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Written by Jane Sutherland-Farstrider

When you walk into the Family Promise administration office, you’ll likely run into Janet Bray, a soft-spoken woman with kind eyes and a warmth reminiscent of home-cooked meals and cozy bedtime stories.


Janet’s been with Family Promise as Rental Assistance Liaison and Prevention Intake Specialist for about a year; and like many others on the team, she’s no stranger to the troubles that bring people through those doors. But Janet grew up at a time when resources for families struggling to make ends meet in Spokane were few, and Family Promise didn’t yet exist.


“When I was a kid we were really poor, so when my parents couldn’t pay the rent, in the middle of the night we’d just leave,” Janet says. At one point their family of eight spent six months living in a run-down motel in Airway Heights.


“They always seemed to take us into small places. We lived in Waverly, Washington, and we just got to run free and do whatever we wanted. No one knew what was going on. I don’t remember my dad being home much, but my mom was always home and there were always people coming and going. I don’t sleep very much at night because night was never safe.”


That lack of safety and family support shaped her drastically, and Janet can’t remember a time when she didn’t feel like a parent. At eight years old, Janet says she was already working at a recycling center and babysitting ― often overnight ― to earn money. She recalls one long night when she was babysitting and had to call the police because someone was trying to break into the house. “So yeah,” she says, “I didn’t have a childhood.”


Janet had learned to read at a very young age, and loved getting lost in books. The Velveteen Rabbit was a particular favorite. With that love for reading and a desire for structure, school soon became her safe space, despite often being picked on by other kids.

“I knew I was going to eat at school because we got free lunch, and I started to play sports. I was a pretty angry kid, because when your basic needs aren’t being met, there are behaviors that come out ― going to school, being the poor kid in dirty clothes. You can be poor, but you don’t have to be dirty.”


In 4th grade one of Janet’s teachers allowed her to come to class early and gave her breakfast while she helped correct assignments. Then after school, she’d allow Janet to stay late and would give her a snack. “I was safe at school,” she says. “When I started playing sports it was way better. Even though I bounced from school to school, I knew people because I was playing sports and I was pretty good.”


“When I was 11 years old, my parents divorced and we had to find a place to live, and dad just bounced around,” she says.


“My mom just didn’t want us. She just packed up and left. We came home one day and she was gone. She took my sister, Mary, because Mary had a different dad. My mom had nine children, but we didn’t all live together; just six at a time. The first three she just left too. She just walked out, and who knows how many times she did that when I was a baby, because I don’t ever remember her taking care of me.”


Janet says that after the divorce, her father was unprepared for the challenges of single parenthood, and their situation became even more fragile. “My dad didn’t always let us go to school because he was so worried about my mom and her boyfriend trying to kidnap us,” Janet says. “It was a huge ordeal, always. I think in seventh grade I went to four different schools.”


These moves weren’t just within the city, either. Janet’s father would move the family to the Seattle area for a while, only to come back to Spokane or Deer Park. “It was just all over the place,” Janet says. “I ran away in 7th grade and ended up at the Crisis Residential Center (CRC), and I remember them asking me, ‘Why are you here? You’re a clean kid, you don’t do drugs; you follow the rules.’ I ran away because my dad wasn’t in a good state of mind.”


CRCs are short term facilities for young runaways and kids in conflict with their families. According to the Washington State Department of Children, Youth & Families website, these crisis centers don’t allow teens to stay for more than 15 consecutive days, with counselors working to reunite families and help them resolve conflicts.


Rather than returning home, Janet and another girl at the center briefly ran away together, and Janet ended up getting a little more time at the facility because she didn’t want to go back. “It wasn’t stable,” Janet says. Running away at least gave her a little control, and she thought, “we’re going to have to move soon again, because he can’t pay the rent.”


“It’s hard too,” she adds, “when you’re a girl just living with your dad and he doesn’t have money to buy feminine hygiene products. So I got picked up for stealing tampons. I didn't get arrested or anything, but they stopped me and talked to me. They gave me resources for where to go.”


Despite it all, Janet doesn’t blame her dad when she looks back on those days when the only person she could rely on was often herself. “My dad wasn’t actually a horrible person,” she says, “he just wasn’t capable of being a parent by himself, with the way his life went.”


