Words by Meher Khan
“How would your life change if you got sick? If medical couldn’t cover your bills? If you had to give all your money to medical? What would you do? Would you know where to go for help? Would you ask for help?”
Before her injury, Jennifer never could have imagined herself homeless. “I knew homelessness existed, but I guess I just didn’t give it any thought, and if I did, it was like, ‘Why are they homeless? They can work. They look like they can work.’ But it’s more than what you look like.” Just like in Jennifer’s situation, it could happen to anyone, at any time, and for any reason.
Jennifer was working three jobs when a back injury, exacerbated by the physical demands of her job in healthcare, led to a broken back and an inability to work. As her medical bills piled up, she found herself out of a home and living in her car.
“We’re paychecks away from the same situation,” says Evelyn Combs, Client Advocate Director.
It took Jennifer a long time before she could ask for help. After trying several shelters, she was more inclined to sleep on the street than face the conditions within those walls. Then one day, as she drove past House of Charity, something told her she should go inside. She had no idea what it was or what services they provided; she only knew that she needed to get inside before she froze to death. An hour later, she circled back and walked through the door.
For many people experiencing homelessness, pride often gets in the way of asking for help. In order to get out of the situation she was in, Jennifer had to ask for help, and for somebody who had been independently supporting herself, that was a difficult task. But House of Charity takes a unique approach with each of its clients who walk through the door.
“They made me feel like I was worthy of being here. ‘Yes we know you’re homeless…That doesn’t make you ugly, that doesn’t make you somebody else.’ Once they broke that barrier, that’s when I felt like ‘Ok, they’re really gonna help me.’ The next step was changing my attitude, and the following step was learning what I’m getting ready to do.” By addressing Jennifer’s internal struggles, House of Charity opened her up to not only surviving, but also progressing and thriving.
House of Charity is so much more than a charity or a shelter. Under one roof, there are services to address mental, physical, and emotional concerns, plus a highly qualified and invested staff who is willing to reach beyond his or her scope of work to find help and answers.
“I’ve never gotten an ‘I can’t help you.’ Even when I first came here and there was no room, they told me they’d get me in when they could.”
Equally important to the services House of Charity provides is the network it’s helped to create. “Community building and networking is important because we can’t do everything here, but it’s important to know where to send people to get help,” says Evelyn. “After the economy failed, a lot of resources went away. It was important for staff to know where to send people, or that an [organization’s] address was valid, because sometimes it takes somebody’s last $2 to get to that place.”
Once Jennifer was ready for the next step, House of Charity had even more resources to help her get there. Jennifer tapped into House of Charity’s other services including their Food Centre, other food shelves, doctors, and disability.
“My case manager was like a mini therapist; I used her ear and her professionalism to get some things off of my chest. I used their classes: financial budgeting, how to be a good neighbor, how to sign a lease, what an addendum to a lease was. I felt pretty damn smart.” The next hurdle for Jennifer, one which she never expected when she walked through the door of House of Charity, was finding an apartment.
Jennifer’s case manager was with her every step of the way during her housing search. Having the support of House of Charity was critical; as barriers to obtaining housing came up, House of Charity was there to tell Jennifer why something didn’t work out, and went one step further to help her address that barrier and prepare for the next search.
“The day I went to look at my apartment and I had my case manager with me, it was incredible. She vouched for me and I was accepted. Not only are they present, but they’re advocating on your behalf, and they know you.”
As of today, Jennifer has been in her apartment for three years and continues to use House of Charity’s services to progress and thrive.
“I’m getting there. I’m a work in progress. I love the independence, but I’ve still got a lot of work to do within myself, mentally, within my community, but I have that support.” When asked what kind of community House of Charity builds, Jennifer’s answer is simple:
“It looks like success. It looks like happy people, independent people. It’s a beautiful sight to see.”
House of Charity is so proud of Jennifer and what she has accomplished. She is a true testament to the spirit of hope and a better tomorrow. It is with that spirit of hope House of Charity is pleased to announce its Expanding Hope Campaign for a new building and expansion of services. Please visit HouseofCharity.org and consider making a donation to help transform the lives of others like Jennifer.