Shanesha Taylor’s story seems like an unimaginable nightmare—but the terrible choices she had to navigate are faced by thousands of women, writes Jen Roesch.
SHANESHA TAYLOR faced an impossible situation.
A homeless single mother living out of her car with two young children, she was offered an interview for an office job that might have been her chance to get back on her feet. Without anyone available to watch her children, she made a desperate decision—to leave them napping in the car, with the doors locked and the windows cracked.
Her gamble failed. Instead of getting a job that day, Shanesha’s situation spiraled into a nightmare that will be even harder to climb out of. When she returned to her car, she was arrested. She spent 11 days in jail, and her children were taken from her care and put into child protective services. She faces two felony counts of child abuse.
Shanesha’s story—which circulated widely on the Internet, along with a heart-wrenching mug shot showing her with tears streaming down her face—struck a chord with thousands of people. In a country where 80 percent of adults face poverty or near-poverty conditions for at least part of their lives, people can recognize the anguish of a woman trying to do the best for her children in terrible conditions.
So far, more than 2,500 people have donated over $70,000 to support Shanesha. Most of these are donations of $5 to $30—a number of them come with notes about having been in the same position and knowing what it means to be a single mother, to be poor, to be homeless.
This empathy stands in stark contrast to the callous politicians who are cutting social programs like food stamps, child care funding and welfare assistance, while moralizing at poor people about the need to take personal responsibility for their situations. After several decades of relentless attacks on the social safety net and years of economic crisis, poverty is at the highest levels in half a century. And women and their children, particularly single-parent families, are the most vulnerable.
Thanks to her story spreading on the Internet and the outpouring of compassion, we now know Shanesha Taylor’s story. But the reality is that there are thousands of women like her who face agonizing choices every day in this country.
In the same week that Shanesha was arrested, a mother in New Jersey was sentenced for living with her children in a storage unit she had rented. She also lost custody of her children to the child welfare system. At the end of January, when a single mother made the decision not to leave her special needs child home alone and called in sick to her job at a Whole Foods store in Chicago, she was fired.
… When our society treats poor mothers as criminals or negligent, it punishes both mothers and their children. Shanesha Taylor left her children in a dangerous situation for an hour. But the state’s response has increased the dangers these children will face over their entire lifetimes. Children in the child welfare system are more likely to become homeless or incarcerated, or drop out of school. And with an arrest on her record, Shanesha will have a harder time finding the employment that could provide a stable home for her children.
Millions of children are put in danger every day in this country—not by parents who do their best to protect them from the harshest consequences, but from politicians who cut social programs that could put food on the table, provide shelter and make quality child care affordable for working parents.
And when families fall through the cracks, these politicians and the media turn to racist scapegoating to displace the blame onto the victims of their policies.
But Shanesha Taylor’s tears tell a different story—one that can be understood by millions of people in this country who are also doing their best to get by, and still find themselves struggling. These are the stories—not fairy tales of hard work and personal responsibility rewarded, but the real attempts to navigate terrible choices—that need to be told.