Alicia Ponce-Myers should be swimming. Or playing basketball with her friends.
At the very least the 12-year-old from Tonasket, Wash., should have been able to enjoy summer Bible camp: she raised $235 by washing cars, working a spaghetti feed and other tasks in order to go.
Instead she has spent the past month in a hospital bed undergoing treatment for a cancer of the blood and bone marrow called childhood acute lymphoblastic leukemia.
The fight has gone well. Alicia’s cancer is in remission and she is set to be discharged this week.
And yet she cries about what’s next: a potential placement into a foster home as early as this weekend.
Her family is homeless and her parents don’t have jobs. They have no means to pay rent and are saddled with poor credit. Each has nonviolent criminal convictions that limit their eligibility for some types of government aid, though they have spent many years on welfare and other types of assistance.
Alicia’s stepfather, Daniel Angell, says he struggles to work because of his own problems stemming from mild Asperger’s syndrome. Her mother, Brooke Angell, is 34 and has had five children. Brooke Angell’s oldest, born when she was a teen, was taken away for adoption. Another child lives with his father. Alicia and little sisters 11-year-old Samara and 9-year-old Eva Ponce-Myers lived in a tent with their parents in the forested fringe of Tonasket until an emergency helicopter whisked Alicia away to Providence Sacred Heart Children’s Hospital on July 5.
It’s a family that needs money; a home; a ticket out of destitution. They believe Alicia will recover best in their care.
State social workers with the Department of Social and Health Services’ Children’s Administration are attempting to put together a plan to ensure Alicia is released into a stable environment where she can receive follow-up care for a minimum of nine months.
“My parents are trying really hard to find a home,” Alicia said this week, “but our luck isn’t very good.”
The scenario can be interpreted as a complicated weave of competing good intentions.
Today the family of five is huddled in a subsidized hotel room while Alicia prepares for surgery and then discharge.
“Here we are about to get over this mountain,” Daniel Angell said, “and yet it’s going to be bittersweet.
“We don’t want to be separated.”
Connie Lambert-Eckel, deputy regional administrator for DSHS, said that while she couldn’t comment directly on Alicia’s case, the agency attempts to help both child and parents.
“Our responsibility is to do our level best to keep children with their families of origin unless there are circumstances that dictate otherwise,” she said.
In this case there have been no allegations of abuse or neglect – just homelessness.
“In and of itself homelessness does not constitute a basis for removing a child from their parents,” Lambert-Eckel said. “I am concerned about this family. It is in the child’s and everyone’s best interest to stay with her family.”
There are many state and private assistance programs to help families in such predicaments.
Daniel Angell said he checked into housing assistance and was stymied.
“Some agencies in Spokane weren’t even willing to work with us. Didn’t call us back,” he said.
If foster care is approved as the best scenario for Alicia, the Angells are told to expect to have ample time with their daughter, including time at home and at doctor and therapy appointments.
They are skeptical.
“We don’t know what might unfold,” Daniel Angell said.
The Angells are quick to acknowledge that they don’t want to jeopardize Alicia’s recovery. They hope that they can scrape together enough money to rent a place then use Alicia’s upcoming $670 monthly Social Security allowance to keep the family housed as she recovers and they try to find other money through other types of government assistance or maybe finding work.
Several charities, family members and other people have promised help, and the Angells hope that even more might be coming.
While her parents scramble to find suitable housing, Alicia is getting better every day, beating back the leukemia that is among the most common cancers afflicting children.
She has goals to climb stairs without using a railing and perhaps yet squeeze some fun from the remaining weeks of summer.
“I want to get strong,” she said, “and go home with my family.”