Janet explains that her father didn’t do drugs or drink, but he had a nervous breakdown that seemed to affect him long afterward. “He wasn’t a horrible person. To me, he got abusive because I was the only girl in the house, and some of that is that he didn’t have the resources to control that. No excuses, but I just don’t think he was capable.”


“When I was 14 we actually became homeless,” Janet says. “We didn’t have a home to live in, so my dad went to my grandma’s and us kids were just given to people in our church to stay with until we could get into a home. He never found a place, so I went to a foster home.”


Janet continues, “he was so wrapped up with my brothers that my needs weren’t being met. I wanted to stay in foster care and was kind of relieved when I got to ― because I knew where I was going to sleep. I knew when I was going to have breakfast, and that I could go to school.”


“When I went into foster care I was like, ‘I have a bed? With sheets on it?’ Because we didn’t always have sheets. We didn’t always have clean clothes. We didn’t always have running water because they didn’t pay the bill. We didn’t always have food.”


Her time in that home didn’t last, though. When Janet and another girl staying there got in trouble with their foster parents for drinking, Janet lost her placement. “I had never met my case worker before, but she placed me back with my dad. Two months later, my dad left and he didn’t take me. So the people he was working with just kept me and became licensed to be my foster parents.” She was a junior in high school.


Being left again was crushing, but Janet says that knowing exactly where she’d be until she was done with high school gave her a little bit of relief.


“Now foster kids get a guardian ad litem, and then when they’re 12 they get an attorney. I didn’t have that. Like I said, I only spoke to my case worker once, from 14 to 18. One time. My foster parents got some money for me every month, but that was all we knew. Oh, and they had to have permission if I left the state,” she adds. “That was it.”


During the next couple of years, Janet settled into her new life as well as she could, pouring herself into school and volleyball. She was an outside hitter, and she did well enough to earn a scholarship at Spokane Falls Community College.


Janet went to Europe with her volleyball team the summer she turned 18, but when she got back, her foster family had moved away without her. “To me, it was pretty traumatic,” Janet says. We knew they were moving, but I had thought it would be after. So they’d packed up all my stuff and moved me into a studio apartment. I had parents … and then, again, I didn’t have any parents.”


“In foster care you age out and they don’t really have anything for you. You just age out. There’s no support. I had my foster parents, but they had their own kids and they had moved away. Nothing was stable enough,” she says. “People would come and then they would just leave, and you’re by yourself. So yeah, I have huge abandonment issues.”


With her life turned upside down, maintaining stability on her own at 18 was a tall order. “I kinda bounced from place to place for a while after that, because I didn’t know what to do. I was a senior in high school, and I could write my own notes to miss school,” Janet says. She explains that although she wanted to keep going, the pressure of doing it all on her own doubled when she lost her studio apartment and briefly had to stay at her sister’s house before finding a roommate.


Janet moved in with a friend, but when her new housemate impulsively decided to move to Iowa, she convinced Janet to come along. “I left school ― a full ride scholarship ― and went to Iowa with her. Then when we got there, we had nothing, so I worked three jobs to get a bus ticket to go back home. But then I was just homeless again and was sleeping on people’s couches and floors. I was 19. So some of my life choices weren’t the best.”


Back in Spokane, Janet reconnected with a boy she had met earlier that year, and soon they started dating. “When I came back, we actually went to California for him to finish high school with his mom, and I shared a room with his sister.”


The two of them got married and started a family of their own. From the beginning, Janet was determined to give her own children the things she didn’t have growing up, especially the simple, everyday needs we don’t really think about. “I made sure my girls were always stocked [on feminine hygiene products], even if they didn’t need them,” Janet says. “Or toilet paper ― I never let it go down to just one pack in the house ― and toothbrushes, because I didn’t always have a toothbrush. So now I have extra toothbrushes like crazy, and laundry soap. I have a hard time budgeting because I was never taught how to budget. I lived most of my life in survival mode.”


“We kinda bounced around with our kids quite a bit until [my husband] found a job in Wyoming … but our kids always had a stable home. They never had to worry about where they’d end up.”


