“Just one,” Tiffany Adams says to the ticket agent. “Under Isaiah Adams.”
It’s a rainy Saturday outside Addition Financial Arena at UCF. Tiffany just took the trip down from Jacksonville like she has for every home game this season.
“Box, box!” She yells from her seat. “Ya’ll got to box out.”
The Knights are hosting SMU. Her son is true freshman Isaiah Adams.
“Ahhhh follow your shot,” she says as Isaiah has a three point shot circle around the rim and out. He can sense the motherly love during the game.
“I don’t really see her in the stands, but I hear her,” Isaiah says. “When I was in high school she’d always be one of the loudest people in the gym."
Isaiah played high school basketball at Paxon in Jacksonville, but for the Adams family home hasn’t been about the place. It’s about being together.
“There's not a lot of times that I’ve been able to sit back and think about the journey,” Tiffany says in an interview outside the arena before the game. “I mean we are grateful. We are just grateful.”
Give me shelter
Isaiah and his sister Leila were born in Virginia. When Isaiah was around three years old his parents separated and would later divorce. In 2008 Tiffany decided to move her and the kids back to her hometown of Jacksonville.
“Most people remember the economic crisis in 2008,” Tiffany says. “Honestly that had a lot to do with the impact on my income.”
Before moving Tiffany made sure to transfer her job as a waitress to the new location, she also secured an apartment. She was used to life on a military base where her income was relatively stable. In Jacksonville she was trying to raise three kids on her own. She says the tips stopped coming in and so did her ex-husbands financial contributions.
“I was a working class like citizen,” Tiffany says. “People always thought that homeless was what they saw on the street, what they saw downtown.”
There are many different forms of homelessness. For Tiffany it wasn’t living in a tent or finding warmth by a fire, but by the summer of 2008 she received an eviction notice. She didn’t know where she was going to sleep each night. Sometimes she’d sneak back into her apartment with the key she never turned in. Other nights it was her car.
"It was just restless,” Tiffany can’t help but laugh as she remembers. “I mean I was up, up really all night in Wal-mart parking lots in McDonald’s parking lots. Anywhere you knew people would be around.”
She sent Isaiah and Leila to stay with their dad for a couple weeks as she took care of her youngest son Elijah. After almost two months she found a shelter program that gave her the flexibility to work and take care of her kids.
“There was a lot of growth a lot self of reflection and young kids,” Tiffany laughs as she stands in front of the YWCA in downtown Jacksonville that helped her get her life back on track. “My kids were like seven, five and two. But this place has helped a lot, a lot of families. A lot of women and children."
They lived in the shelter for 18 months. About a year in Tiffany got a job as a bank teller and was able to save enough money to get an apartment. Through the whole experience Isaiah and his siblings didn’t realize they weren’t living a normal life.
“When I look back on it’s like I appreciate it so much what she’s done,” Isaiah says. “At the time I was like dang you can’t get me this toy or this or this and it was like she’s so mean. But now it’s like I realize she didn’t really have it. She was trying to focus on us having somewhere to stay and have some food to eat.”
These days Tiffany is trying to prevent anyone else from experiencing the same thing. Ever since she was able to afford housing again she has worked with organizations like Family Promise of Jacksonville. Her goal is to help and to educate. She believes homelessness comes in all sizes and shapes.
“It could be your bank teller,” Tiffany says. “It really could be your bagger at the grocery store. Like you just don’t know what they are going home to or if they are going to a home.”
A new home
This year Isaiah is blessed to say he has two. There’s UCF and there’s Jacksonville.
“My biggest fear would be to fail and not live up to what I’m doing and not be able to take care of my mom as we get older,” Isaiah says. “So I’m just trying to do everything I can to make sure she’s good when we get older and then everything is taken care of because that’s what she did for me.”
Tiffany now lives in a two bedroom apartment in downtown Jacksonville. The property receives funding in part through the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program and has apartments set aside for lower income households.
“Hi son!” Tiffany exclaims from the couch. She’s sitting next to her daughter Leila and son Elijah. They’ve got Isaiah on a video call.
“What’s up so where you at?” she asks.
“Tulsa,” Isaiah says still on the airplane.
For Tiffany and her family, home isn’t a place, it’s a state of mind. They know they haven’t reached their final destination.
“He still has a lot of work to do, I have a lot of work to do,” Tiffany says. “I just want him to stay humble and make the best of [UCF], make the most of this.”