Leaving homelessness behind, a young father builds a safe home
Bilaal was just a teenager when his life went off the rails. He joined a gang and found himself in and out of prison and using drugs. For eight years, he struggled.
“I was always into something,” he said.
By his mid-20s, he knew he needed to get back on track, for the sake of his children. He and his longtime girlfriend had three children, but she fell into addiction and the couple separated. Bilaal and the children soon became homeless, living with relatives.
“We were pretty much about to be on the streets,” Bilaal said.
Instead, he reached out to Monmouth County for help, and the county connected him with Catholic Charities, Diocese of Trenton’s Linkages program in Tinton Falls.
Linkages is emergency transitional housing for homeless individuals and families that’s located on the sprawling, verdant grounds of a former motel where beachbound vacationers used to stay. It offers safe, clean and spacious living quarters that feel homey, thanks to suite-style units with full kitchens, a community building with laundry facilities, a playground and plenty of room for children to run, bike and play.
“It’s wonderful, because we finally have our own space,” said Bilaal, who moved to Linkages in April with his children Brielli, 8, Jaden, 6, and Josiah, 1, and his girlfriend’s daughter Skye, 4.
“If we weren’t here, then we would be homeless,” he added.
Stacey DePoe, Linkages’ director, applauded Bilaal’s progress.
“To take on two roles and be a single parent takes a strong person,” DePoe said. “What makes it even more amazing is Bilaal is also parenting a child he is not the biological father of. He is determined to be a good role model to these children and give them a place to call home.”
At Linkages, Bilaal especially loves that the family now has their own kitchen, where he can cook whatever the children want. Fried Oreos are one of his specialties.
“I try to make it fun,” Bilaal said.
Linkages proved a lifesaver when the pandemic hit, he said. The family could quarantine safely, as Bilaal focused on finding a job.
Now 26, Bilaal graduated from the Fortis Institute in Lawrenceville last January, with his certification in heating, ventilation and air conditioning. He recently landed a job for a construction company.
“It was hard to find a job,” he said, referring to the pandemic’s crippling impact on the economy and employment. “But I did, and I feel great.”
The family looks forward to finding a home of their own soon.
“I want to paint my room pink,” Brielli said with a smile.