Even so, childhood wounds had a way of resurfacing in painful ways. “When we were younger and I was pregnant with my children we got state medical [coverage]. So when I had my children, they automatically drug tested me and told me I had to have a home nurse or they’d take my children,” Janet says. “Because I was raised in the welfare system. Because of my parents. I had never been in trouble or anything, but I was made to feel like I wasn’t worthy of being a mom just because of my childhood.”


“At first I was really angry, but then I was like, ‘they’re just wanting to make sure my kids are protected and safe,’ and I took advantage of having that home nurse come over,” Janet says. Even though they were living with her in-laws at the time, that extra support meant she could take little breaks and uninterrupted showers more often than she could have otherwise.


“We didn’t always have a lot of money for our kids, but they never had to go to school in dirty clothes or hungry,” Janet says. She also made sure her kids were able to do lots of extracurricular activities, and coached her daughters’ volleyball teams for years. She has very strong opinions on the importance of good athletic shoes, and says that’s one thing she always buys new for her kids and grandkids.


Janet says their 25-year marriage was difficult, but she and her now ex-husband stayed together until their kids were grown. Sometimes Janet wonders if she did the right thing, staying for so long even though things weren’t healthy. “I always wanted to be a mom, and I wanted my kids to have a dad,” she says.


(Pictured: Janet with her three adult children)


Amidst a particularly dark period for Janet, their relationship ended. “Five years ago I divorced and moved home, back to Washington, and stayed with my best friend for six months. I got a job and then I was on my own ― for the first time ever in my life I found myself in my own apartment,” she says. “I’ve always worked. I’ve always had two or three jobs … I have a really strong work ethic, so if I want something I’m going to work for it.”


Janet had spent 20 years teaching preschool, but didn’t want to go back to the classroom, so the first niche she found in Spokane was with Fulcrum Dispute Resolution Clinic. “I was doing supervised visits and transporting foster kids,” she says. “I used to drive 700 miles a week driving foster kids to visit their parents.“


She explains that it felt good to help provide safe, supervised visits for kids who couldn’t live with their parents ― something she never had when she was younger. “When I was in 7th grade my mom got arrested, and I couldn’t have unsupervised visits with her until after I was 18. There was no program around for someone to sit there and do my visits. My foster dad would take me to see her, but it wasn’t like that time I would have gotten with [official] supervised visits.“


Janet also worked with Fulcrum’s eviction resolution program, helping people who were at risk of losing their housing. After an extensive search for a better long-term fit, Janet landed her current role at Family Promise.


Now, she gets to use her experience to help families navigate challenges her own family faced; connecting them with vital resources, motivation, and a good amount of empathy. “I think I understand where people are coming from, but I also know how to empower them,” she says.


Sometimes, Janet says, it’s as simple as encouraging people to communicate with their landlords when they are struggling to pay rent. She’s found that most landlords are willing to work out solutions with their tenants, and long as they communicate honestly.


Janet says she often wonders how things might have been different when she first became homeless with her dad, if they’d had the resources that exist today. “Even if those resources are there, knowing how to access and use them effectively is a barrier,” she adds.


Housing prices and mental health are among the biggest challenges for families struggling to stay housed, according to Janet. She knows all too well how much a parent’s mental health can suffer in poverty, and the toll it takes on their children. “Think about the kids in shelters,” Janet says, “their lives are in upheaval and they’re expected to go to school and learn. How can they learn when they don’t know what’s going to happen the next day? I didn’t do as well in school as I probably could have, because I was always concerned about everything else.”


“All the mental health counselors are so overbooked that you can’t get in. So there’s a crisis with mental health,” she says. “I’ve only done counseling once, but I know that it wasn’t enough. For a year I went once a week, sometimes twice a week, but then I couldn’t afford it anymore.”


“Having a support system is crucial,” Janet says. “It doesn’t have to be family, you just need that support. If I can help someone, then they can help someone. And then that person helps someone.”


It’s clear that Janet is the kind of person who feels compelled to help those who need her ― even when it’s difficult. Outside of her work, she’s very involved with her grandkids, and her house is still where her kids go when times are tough. She’s also recently had to become her biological mother’s power of attorney. Understandably, Janet says she feels conflicted about carrying that weight for the mother who walked out on her all those years ago. “Life takes a lot of different turns,” she says.

