Kristen and Heather are sisters. They are college students at Spokane Community College (SCC), they are single mothers, and they’re each other’s biggest supporters.
They are also homeless. They had lived at the Open Doors shelter for about two weeks when I met them in mid-August.
We sat on a park bench outside the shelter so that the sisters could keep an eye on their children on the playground. Kristen began telling me her story:
“I left Wenatchee because my daughter’s dad has a substance abuse problem and [there was] domestic violence." She got a place in Spokane, but missed rent when she had to buy a car to get to school. Her landlord wasn't willing to wait for the payment.
This was not her first time being homeless. Kristen continued, "We were homeless a lot when we were kids with my mom. So it’s kind of been a whole life-long, up-and-down thing.” Kristen shared that her mom was also homeless because of domestic violence. She worries this repeating pattern will affect her children.
Kristen’s sister, Heather, has a five-year-old daughter. She came up to say a shy hello on the park bench and sat with us. Heather told me about how one morning they woke up to her daughter’s father gone: “He kissed my daughter goodbye while she was still sleeping and then the next day he wasn’t coming back.”
Kristen told me about being a student while staying at the shelter: “Getting through the quarter—we’re literally in the shelter over here, using the hotspots on our phone, trying to use our laptops while everybody’s sleeping, trying to get papers done, our finals week stuff. [Family Promise] was really supportive of it though. Usually you have to have your electronics off and they’re like, ‘Oh no, get it done.’ So we did it.”
“A month and a half ago I would have never guessed that I would have been here,” Heather added. “I was—in July—living normally, got my financial aid, got caught up on my bills.”
“You feel like you’re doing everything right, and then the rug just gets ripped from underneath you. And stuff happens, it’s like a snowball,” said Kristen.
Like her sister, Heather fears that her daughter will fall into the cycle of homelessness: "I want
to break the cycle for my daughter. That’s why no matter what I was going through within the last month and a half, I pushed myself to keep going to school and still maintain my grades. That way I can eventually have a future for her…She’s my main motivation."
I asked Heather what she would like people to know about her story: “When you see homeless people, it’s not just about drugs or alcoholism or it’s people being lazy. It’s actually people who just have a string of bad luck. And for those who are going through it, who are trying their hardest: There is hope."
Update: Heather and Kristin’s families, due to their hard work and partnership with Family Promise of Spokane, are now stably housed in their own apartment. They’re looking forward to finishing their degrees and continuing to build a wonderful life for their kids.
Written by FPS Intern 8/23/2019
Photos were not included at the request of Kristin & Heather.