Reporter’s Notebook: Covering One Family Through Homelessness, Pregnancy and Addiction

Reporter Joy Diaz reflects on what she learned from Courtney Meeks, William Welch and their child.

By Joy DiazDecember 27, 2016 2:02 pm,

The Standard has been following Courtney Meeks and William Welch since January. Joy Diaz has reported on their pregnancy, search for housing, child’s birth, navigation of the child welfare system, and attempted recovery from addiction. Listen to Diaz’ latest story and a discussion of addiction, recovery and navigating CPS, in the audio players above.

I remember the day I met Courtney Meeks clearly. It was October of 2014. She was flying a cardboard sign at the corner of a busy intersection in Austin and out of the corner of my eye I realized she was pregnant.

I was driving in the opposite direction. So, I pulled over at the first spot I could and ran towards her. While I ran I was thinking about the words I would say. “Hello, I’m a reporter and would like to interview you because you are pregnant.”

No, that was too simple and too straightforward. “Hello, I’m a radio reporter and I would like to interview you not once, not twice, but follow you around because pregnancy and homelessness are two social challenges that I’d like our listeners to know more about. But it’s really tough to convey how challenging it actually is because people who are homeless and pregnant do not want to talk about it.” No, I’m going to freak her out.

I finally just said I was a radio reporter and I knew she probably didn’t want to talk to me but I thought her story was worth telling. She graciously agreed to talk.

Courtney Meeks thought she was eight months pregnant, but she hadn’t had any prenatal care so wasn’t sure how far along she was. She opened up about the good, the bad and the ugly of her situation. She introduced me to her fiancé William Welch and together they told the complicated story of mental health and drug addiction; the challenging story of giving birth and having your child taken away by CPS because you are on drugs.

Through Courtney and William’s journey I learned that homelessness is not just about the lack of affordable housing in Texas, even though the state needs more than half a million affordable units just to meet current demand. But homelessness is also about people who have criminal records, in part because we criminalize homelessness, in part because people who are sick from addictions will lie, steal and cheat to feed their addiction. There are very few employers and very few landlords who will take a chance on people with records.

Their story also taught me there is a host of non-profits through Texas who are working tirelessly against all odds to provide for men and women like William and Courtney. They do the unbelievable, the impossible, they are unsung heroes because the necessary resources are not there and yet, through pull and tug they find a way to fulfill needs.

I learned that there is a huge disparity nationwide on the number of resources that are available to men and resources that are available to women addicts. As challenging as recovery is, it is relatively easier for a man than it is for a woman to recover because there are virtually no resources for women.

For example, the Salvation Army runs the largest network of free rehabilitation services nationwide. In Austin, for decades, they’ve had a rehab center for men. It houses a couple hundred men at any given time. Right now, they are getting ready to build a center for women. It is significantly smaller than the one for men, but it’s a start. I don’t say this as a criticism to the Salvation Army. I say it to paint a picture of how inequitable the services for women are when compared to the services for men.

The first story we aired about Courtney Meeks and William Welch was in January of 2015 when Courtney was still pregnant. It was a challenging time because miscarriages are common among women who are not housed. So, I followed them for about a year.

I reported on their ups and downs. I reported on how, months after the baby was born, they are still struggling to get their baby back. I reported on how Courtney got admitted into a program called Family Drug Court. It has a very limited number of spots but is comprehensive. The program tries to help people stay out of jail while they navigate Child Protective Services and stay sober and clean.

This series was not meant to be a fairy tale story. This series was rough and did not have a happy ending. It didn’t even have an ending. Courtney and William’s story is ongoing.

What this story was – was a rare glimpse into the realities of people in the streets and their uphill battles.

And I was truly humbled to be a part of it.