The hidden homeless: Nova and Kai's story

Nova and Kai LeVan have spent 4 months at Human Solutions Family Shelter

Chris Holmstrom and KOIN 6 News Staff - UPDATE: On March 1, Nova told KOIN 6 News she was approved for housing. She and Kai move in to their new home on March 10. To donate to their GoFundMe, click here.

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) --- Families across Oregon are trying to survive daily life.

They're known as the hidden homeless -- moms, dads, kids and pets living in motels, with friends or in shelters, facing life's challenges under difficult circumstances.

For 33-year-old Nova LeVan, the instability of life without a permanent home is all she's ever known.

"I grew up in the foster care system, never got adopted," she said.

Nova said she was sexually abused as she moved between various foster homes. By the time she turned 18, she was on her own. She said she experienced homelessness, prostitution and drug addiction at a very young age.

Even though she's been sober for nearly 14 years, Nova said her past still haunts her.

"I don't like who I am because of it," she said. "Not who I am, but who I have a tendency of being."

At 22, Nova had a son. She said Kai, who is now 11, changed her entire life. But without any family support, the 2 have lived in and out of shelters for years.

"The motivation is just not there," Nova said about finding a permanent home. "It's all part of depression, and people don't understand how hard that could be."

Kai takes medication for attention deficit disorder and also suffers from depression and anxiety. Because of that, he's eligible for Social Security and gets about $750 a month. But living in a shelter doesn't make dealing with his disabilities any easier.

"It's a lot of emotional outburst," Nova said. "He's really sensitive, he cries a lot."

Even with the odds stacked against them, Nova and Kai are still trying to move forward. Every morning, when the lights go on at Human Solutions Family Shelter, the mother and son roll out of bed, ready to face a new day.

"I'm moving my bed so I can get to my cat," Kai told KOIN 6 News. "Her name is Oz and she's black and white. We rescued her so she's basically a rescue cat."

For the past 4 months, Kai has followed the same morning routine.

First, he eats breakfast at the shelter before brushing his teeth and taking his medication. Then, he and his mom walk to the bus stop across the street where they meet again at the end of the school day.

While Kai is at school, Nova heads out to continue her search for permanent housing.

"I'm on my way to an apartment complex to fill out an application," she said.

She was recently approved for government-funded housing and decided to submit her first housing application since moving back to Portland from Georgia last year.

"It's very high anxiety," Nova said. "You do wonder if people are going to look at the letter and go, 'We don't want your type here.'"

Still, Nova said, it's worth the risk.

Portland Homeless Family Solutions is helping make her search for a permanent home a little easier. Nova is part of the organization's Rapid Rehousing and Housing First programs, which cover security deposits and up to 12 months of rent assistance.

Human Solutions, another nonprofit, also helps local families dealing with poverty.

"We are seeing entire families that have not been homeless before or ever," Human Solutions Emergency Services Director Charles Hodge said. "These are kids that go to school with your children, these are families that used to be your neighbors."

The Department of Housing and Urban Development estimates there are more than 13,000 homeless people in Oregon. Nearly 30% of them are families just like Nova and Kai. In Washington, more than 6,900 families live in shelters or on the streets.

Oregon ranks in the top 5 states with the highest increases in homeless families. While 41 states saw decreases in the numbers of homeless families from 2015-2016, Oregon experienced a 2.5% increase.

Hodge said increased rents, low vacancy rates and stagnant wages are to blame.

"We are going to have to look at things like rent limits, where we limit the amount of money landlords are able to increase the rent," he said. "Also, look at the opportunities to reduce or potentially eliminate things like no-cause evictions."

If those changes aren't made, Hodge said he worries homeless rates will only go up.

For Nova and Kai, hope for change and a better future is what keeps them going.

"If I didn't have hope for something better, I would have just left my kid behind and just ran off," Nova said. "That's why it's important for me to have hope. If I don't have hope, I don't have anything."

To donate to Human Solutions Family Shelter, click here.


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