Some of life’s turns, however, have finally brought Janet to a more peaceful place. Not only is she no longer living in survival mode, but she’s found another unexpected source of joy. “I’ve been dating this guy for five years now,” she says. “His name is Alan, and he absolutely adores the grandchildren. We’re really good friends and we communicate.”


“I’ve learned that I don’t have to settle,” Janet says with a bright smile. “He makes me feel safe, and that’s something I didn’t think was possible. He’s working really hard to help me through that.” Janet says that she finally knows what it’s like for her feelings to be validated. She no longer sees them as right or wrong, but something to experience and process. “Every day is a new day,” she says.


(Pictured: Janet and Alan)



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NOTE: This message was written by Aimee (last name withheld) who came to Family Promise of Spokane at 11 years old in 2009 with her family. Now 24, married, gainfully employed and soon to start a family of her own, Aimee wrote this letter to her younger self as a reflection of her unique journey.

Because of the investment of people like you, Aimee is a thriving example of what ending homelessness looks like. Your help today supports more kids and their families, like Aimee’s, to not only exit homelessness, but to end the cycle of family homelessness for good. Please empower the next generation with your best gift today.This winter, you can ensure that families aren’t turned away into the cold. Your gift of:

  • $132 will equip a family with housing and application fees

  • $629 provides one week of shelter for a single parent with a child

  • $2,968 ends homelessness for a child

Give safe and simply online today at familypromiseofspokane.org/donate


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By Jane Farstrider


So much can change when we treat people like they matter

Life leaves its marks on all of us, and breaking generational cycles is never an easy thing. For Katie, there were times it seemed nearly impossible. “I’ve dealt with homelessness pretty much my entire life,” she says, “so that was kind of a constant.” Her childhood was tumultuous, and whenever her family was forced to move, Katie’s world would be turned upside down all over again.


Katie says she spent most of her childhood moving from place to place in Idaho, Montana, and North Dakota, fighting for stability and often staying with her grandmother while she was in school. “We were always kind of running from something,” she says.


When she grew up, Katie did her best to put that behind her, building a life with a family of her own. It was when she was pregnant with her third child that she faced homelessness for the first time as an adult, but Katie says that she and her significant other were able to rebound pretty quickly.



They still struggled to make ends meet, but they managed. “It became something that was just normal,” Katie says. “Even when things were stable, as soon as we got to the end of a lease, it was like ‘time to look for somewhere new.’ I just had no concept of stability or structure and what that looks like.”




A few years later, Katie and her family were living in Spokane and she was expecting her fifth child. There were complications, though, and Katie would need a cesarean section to deliver. Afterward, Katie knew something was wrong, but was told that the swelling from her C-section was normal and that it would go away. As it turned out, her bowels had been herniated during the procedure and she would need extensive surgeries to repair the damage.


“I had done everything I could to stay as stable as I possibly could and then I ended up in the hospital for 9 weeks,” Katie says. “During that time we lost our home ― we lost everything we owned and we were discharged. Two, homeless with five kids. They were like ‘We don’t think you’re going to make it, but enjoy the time you have left.’ I had a hole in my stomach bigger than my head ― just gaping. And it had to heal from being inside out.”


That was in August of 2017. With nowhere to stay, an open wound that would take eight months to heal, four kids, and a newborn baby, the family had no easy choices. “Some nights we slept in bus stops or we’d walk around with the kids all night because there was nowhere safe to go,” says Katie.


In the meantime, Katie still needed medical attention. “We had to do GoFundMe’s just to get enough money for motel rooms on the days I needed to do dressing changes; so I’d have a place for the nurse to come meet us.” Those dressing changes needed to happen three times every week. “They’d stuff this thick sponge stuff in [the wound] and put a vacuum over it to suck it down. It would connect with the tissue, and they’d rip all that out. It was absolutely torture.”


The healing process took 8 months. “It was horrible,” Katie remembers, “not only fighting for my life, but feeling so incredibly alone.”



