Niki’s Story: Coming Back After a Decade

By LIFT on October 10, 2013

Categories: Our Work, Real Stories

If you met Niki Davis at a party, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear she’s an artist. Her bohemian chic clothes and easy laughter give her away as a creative spirit. But behind those sparkling hazel eyes are more than fifty years of pain. She suffered a grim network of circumstances including the devastating financial and emotional impact that the AIDS epidemic had on her career and family, the progression of a long-standing diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse, and the budget cuts to social services. She sought support and collaboration.

An army brat whose family settled in Washington, D.C., Niki graduated from the Duke Ellington School of the Arts and then attended the Philadelphia College of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. She launched a successful career on the West Coast but relocated to Brooklyn in the late 1980s. During this period, she grappled with the diagnosis of bipolar disorder, and the medication robbed her of her artistic gifts. “The pills disconnected my ability to dream,” she says, “and interfered with my hand-eye coordination. I’m finally coming back after a lost decade.”

“Coming back” meant returning to her hometown and first confronting, then healing her psychic wounds: A brother who died in a fall. Memories of the physical and sexual abuse she experienced as a child. Traumatizing psychiatric institutionalization. And an intensive recovery treatment.

“When I first came to LIFT,” Niki recalls, “I was technically homeless, renting bedrooms when I could and couch surfing when I couldn’t.” She waited months for approval for low-income efficiencies only to find that they were bed bug infested and surrounded by drug traffickers. “I came to LIFT in a state of acute distress,” she says. “My advocate and I worked on the basic question, ‘What do we do?’” Niki and her advocate took the steps needed to avoid overwhelming her. They worked on organization, action steps and follow-throughs. They investigated the resources which ultimately led Niki to find a first-time homebuyers program that helped her secure a condominium through special financing for low-income DC residents. Niki continued visiting LIFT because she needed help with the mortgage paperwork. She laughs ruefully at the memory. “Pre-deed information questionnaire—what in the world is that?”

The terms of Niki’s mortgage entail strict financial guidelines, and foreclosure has befallen many other first-time homebuyers who initially found stable housing. “LIFT helps me maintain being a homeowner,” smiles Niki. This new-found stability has allowed her both to secure employment as a yoga instructor in the recovery field and to resurrect her artistic life.