the Madisonville house. She weeps. She wants to make sure her children don't see her.

The tire that has twice been patched has blown flat.

She leans back in the driver's seat in the dark van. She covers her eyes with the back of her right hand and thinks: I don't know what I'm going to do. I can't afford a new tire.

There's nothing I won't do for my kids. I pray for my kids all the time. Daddy God, please help us. Thank you for getting us this far. We need you now. I love my children. They are my world. But I never thought life would be so hard every day.

A week later, April's friend the mechanic locates what she describes as "a newer used tire" to replace the blown one. 

Yet as one problem is fixed another emerges: The lower control arms on the tire rods are cracked and need replacing. 

Genea sits at the glass-top table in the dining room with April. It's a bright spring afternoon, April 29.

The family reaches its six-month anniversary of living in the house in Madisonville. April thanks God for the kindness of the landlord. The woman accepts even $100 or $200 a month from April for rent. Pay what you can, the landlord repeatedly says to April.

Genea is keeping up with her schoolwork. A teacher from Withrow coordinates her home-study. She's not strong enough to be back in the building. She still has a lot of stitches.

Genea misses her friends and activities at school. Those are happy thoughts. They help her forget about the challenges of everyday life.

She says she misses her father, Gerald Bouldin, and wishes he'd call. It's really hard when I see Jasmine and Solomon with their dad, she says.

Genea says she feels better. Her doctor is pleased with the results and pace of recovery. Since her surgery, Genea's migraines and the pain in her back have subsided and become more manageable. She doesn't have the sharp pain of sciatica from her lower back down her legs.

She isn't having to carry a backpack stuffed with books. She can nap. She can concentrate well for longer of periods of time on her lessons without developing a migraine. 

April's attempt to reconcile with her second husband, Brandon Austin, did not work. She files for divorce.

On April 30, she receives the order for child and medical support from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. He will be required to pay $383.50 a month in child support and contribute $35.62 a month for medical support.

That money would come close to doubling April's monthly income.

She thinks of the possibilities. 

Just maybe I will have enough money to get the two little ones into dance or acting lessons.

Maybe buy more fresh food instead of starches filled with preservatives.

Maybe I can afford Genea's driver's license and pay for her placement tests.

Maybe Gerald can play a sport or go to a science camp.

Gerald serves a five-day suspension during the first week of May for leaving class without permission. His mother says he doesn't disrupt fellow students or his teacher. Yet, he walks out of his classroom and off the Withrow campus. Administrators cannot find him and call April.

She tells them Gerald is angry about not seeing his father.

Gerald, for his part, owns the behavior. "I have to do a better job of controlling my emotions," is all he will say about the incident.

Gerald is 12.

He is gifted academically in science, twice nominated for a NASA summer science camp. April says she cannot afford to send him.

He often finishes in-class work on paper or lab experiments in 10-15 minutes, well ahead of his classmates. He complains that he's bored.

Puddles from a late afternoon rainstorm May 2 dot Simpson Avenue in Madisonville.

April is home with Solomon and Jasmine. They watch a cartoon on TV. April has yet to take down the artificial Christmas tree. Hanging from it now are pastel eggs and red hearts cut from construction paper that mark Easter and Valentine's Day.

Genea and Gerald leave the house to walk 20 minutes to the neighborhood's branch library.

Gerald is still suspended. 

Genea understands. She had her own academic slump earlier this year, but is less frustrated than her brother about her relationship with their father.

Genea attributes her brief academic downturn to the conflict she and her mother had over a boy she wanted to date and how her crush on the boy distracted her. April said no. 

The reason was simple: You have to graduate, April says.

Now, Genea has rebounded.

Genea and Gerald walk past Laurel Cemetery on Simpson. Sweeping rows of aging headstones rise high on their left up a slope that leads to a large tomb.

"I so wish I had my license," Genea tells Gerald. She turns inward.

Gerald is silent. They walk on.

Like most privileges many of her peers take for granted, a driver's license has financially been out of Genea's reach. She has hope. A license is not as expensive when you're 18 compared with 16. It will cost her $21.75. That doesn't count the $500 it would cost for driving school and road experience.

Genea walks on, carrying several children's books in a cloth bag that hangs from one of her shoulders. She takes the books she has read to Jasmine and Solomon and gets a batch of new ones they haven't read. 

The afternoon is hot and humid. Gerald wears a jacket over a hoodie.

"You're going to sweat and stink," Genea says to her brother.

"I don't like water. I put on cologne," Gerald says.

"You middle-school boys – you put on cologne but you can't hide the stink. You still stink."

There's a serious message behind Genea's teasing.

She's the oldest child. She's always watching out for the younger ones and helping her mom.

With the opening notes of "Pomp and Circumstance," two rows of Withrow High School graduating students walk onto the concrete floor of Fifth Third Arena at the University of Cincinnati on May 22.

