I get asked all the time how I "got out" of homelessness. I can feel the curiosity and anticipation from the person asking's voice; knowing that they are expecting some amazing story about "good relationships" and "accepting help from strangers" or something along those lines.
Something hopeful, maybe even sort of beautiful. They ache for the beautiful story of exiting homelessness.
But in reality, there was nothing "beautiful" about how I got out.
I was a runaway at 14, homeless by 16 and when I turned 18 I was able to work as an office temp and make better income than flipping burgers at a fast food joint (I did my time doing a gas station's graveyard shifts and cooking fries at McDonalds and flipping burgers at Wendys too).
Oh I worked. But I was never old enough to get my own place and never had enough money all at once to put down for first, last and security.
So I began dating guys with apartments. Guys I would meet in clubs. Guys that thought putting their hands on a woman was how you keep them in line. But I stayed and I took it because I wanted a place to stay and I eventually believed that this was all I truly deserved.
Until finally, at age 21 and pregnant with my third child, I had been beaten up so badly that the nurse at the hospital said she had to call the police. I begged her not to, but she cried and so I gave in. The police helped me fill out paperwork to press charges and obtain a restraining order.
He was arrested and then when released was not allowed to come near me - by law.
And for the first time in my life I felt housed and free! If someone were to knock on my door and ask me how I felt about life I would have said "FANTASTIC!" But the reality was that I was on welfare, pregnant and alone recovering from domestic violence and stalking.
This photo is me at Christmas time that year - 1994. My 21 year old new momma self holding the first child I ever took home. I felt like I was on top of the world.
And that is what trauma and abuse do to a person. When things get a little better, they believe it is the best. They have no idea the fullness of their dignity and so they always expect less than what God created them to be. Unless someone shows them and treats them differently.
Over the years, I slowly learned the fullness of my own dignity and because of that SOFESA has been helping domestic violence survivors and families learn just how special and full of dignity they are too!
Houses alone do not solve homelessness. A local community that brings the unhoused and the housed together in relationship to help one another does.
Founder & Executive Director, SOFESA
#sofesa #loveoutloud #starthere #homelessness #domesticviolence #humandignity #humasaresacred #relationshipsarevital #youaretheanswer
“Elizabeth” grew up in a hard part of town (aka the “hood”) with very little resources. Normal to her was living in the “projects” and having a relationship with social services. Her community is more drug dealers and cops than farmers markets and playgrounds and gangbanging is a career choice where she is from. She was raised by her grandma and had siblings all over the place with different relatives. Her “uncle” consistently abused her growing up.
At 14 she decided to leave and slept on the couches of friends and “relatives” to get away from her life. She wanted to be free and do her own thing. She was surrounded by others who lived the same life.
By 16 she was pregnant and started her career in the social services business. Food stamps, WIC and cash aid set her up enough to survive, so that is what she did.
By 21 she had two more kids and also two abortions. Her social services took care of them for her. But she started having suicidal thoughts and severe depression. She thought it was because she must have done something wrong in her life, maybe God didn’t love her or she just wasn’t good enough to be happy or to get ahead. So she started smoking weed, drinking a little bit more and not properly taking care of her kids.
She reached out for help here and there, but felt like everywhere she went she was just a number. She is an adult so people just expected her to know and do all the right things. She thinks help is something physical she can put her hands on (money for rent or electric bill, food, fixing her car, etc). Social services taught her that from before she could walk.
Her mental illness and manic depression got worse. She had bouts of depression that left her completely unable to care for her children and eventually, they were removed from her care. The older ones were separated among some family members, but the youngest, who was just under one, went to foster care.
Elizabeth went to every court date that she knew about, unfortunately there were more that she missed. For three years she struggled to do everything on the list the courts gave her, but she failed. Nobody could understand why. They told her everything she had to do. But she was unable to do it, to stay consistent. She didn’t understand why they were keeping her from her child, she was doing the best she could.
Elizabeth lost her parental rights to her youngest child and she is still in the same spot she was when she was 14. Emotionally and physically wounded and childless. If her story goes as most all of them do, then Elizabeth will stay in her social services career. She will most likely have more children and even more abortions. She will be abused by drug dealers and gang members and the chances of her believing that there is something different out there or that she is even worth saving are slim to none. She may end up in jail or she may take her own life, most likely with a gunshot wound to her head or heart.
Our system is BROKEN.
What Elizabeth needs is an advocate, someone who she can trust, who will be there every step of the way to give her unconditional love and support, even when she makes the wrong decisions. What Elizabeth needs is a foster FAMILY who will help take care of her child while advocating for her and helping her recover from her life wounds.
Not a foster to adopt but a FOSTER to REUNITE.
Our foster system is BROKEN. It needs renovation.
We need advocates, not more caseworkers.
We need missionaries, not more social workers.
We need relationships, not more protocols.
We need to ask ourselves and be ready to answer, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”
#sofesa #homelesslife #parentalrights #fostertoreunite
Let’s look at this hypothetical situation.
“Mary” was abused when she was young. She had a rough childhood and has somehow managed to stay alive and survive. She has had a few kids, but she only has one in her custody. That child is under 5 years old.
She has had on and off jobs, finished high school but never thought she was smart enough for college and somewhere down the line ended up losing her apartment (after her boyfriend moved out she could no longer afford it).
She drinks, but not heavily.
She smokes weed to go numb from the pain, but not regularly.
She has trusted and been hurt. She has been hurt very badly.
Now, she and her child are homeless. They have been living out of her car for almost a year.
She manages to find emergency shelter and is relieved that her and her child are now in a room instead of the car and “safe.”
She shares her feelings of despair, loneliness and dread with the counselor. The difficulties she feels trying to raise her child in the situations she is in. Next thing she knows, the POLICE are there asking her to check into a clinic to get “help.”
She panics. She is terrified. Her child now must be removed from her. She obliges and goes.
72 hours she is in getting “help.”
She leaves with a horrific and traumatizing experience and a prescription for Zoloft.
She is at the end of her rope.
CPS now has a file on her and her child. If this goes as most of the other stories go, she will eventually lose her child. Someone who is “fostering to adopt” will be the child’s new parent and you can add that trauma and pain to Mary’s wounds.
Mary will most likely stay homeless (now she has no reason to go on fighting), she will drink more, smoke weed more or even get into harder drugs to numb the pain. These addictions will keep her in the cycle of drug/alcohol abuse and on the streets that leads to a life of abuse and prostitution.
Folks, Mary did what we asked her to do.
We asked her to call 2-1-1. She did.
We asked her to come into emergency shelter. She did.
We asked her to be honest and open and share what her needs are. She did.
And what did that get her? A bottle of Zoloft and a CPS file.
In my 21 years on the streets, those results are never good.
Our system is BROKEN.
We need ADVOCATES, not more caseworkers.
We need MISSIONARIES, not more social workers.
We need to be more concerned for Mary’s life and soul than we are about bottom lines, government grant processes and protocols.
#sofesa #homelesslife #parentalrights #advocates #missionaries
Jess Echeverry is a women and family ADVOCATE, speaker and author. She has 20+ years of Executive Director experience with a demonstrated history of working in the non-profit organization management industry. She has first hand experience with homelessness and other social justice topics that give her the perspective and understanding needed to successfully help others.