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Wish List 2017: 'We were staying in the bathroom at Walmart'

Wish List 2017: 'We were staying in the bathroom at Walmart'

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The left-behind dresser and crib have been re-purposed.

But Courtney McQueen and her 10-year-old daughter, Quioni, can't bring themselves to sleep on the abandoned beds. The two have experienced worse, for sure. And they are grateful for the help from Bethany for Children & Families for getting them off the streets. But they prefer the couch for now.

"Maybe it's because everything is so new to us, and my daughter wants to be close to me, but we've both been sleeping on the couch," McQueen said of the donated sectional that occupies most of the living room in her two-bedroom apartment in Moline. "It's all new."

By "new," the 36-year-old was not referring to things that have been recently purchased. She was talking about things that are different.

Born in Rock Island, McQueen's family moved to Milwaukee when she was 5. Nine years ago, she moved with her then-baby back to the Quad-Cities. She never has lived in Moline before. But she did take short-term residence in the city.

"We were staying in the bathroom at Walmart," she said of her recent homelessness. "I very rarely slept, because I was so scared. I had to make sure my daughter slept, so she could get up and get to school. She did miss some when we were homeless, but the school tried to work with me.

"They knew the situation. Sometimes, when we were staying at Walmart, the police would come and take my daughter to school."

Keeping her daughter in her Rock Island school is important to McQueen.

"I just want to be consistent with something so important," she said. "This year has already been too much. My daughter does adapt easily, but I don't want too much change that could affect her down the road."

The two found themselves on the same path to homelessness that finds many Americans.

McQueen was a certified pharmacy technician, making decent money. But she also was a single parent who struggled with child care and transportation. When she didn't have enough money to have her car fixed, she started missing work and lost her job. Then, she lost her home.

"I did make some bad choices when I lost my job," she said. "I started missing my rent payments. My daughter was so wonderful. I did my best to not break down in front of her."

She knew she couldn't live in the bathroom of a retail store, so she connected with the Salvation Army. After a few weeks in the agency's temporary shelter, Bethany found them the apartment.

Safe, clean housing eliminates some big worries. But there are other challenges.

Allowing Quioni to finish fifth grade in Rock Island means depending on limited family members for rides to school. After school, McQueen spends two hours on a city bus, going back and forth to Rock Island to pick up her daughter. Bus passes are one issue, and getting back to work is another.

"My certification for pharmacy tech expired, so I have to write a letter, send in a fee and take the test to be re-certified," she said. "I got my original certification through MTI (Midwest Technical Institute) in their nine-month intensive study program.

"I would have no problem passing the test again."

The fee for the test is another matter.

Chelsea Berg, community outreach coordinator for Transitions Mental Health Services, nominated McQueen and her daughter for the Quad-City Times Wish List program, feeling confident the two can get back on their feet with a little more help.

"I felt Courtney was a good fit as a nominee, because I was quite impressed by her positivity throughout the challenges that she has faced in recent months," Berg said. "Courtney has been able to overcome several extraordinary circumstances while remaining selfless. My hope is that others can learn from Courtney’s story of facing the odds and can use it as inspiration."

McQueen will be satisfied at this point to inspire her young daughter.

"I'm grateful to have this roof over our heads," she said. "The last tenant kind of left it in shambles, but I really didn't mind, because I'm the one who cleaned it, so I know it's clean.

"I do worry about things, like finding work during the day shift. Ten is still too young to be left alone. We're OK with the bus for now. My girl loves the bus. She really does.

"I'd like to be able to have a Christmas tree this year — even if there's nothing under it. One thing we love to do together is decorate a tree. We don't want a real one. We like the white ones. They're so pretty when we decorate."

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