Genea stands out, despite possibly being the shortest person in her class. She decorates the top of her black mortarboard in orange-and-white lettering: Made It Through Christ 2019.

a close up of a sign: Genea Bouldin's cap rests on a desk before her graduation on May 22, 2019, in the family's rented house in Madisonville. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer Genea Bouldin's cap rests on a desk before her graduation on May 22, 2019, in the family's rented house in Madisonville.

Genea walks across the stage and receives her diploma. The gravity is not lost on her. Her mom didn't graduate. Her dad didn't, either.

She does a dance move at the top of the steps as a photographer captures the moment. Genea poses with her diploma on her hip.

In the stands, April begins to weep. Solomon stands beside her, and April says to him, "We made it, didn't we? She made it. Sissy made it. The cycle is broken."

The tears keep coming.

Through the most challenging times – the hotel stay, relying on the kindness of strangers for housing, unable to pay bills, Genea's surgery, the seven round-trip drives to Cleveland that prevent April from working and getting paid – graduation is the moment April clings to for hope. She dropped out of Hughes High School at 15 and later got her GED through Cincinnati Job Corps.

Yet, Genea makes it. With her class.

The tears flow. April drops her face into her hands and thinks of their shared journey.

Genea is such a strong young woman. Smart. Tough. Resilient. Mature. Respectful. Helpful. Unselfish. Humble. I could go on. I'm her mom, after all. Just so proud of her.

April never doubted Genea. She knows, though, what life and its circumstances can do to even the strongest among us.

She knows because that's what happened to her.

a person holding a baby: April Austin holds her newborn, Galileo Austin, while son Solomon Austin rests his hand on her arm on May 22, 2019, in Madisonville. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin holds her newborn, Galileo Austin, while son Solomon Austin rests his hand on her arm on May 22, 2019, in Madisonville.

On Friday night, May 17, April gives birth to her fifth child, a third son, Galileo Austin, at Good Samaritan Hospital. He weighs 6 pounds, 7.2 ounces and is 19 inches.

April takes him home to Madisonville. Galileo likes a baby seat April has in the living room under a heat lamp. Solomon often sits on a bench and keeps an eye on his baby brother. Jasmine loves to hold him.

She became pregnant when she and Brandon Austin tried to reconcile in the fall. This child, unlike her first, is not planned.

April didn't know she was pregnant until midway through her second trimester. Overwhelmed, she was disappointed in herself for letting it happen. 

She prayed, Can't I just have a miscarriage? I'd rather go through that pain than bring another child into this world.

Near the time that Galileo is born, April learns that a friend has a stillborn birth at 5 months. April's perspective changes, and she thinks: I am grateful for the honor to be a mother. It's a privilege. I believe in God. I have raised my children to know God on their own. I believe God provides.

At Genea's graduation, April's best friend, Tanika Moton, sits beside her and holds Galileo. He is wrapped in a blanket in the air-conditioned arena.

Genea is 18. She will be 36 when Galileo is her age. Genea looks forward.

I want to have a family, too, Genea tells her mother. But not for a long time.

I want to have a house first. 

a group of people posing for a photo: April Austin and her children, Genea Bouldin, 18; Gerald Bouldin, 14; Jasmine Austin, 6; Solomon Austin, 5; and Galileo Austin, one week, pose for a family portrait on May 24, 2019. Despite homelessness and health problems Genea Bouldin graduated from Withrow University High School. © Albert Cesare / The Enquirer April Austin and her children, Genea Bouldin, 18; Gerald Bouldin, 14; Jasmine Austin, 6; Solomon Austin, 5; and Galileo Austin, one week, pose for a family portrait on May 24, 2019. Despite homelessness and health problems Genea Bouldin graduated from Withrow University High School.

Epilogue

April and Brandon Austin begin their divorce hearings July 3 in Hamilton County Domestic Relations Court. He pays her $100 a week for the month leading up to the hearing. She says her first husband owes her $30,000 in past-due child support. She will receive a certificate July 27 in early childhood education from Rasmussen College that she completes online.

Galileo is hospitalized for two days in July with seizure-like symptoms. Doctors perform an ultrasound and electroencephalogram (EEG) to measure his brain wave patterns. All tests are negative, and he returns home weighing 12 pounds, up from 6 pounds, 7 ounces at birth.

Solomon graduates from preschool. During the first week of summer vacation, he sprains an ankle jumping off the top of a playground slide. The urgent care doctor says he'll be back to full speed in a week.

Jasmine earns all A's on her report card and meets Bengals coaches and FC Cincinnati players in a special event at the zoo as a reward.

Gerald is happy to be spending increased amounts of regular time with his father. He's reaching out to men at church who are talking with him. He performs a spoken word poem about his faith at a youth religious events. He encourages his peers to be still and listen for God's voice.

Genea travels for two weeks in Taiwan as part of an honors trip for 15 local high school students. She teaches English in a school there. She says she is finally going to get her driver's license this summer and plans to attend the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash. She prepares for placement tests. She will study criminology. She wants to be a forensic scientist.

a close up of a sign: Prosperity Disparity © Enquirer Prosperity Disparity

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: 4 addresses in 4 months: This is what poverty looks like for this Cincinnati family

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