This holiday season, Breanna Brame isn't fixated on picking out gifts or decorating a tree. Instead, she's trying to make ends meet and acquire the essentials she needs to provide for her family.
In addition to raising a toddler, the 25-year-old mom from Oakland, California has spent over three years taking care of her mother, who has diabetes, experienced kidney failure and was on dialysis for two years before receiving a transplant from Breanna's brother. Unable to afford her own housing, Breanna lives with her mom in Livermore, along with her son, and helps with tasks like cooking, cleaning and personal care as her in-home care provider, she told The Huffington Post.
Through a California government program called In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), the young mom receives a small amount of compensation for her work.
Breanna has her own medical issues to deal with as well. In 2004, she was diagnosed with Crohn's disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that can cause abdominal pain, severe bowel issues, weight loss, fatigue and malnutrition. Though she was in remission for almost eight years, she experienced a relapse three years ago after she gave birth to her son, Jamir.
Battling the disease has been debilitating, sometimes "to the point where I couldn't do anything," the mom said.
Breanna and Jamir's father have been together for over 5 years, and they are now expecting their second child, another son due March 2. But because her pregnancy is considered high-risk, Breanna's doctor placed her on strict bed rest. As a result, she cannot care for her mother or receive the IHSS income that allowed her to support her son.
With another baby on the way, Breanna and her boyfriend feel a sense of urgency to locate affordable housing so that they can live together as a family under one roof. With help from Abode Family Services, she obtained a Section 8 voucher -- part of a government program helps low-income tenants find safe, affordable housing.
"I just went to Sacramento to the briefing, received my new voucher from Sacramento, and I actually did find an apartment there," Breanna said. "So I'm just waiting to hear back from them and see if everything goes well."
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Flora Garcia, the Abode Services coordinator at the apartment complex where Breanna lives with her mother, told The Huffington Post that she has worked closely with her. "I have helped Breanna focus on health and develop a self-sufficiency plan," she said. "If a section 8 wait list opens up, we assist our participants with completing and submitting applications. When approved, they go through an orientation and are given a voucher to find housing within the Fair Market Rents (FMR) that expires in 90 days."
Flora added that Breanna "is excited to have received an opportunity to move into her own place with her 4-year-old and the baby on the way."
For now, however, it's been a challenge to make ends meet. "I'm just struggling a lot," Breanna said. "I help my mom with some of the rent and stuff, and it's just hard. I have no money for myself at all." Though her boyfriend helps out some, it's still a struggle, she added.
In addition to the IHSS work, Breanna has worked for the past few years in customer service at California Check Cashing and in retail at a local outlet mall. But her dream is to open up her own business one day. "I want to go back to school for business entrepreneurship," she said, adding that she's already done research about which types of businesses can thrive in today's economy.
While she works toward that goal, the soon-to-be mom of two is seeking assistance in providing essentials for her new baby, like a stroller, car seat, bassinet, diapers and wipes. Any help could make a world of difference for the mom.
"I’m a good person," she said. "I’m very open, I’m very warmhearted, and I’m trustworthy." Breanna also said she considers herself a good mom who works hard to support her son, though like other parents, she says she can get irritated a little too quickly.
Ultimately, however, her son gives her hope.
"He’s very smart -- I'm not saying this just because he's my son, but I’ve never met a 3-year-old who has such a vocabulary as my son," the mom said. "He’s very intelligent, observant, a total gentleman. If you meet him in person, you’d never think he was 3. You'd think he was 8. He knows so much."
"I'm so proud of him," she added.