I saw Niquel Furtick on Saturday, walking ahead of me on the bike path that runs by my house. She was wearing a scrub top and jeans, listening to music on earphones attached to her phone, and frequently mopping her neck with a handkerchief to deal with the August heat.
Niquel is used to walking. She’s a personal care assistant who visits clients’ homes to cook and clean and help them with daily tasks like showering. But she doesn’t have a car, so she walks from assignment to assignment. She said her company helps her by finding clients within a reasonable distance of her home and scheduling appointments so she has an hour to walk from one to another.
Niquel said the work is better than customer service jobs she’s had in the past. It pays better, and the mostly elderly people she works for are usually happy to see a friendly face.
But there are also downsides. Sometimes a client cancels, which means Niquel doesn’t get paid. That makes it hard to know how much money she’ll see in a paycheck. And while she only works around 30 hours a week, her schedule can be odd.
“For me to be able to come home with a decent check, I have to put in a whole lot of different hours,” she said.
Niquel wishes her hours were different so she could be home with her kids after school. She has a six-year-old and a 14-year-old. The teenager is the one who takes care of the younger child when she’s working. He’s usually willing to help out, she said, but sometimes he wants to do other things after school.
“I try to explain to him it’s just me and you,” she said. “It’s just the three of us.”
When I ask Niquel what she’s listening to on her headphones, and she says her teenager made her a mix. She likes R&B, while he’s more into rap, she said, but she likes to hear what he’s listening to. She thinks it’s important to monitor the music and TV the kids like.
Niquel moved from Boston to Nashua three years ago because she thought it would be a better environment for her kids, and she thinks it is. They like school here more than they did in the big city, and they’re now more interested in playing outside.
The family’s financial situation is precarious. Niquel said they had been receiving food stamps, but someone told the authorities she was using them to buy tobacco, and they were cut off. Niquel says she doesn’t understand why there wasn’t more of an investigation before the benefit was canceled.
“I have a hard time as it is,” she said. “I’m not going to use the food stamps I feed my kids with to buy tobacco products.”
Without the food stamps, she sometimes gets groceries from food pantries, but they don’t provide much of the items she needs most. In a week, she said, she might get one package of meat, enough for a single meal. When food is low, she said, she still tries to provide for the kids.
“I’m the one that’s not eating much,” she said. “Sometimes it’s hard because you get dizzy from not eating.”