One single mom shares her story: 'I had nothing — but I made it through'

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

Marilyn Quiles was living in a hotel with her two young daughters when her husband left.

With him working in the construction field, it was routine for Quiles to not see her husband for long spans of time as he traveled to different jobs. At first, she figured his disappearance was nothing more than routine.

But the passing days without hearing from him turned to weeks. 

Then, an entire month.

He never returned.

“I was left in the hotel with my two girls,” Quiles said. “I was crying and sobbing for months. I remember my daughter being 4 years old, and she said to me, ‘Mommy, don’t worry, I’m going to take care of you.’”

Marilyn Quiles, of Hanover, poses for a photo on Monday, March 20, 2023. Tina Locurto photo.

In York County, single-parent families like Quiles' make up 31% of all households with children, according to 2021 Federal Reserve Economic data. That's roughly on par with statewide and national data, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

With no money, few marketable skills and small children to care for, Quiles became unhoused as she struggled to survive. She eventually entered Bell Socialization Service's Bridge Transitional Housing Program to seek help.

"It was hard — it was really hard," Quiles recalled. "I met, along the way, great people. I did jobs in Red Lion; I did jobs in a warehouse."

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The rehabilitative housing program provided by Bell is a long-term option for unhoused families to gain basic living skills and secure independent living.

Though the Bell Shelter program was life-saving for Quiles and her two daughters, it came with its own set of hardships.

Marilyn Quiles, of Hanover, poses for a photo on Monday, March 20, 2023. Tina Locurto photo.

Quiles remembers hiding tiny jugs of milk and cups of cereal in her purse for her children — which goes against food rules in place to prevent pests. But when your child is hungry, what can you say?

"With young children being hungry, it's horrible," Quiles said. "I needed to do what I needed to do to keep them calm."

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Quiles remained in the Bell Bridge Program for a year. Along the way, she developed life and work skills and applied for several local human services roles.

This includes her present job at the York County Assistance Office as an emergency assistance worker.

Since the role is a seasonal job — from September to February — Quiles often takes up other county positions during the spring and summer seasons.

"I didn't know anybody then, but I got to know a lot of great people," she said. "I wouldn't have done all those things if it had not been for those resources. My girls are grown now; my girls have excellent grades, and I'm still a single mom."

Reflecting back on the blood, sweat and tears Quiles poured into gaining a better life for her children, she said it's hard to think back on how she made it out.

"How do these parents do it? That's why they give up," she added. "But I said: 'I can't do it because I don't have any other way.'"

Quiles now lives in Hanover with her daughters, 16-year-old Annabella and 15-year-old Natalie.

When she first graduated from Bell's Bridge Program, she only had a tiny dining table she purchased for $25 on the corner of Princess and Queen streets.

"I still remember it now," Quiles recalled. "Sometimes if I go back to that place, I still feel that pain."

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Four months after her husband abandoned her in 2013, he called Quiles on Mother's Day. She took the call while at Bell Shelter and simply told him he had a lot of nerve to call her then.

That was the last time Quiles spoke to him.

He could not be reached for comment on this story.

"I had nothing — I was left on the street by their dad," Quiles said. "But I made it through."