Ebony Rhodes seems to be a typical mom, trying to do the best by her kids. But when she drove them to the library to study for their exams, the mother couldn’t have predicted that she would be pulled over by the cops. She knew that her license had expired, but that was far from her biggest problem. In the trunk, Rhodes had hidden a deep, dark secret.
Rhodes, a mom of four from Atlanta, Georgia, worked hard to provide everything she could for her kids. She had a job at a local store to keep them fed and clothed. And when they needed to focus on their studies, she drove them to the library.
On their way to the library, however, Rhodes was pulled over by the local police. She knew that she was in trouble and immediately began to well up. “[The officer] came to the car and asked why I was crying,” Rhodes recalled in an interview with CNN in March 2018. “And I was like, ‘Because I know my license isn’t good.’”
But despite her obvious remorse, Rhodes’ punishment was far harsher than a warning or fine. In fact, her car was impounded and the attending officer arrested her. A colleague of Rhodes then came to collect her kids, while Rhodes’ sister traveled from Florida to pick them up.
As she sat in her jail cell, though, the mom of four’s story began to circulate around the Atlanta Police Department. You see, to Rhodes, it wasn’t just a car that had been impounded. And as police examined the vehicle further, they realized that she had been hiding a dark secret from the world.
After word of what officers had found spread, the story reached Deputy Chief Jeff Glazier. Everything was not as it had first appeared, then, and he felt compelled to learn more about the woman and her situation. And after doing so, according to CNN he had said to his wife, “We have to do something about this.”
Initially, everything had appeared normal on the surface. Rhodes showed up to work every day, and her kids were keeping up with school. But each evening when she clocked off from the store, something was happening that the mom had kept hidden from her colleagues.
“When I got off work, we would just sleep right there in the parking lot in my car,” Rhodes told Channel 2 Action News in December 2017. “A lot of people didn’t know that, because I was still going to work.” So to this mom and her four kids, they’d had a lot more than a car taken away; they had in fact lost their home.
When Rhodes hadn’t been able to scrape together the deposit for a condo the year before, the hard-working mom found that she had no options left. She and her kids – three teenage brothers, Calvin, Jaheame and Issac, and their 11-year-old sister Danniaja – loaded their belongings into their 1997 Buick.
The car was, quite literally, their home. They ate together there; they’d play video games and hang out. And at the end of the day, they would sleep in the vehicle. Seemingly, this wasn’t ideal, but Rhodes couldn’t find any shelters that would accept whole families, so it was the only way they could stick together.
But there were yet more things that Rhodes had to contend with. It was a struggle finding a safe place to park each night; Rhodes’ kids’ attendance records at school were suffering too. All in all, then, this probably wasn’t the way that the mother had wanted to bring up her children. Yet while she was only working a low-paid job, it was at least enough to make sure her youngsters were clothed and fed and that the gas tank was full.
And, in total, the family lived in the car for six months – right up until the vehicle was impounded. “That’s the worst I ever felt, not being able to provide for my kids like I should be,” Rhodes explained to CNN. “Because as a mother that’s your job.” But as it turned out, it may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Rhodes family.
Word of the case got through to officer Glazier from a colleague who, like Rhodes, was a single mom herself. And as luck would have it, Glazier had recently encountered the head of a shelter for homeless families. Wanting to help the mom and her four children, the deputy therefore picked up the phone.
And thankfully there was enough space for the Rhodes family, despite it being a busy time of year. Glazier couldn’t wait to share the news. “When he called me that day, I just started crying,” Rhodes told CNN. “Because I’d been trying to get into different shelters for a long time. No one would ever accept us.”
But Glazier still wasn’t satisfied. “You know, staying in a shelter is not optimal,” he told CNN. “I considered that the whole time just to be a short-term solution for this family. Because even those conditions weren’t great by any stretch of the imagination.” So, the officer was determined to do more.
Glazier dug a little deeper and got to know the family. He learned about the challenges that Rhodes faces and became firm friends with her and the kids. “For the last year I’ve watched this strong woman raise her children in the most difficult conditions,” he told AJC News in December 2017.
Indeed, there are still challenges that threaten the Rhodes family’s stability. The mom of four sometimes gets ill, but if she doesn’t work, she doesn’t get paid. On top of that, her daughter has lupus and severely impaired vision, while one of her boys struggles with asthma and learning difficulties.
Although the eldest of the Rhodes clan – 17-year-old Calvin – goes to work in the evenings as soon as high school is over, Glazier remained concerned about the family’s needs. And so he set up a GoFundMe page to create a “safety net” for Rhodes in times of difficulty.
With the funds raised, Glazier has ensured that the Rhodes family have a year of rent and bills paid in advance. They also got another car when the Buick broke down. Moreover, the mother was able to spend some time with her son Jaheame when he suffered horrific burns in an accident early in 2018.
“If you talk to Ebony and you watch her, she has a great work ethic,” Glazier told CNN. “It’s just that she was sick. And so, when you’re sick you can’t work, and you can’t make any money. When I first met her, she had two jobs… trying to do the right thing. She’s trying to earn money for her family.”