The Story of Michael Langlois
By Alayna Williams and Michael Langlois
The first thing I learned about Michael was that he loved designing houses. He told me he wanted to be an architect. He asked me if he could draw my dream house and I agreed. He had drawn a three story house with a pool overlooking the ocean for his friend, a log cabin in the woods for him and his future wife, and now he was beginning to design a house for me. The drawings looked professional, proportionate, organized, clean.
You would never assume that a fifteen year old had spent a good chunk of his free time laying out grid paper and meticulously planning the layout for low income housing complexes, but Michael did. He kept the drawings neatly stacked and tucked in a folder. When I asked if I could see some of his drawings he passed them to me almost reluctantly as if he were handing over the only thing he had to his name.
The second thing that I learned about Michael was that he was homeless. Michael and his family had been living in shelters and hotels for over a year. This was the fifth school district the state had placed him in. By the end of the semester Michael had been moved again and was gone.
Every week we looked forward to meeting together. He showed me pictures of his girlfriend and told me the story of how they had fallen in love. He showed me drawings of the houses he had designed. He told me about how he used to be different, violent. When I asked him what made him change for the better he said he was sick of having a bad reputation.
His reputation, he said, had gotten him and his family into a lot of trouble. Michael and his family were moved from the first motel they were placed in after incidents of threats and violence took place with the staff. As a resident under the age of 18 Michael was not allowed to leave the room alone, and when a maintenance worker reminded him of this one day Michael told him to stop harassing him and threatened to knock him out.
The Massachusetts Division of Housing Stabilization had placed Michael and his family in a motel 78 miles away from everything they had ever known. The staff at the motel watched his family closely as they moved in, they reminded his parents that they were not allowed to be in the hallway, the owner treated them like trash, yelling at them that they were worthless and spying on them in their room.
The police were called on Michael after he had threatened the staff, and a few days later the state called telling him and his family to pack their things, they were being moved again. This time they were placed in Chicopee, in a desolate motel with sticky surfaces, moldy air, and trash under the bed. Here the violence ensued over a stolen milk crate and ended with a shovel and metal bat being swung around the hotel property. Without thinking, Michael jumped into the brawl unable to stop punching his opponent in the face. The next day the state called.
The shelter program rules are uniform and clearly states violation of hotel rules can lead to transfer or denial of certain privileges, but cannot end in termination of shelter services. That is why each time Michael and his family were involved with violence they were simply shuttled to the next grungy motel or shelter instead of being thrown onto the streets.
This is good if you consider that Michael won’t have to sleep on the streets at the young age of fifteen, but other than that the effects of moving so frequently are harmful to Michaels development. He has been unable to create lasting friendships or relationships and his academics have suffered greatly. One school even lost his academic transcript which results in Michael not being able to graduate on time.
The housing program that shuffles homeless families from motel to shelter to motel across Massachusetts had 1,185 families under their wing as of November 2015. Thirteen percent of those families were placed in the program due to instances of domestic violence, just like Michael, but questions about whether or not there is opportunity for rehabilitation from the violence in a program like this definitely arise.
At the next motel, things seemed brighter, the kids were allowed to play outside, the room was clean, but the other residents were anything but welcoming. The rumor was that Michael and his family were dangerous people, so they were ignored and avoided. Even after attempts to reconcile their reputation by keeping to themselves and even cleaning up the litter on the property, Michael and his family were targeted and involved in violence. They packed up their belongings into trash bags and were moved by the state again.
This is where I met Michael. In Springfield, Massachusetts, at his sixth school that year, Springfield’s High School of Commerce. This is where he hands me a drawing of his dream house, this is where he writes his story out for me, this is where I waited for him one December afternoon only to find out that he wouldn’t be coming in to school that day, or the next, this is where I learned that Michael has been moved once more. Another temporary home, perhaps caused by another instance of violence.
Michael wrote over twelve pages documenting his experiences with homelessness for me. He felt he could write a whole book about his time being homeless. He began interviewing other residents in the program about their experiences with the shelter program, and he wanted to share all of this in the hopes of improving the program for others, which in my book gives him anything but a bad reputation. I still have his handwritten account of being homeless in Massachusetts, and the pages are just as professional and organized as