Photo by incrediblethots via Flickr Creative Commons

A Family’s Journey

By Dez Martinez

Naszar’ie Maray Butler

Sunrise: April 3, 2019

Sunset: July 14, 2019 

Akifa and Denny (mother and father) became homeless in October 2018 in Fresno. Akifa looked for help from a local shelter for youth ages 18–24. At that time, she was three months pregnant with her second child. Her first daughter was one year old. Akifa, Denny (who is disabled) and their daughter were placed in a shelter at the end of October.

In November 2018, Akifa was asked to leave the shelter with her child. With nowhere to go, she was sleeping on the streets of Fresno on a waiting list for available housing.

During a storm, We Are Not Invisible found Akifa and her child in the rain tucked into a sleeping bag trying to stay warm. We immediately took action and contacted the shelter that kicked her out and raised funds for a motel room for her family until the shelter would have availability again.

When she learned that it might be a couple of weeks, Akifa and her family were sent out of state to a friend’s to keep her daughter safe. They returned to Fresno after receiving a voucher for an apartment.

With the lack of low-income housing in Fresno, the battle to find a place was difficult. This put Akifa back on the streets while awaiting an opening at a shelter. This went on for months.

In March 2019, Akifa and her family were taken to the Fresno Rescue Mission for shelter. There, the father was put in one shelter and the mother and child in another.

On April 3, Akifa had a C-section with her second child. Five days after the birth, Akifa was sent back to the shelter with both babies.

During their stay at the Rescue Mission, the family was asked to leave at 8 a.m. and not return until 7 p.m. This left Akifa once again on the streets with two children and recovering from major surgery.

We Are Not Invisible asked for Akifa to be able to rest due to a high-risk surgery followed by doctor’s orders for 6–8 weeks of bed rest. This request was not accepted, and Akifa had to leave every day to struggle with the pain of surgery while feeding two children and keeping them warm as she walked the streets of Fresno waiting for 7 p.m. to come.

On April 24, Akifa was walking in downtown Fresno after being told to leave the shelter for the day when she collapsed. An ambulance was called, and Akifa was rushed to the hospital.

The doctors found that Akifa had blood clots in her lungs and was close to dying. This was found to be the result of her walking every day with a one-year-old and a three-week-old (by that time), a car seat, a stroller and two bags with clothes and food for the kids.

On May 1, Akifa was released from the hospital. The shelter she was at previously told her that could return but only with one child.

Akifa reached out to friends again for help. One shelter had given a week’s voucher for a motel. She made a choice to let friends take care of her children until she was allowed back into a shelter or could find an apartment.

On June 18, the youth shelter called and had a family room open.

Akifa and her family went to the shelter. During her stay there, she became concerned about the unsanitary situation and having to leave the shelter in the 100-degree-plus heat. She was told those matters would be taken care of. No one returned her calls or allowed her to stay indoors with the children.

On July 13 at 11 a.m., Akifa was transported to a motel.

On July 14 at 8:30 a.m., Akifa woke to her baby cold. She immediately called 911 and performed CPR until the ambulance arrived.

The EMT and the hospital tried to bring Baby Zar’ie back.

At 8:45 a.m., Baby Zar’ie was pronounced deceased.

Your help is sought to give Baby Zar’ie a proper burial. This mother and father went through so much to try to keep their children safe only to lose a precious angel that they got to be with for just three months.

Funeral services will be held at the Big Red Church on Aug. 2.

*****

Dez Martinez is the founder of We Are Not Invisible, which is an organization that advocates and brings direct services to homeless families in Fresno.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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