Home for Christmas for Detroit family, son with asthma

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News
Nine-year-old Malik Cole has a warm home to call his own after the Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries presented his family with a new permanent residence Friday morning.

A Detroit family split apart by poverty and homelessness will be together for the holidays after Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries on Friday presented them with keys to a home of their own.

The family could be permanently reunited at a custody hearing on Tuesday. The hearing had been slated for February but was rescheduled for next week, due to their improved circumstances.

Scores of readers and organizations stepped forward to help after The Detroit News and PBS NewsHour last week told the family’s story as part of a joint report on how emotional trauma is contributing to an asthma epidemic among children in the Motor City and nationwide.

Siretha Lattimore and Dwayne Cole, both 40, made the decision in October to surrender their children to foster care. Malik, 9, has asthma, and they feared he’d come down with pneumonia if the children continued sleeping in the family car.

Cole earns about $12.75 per hour from his full-time job at an auto parts factory, he said. They got behind on their rent after purchasing a car Cole needs to get to work, and were eventually evicted.

It took just seconds Friday for Malik — and siblings Jaretha, 11; Shamika, 7, and 5-year-old Jaden, who has autism — to notice a sparkling Christmas tree in the living room of their new home, surrounded by presents. This time last year the family of six shared one room at a homeless shelter where Malik’s asthma was aggravated by cockroaches, mice and filth.

“There’s no mice, no cockroaches, nothing — I guarantee it,” rescue mission president Chad Audi said of the two-story brick home, where the girls will each have a bedroom of their own, while Malik will share a large sunny room with his little brother.

The family spent last Christmas in “transitional housing” where they paid $400 per month for a single room. They enjoyed being together on Christmas Day, Lattimore said, but there were no gifts for the children.

“If we don’t have nothing, it’s about the family being together,” Lattimore explained, eating, talking and playing games.

The family will live in the house rent-free, paying only utilities for two years as the couple receives financial counseling and job training. The children will get academic tutoring and an opportunity to attend summer camp.

After two years, the couple can enroll in a Detroit Rescue Mission program to help them become homeowners. They’ll be phased in to the responsibility by paying for taxes and home repairs for two years. If they’re successful, they will be offered an opportunity to purchase their home for one dollar.

Among the roughly 20 people who turned out for the house warming Friday was asthma home educator Elizabeth Milton who worked with the family throughout their year of homeless.

Meeting at community centers or fast food restaurants, Milton watched Malik’s asthma continually worsen from the multitude of allergens in homeless shelters, and the stress of never knowing where he’d sleep at night.

On Friday, Milton surveyed the spotless kitchen, fresh new bedding and polished wooden floors, and said: “We’re going to get that asthma under control now.”

The home, which passed inspection by a state care worker on Thursday, came fully furnished and stocked with food, toiletries and treats.

The kids were so excited by the presents under the tree Friday that Lattimore let them open just a few.

Malik selected Play-Doh, Jaretha chose a Hello Kitty art set, and Tamika claimed a Glitter Nails art set.

“Thank you,” said little Jaden, holding up a Batman action figure.

The children’s foster care worker agreed that the children could stay at the house with their parents until Tuesday’s custody hearing.

‘I just want my kids ... we being all together,” said Cole, their dad.

“My kids, they strong through all of this. The main one breaking down is me. That’s all I got is her (Lattimore) and my babies. That’s it.”