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Gift of home helps Detroit family find better ‘focus’

Karen Bouffard
The Detroit News

Detroit — In the run-up to Christmas last year, the four Cole-Lattimore children were living in separate foster homes, and their parents didn’t know if they’d ever get them back.

This year, the family will celebrate Christmas together in their own home, one year since Detroit Rescue Mission Ministries read about their plight in The Detroit News and stepped in to help.

Since moving into a home provided by the mission on Dec. 22, 2015, 10-year-old Malik’s previously out-of-control asthma has stabilized. Jaden, 6, who has autism, is speaking in full sentences for the first time. The girls, Shamika, 8, and 12-year-old Jaretha, are getting good grades in school.

Homelessness, asthma force family to give up children

“They put us in a house, and they did it from the bottom of their heart because they could see the situation we was in,” said Dwayne Cole, 41.

“It was heartfelt. They saw the stuff we was going through, the conditions we was in at the other shelter, and they wanted to right it.”

Cole and Siretha Lattimore, also 41, decided to turn their kids over to social services in October 2015 after the family had been homeless for a year. They left a shelter permeated with mold, mice and cockroach feces because it aggravated Malik’s asthma.

For a while, the family they slept in their car. But as temperatures dipped in October 2015, Cole and Lattimore said they worried Malik would come down with pneumonia. They bundled their kids up and drove them to the local office of the Michigan Department of Social Services.

“It hurt me because I really didn’t want to do that, but it was the best decision, trying to protect them and keep them safe,” Cole recalled.

State child protection workers placed the children each in separate foster homes. Even the parents were separated. Siretha stayed at a woman’s shelter on one side of the city, while Dwayne found lodging at a men’s shelter across town.

All the while, Cole continued to work full-time at an auto parts plant. Siretha saw her kids daily at their school until teachers asked her not to come. Seeing their mom, but not being able to go home with her, was taking emotional tolls.

Hearts and pockets opened across the nation after the publication of the family’s story last December.

The News asked the rescue mission to coordinate dozens of offers of assistance so the family could be reunited in time for the holidays. Detroit rescue mission President Chad Audi testified on the family’s behalf at a Family Court hearing, and the parents regained custody in time for Christmas.

Audi said he thought the family was suited to a Rescue Mission program that provides housing, food, education and other services to help families get on their feet. The Cole-Lattimores are among nearly 35 families enrolled in the program.

“When we heard about the story, we thought they were a good match because the father was working and they had some income. We could put them in a house where they could all be together,” Audi said.

Families enrolled in the program pay only the utilities and taxes. The rescue mission, which owns the homes, takes care of maintenance costs.

If the families are self-supporting after two years, they can take ownership of the house.

Cole suffered a setback in April when he lost his job, and the family’s car was stolen out of their driveway a few weeks later. He said he is looking for new employment and plans to put his upcoming tax return toward the purchase of a vehicle.

Lattimore’s focus is on helping Malik with his asthma, Jaden with his autism and all of her children with their school work.

“I couldn’t think straight when I was into the shelter,” Lattimore says. “Now that I’m in a house, I can really focus better on what I need to do for my kids, what I need to do for myself, what I need to do for my whole family so we can have a better future for our kids and ourselves.”

Audi said it takes time to rehabilitate a family — and the rescue mission is in it for the long haul.

“We found out that even when they were homeless, (the children) never missed a day of school and never missed an appointment for the kids’ doctors — that shows that they’re a very caring family,” he said. “This is where we come in.

“We provide services to make sure that this family will be able to get back on their own. It might take longer than we expected, (but) we will stand by them.”

kbouffard@detroitnews.com