“Every agency that we went to trying to get help, they just treated us like we were drug addicts or like we chose this,” says Katie. “I remember people would refuse to help us because while I was going through all the surgeries, of course I was on pain medicine. They said ‘you have to stop taking it or you can’t come here,’ and there was no way I could physically do that at that moment. That really decreased all the options.”


The family stuck together and tried to get back on their feet, but nothing worked out as they hoped. “We ended up somewhere in Deer Park that was totally not safe. There’s a lot of people out there who prey on families who are in tough situations.”


“We ended up getting into the Salvation Army the same day [Family Promise] opened up Open Doors, and that was after two months of trying to make things work. Family Promise wasn’t what it is today, but it was a safe place to land.”


Katie smiles as she pulls out her phone to bring up a photo of her kids, sprawled out and sleeping soundly at the shelter. “My son says Family Promise is his second favorite place he ever lived,” says Katie. “To them it was like camp. They were all sleeping in the emergency shelter before the lights were even out. They were just totally ok. It was their safe place, and that meant everything. There were a lot of people who might not have appreciated it because they weren’t in that headspace.”


When the family eventually got into Richard Allen Court day shelter, having a place to do laundry and cook for her family was a really big deal for Katie. “With an open wound and pain, not being able to keep ourselves clean was horrible,” Katie says. “Just having a place where we could make food, especially as a mother … it gave me so much of my pride back, being able to cook for my kids.”


Katie reflects on the struggles they faced along the way, and the toll homelessness can take on a person’s self-image. “People say, ‘I don’t understand it, there’s jobs!’ But how are you going to get your clothes clean to even get that job? How do you make sure you have the food to eat to make it through? How do you get there?”


“Interviews aren’t easy for those of us who really believe we deserve it; but when you’re in the street, you don’t feel like you deserve anything.” She adds, “I used to say I felt like the trash of society. Especially as a mom, because you’re supposed to protect your kids and you're supposed to keep everything ok.”


The resources Katie and her partner found through Family Promise finally made it possible for them to work toward their goals. “As soon as we got here, we started taking classes at WorkSource through Rise,” Katie says. “Getting plugged into the community really changed everything. It gave us hope; feeling like we’re not stuck in this and we can make something different.


The volunteers made a lasting impression on Katie. “They chose to be here,” she says. “They took time out of their life to make us feel seen and loved, and that was probably one of the greatest impacts. There was a volunteer named Kathy who used to just sit in the kitchen and cook with me and talk about everyday stuff, and that was so different.”


While staying in the shelter, Katie started working at SCRAPS through Rise’s employment program and her partner got a job doing commercial carpet cleaning. “That 200-hour class through WorkSource helped me learn I could change things. It might not be overnight, but little by little, it could be done,” Katie says. “It was amazing. I’m so grateful for that program.”


Katie says that her partner used to go up to Work Source and sleep whenever in their parking garage while she was in class. “I was so proud of him for not giving up when we were in the shelter. He was doing commercial carpet cleaning and it was not easy. We didn’t have a car and he’d have to get rides back and forth, but he continued working.”


Even with their new jobs, finding housing they could afford for a family of seven was going to be a challenge. So when a complete stranger decided to remove that obstacle from their path after hearing about her family through his church, Katie was floored.


“Our landlord actually bought our home without ever meeting us. He just heard part of our story, and he said God told him that one was on him. So he bought a six-bedroom house to rent out to our family and had someone else come ask me if I was interested.” Of course, Katies says, she and her family were thrilled.


Their new landlord closed on the house and remodeled it before they moved in. Katie says “For a six-bedroom house we pay $1,000 per month, so that is unheard of here!”


While they waited for the remodel, Katie and her partner kept on working, managing a hectic shuffle between their jobs and the shelter with the kids. “We had moved from Open Doors to Salvation Army for a short period of time just because we worked,” she explains.


“My significant other worked nights and he would work from 6 p.m. to 4 a.m., but no matter what, he’d have to be up at 6. He’d get back to the shelter at 4, sleep until 6, get up, and be up with the kids.” So the family moved to the Salvation Army’s intermediate shelter for a couple of weeks to make the transition a little easier.


Finally, the house was ready for them to move in.


“We had been struggling for years, and it was probably 3 months total until we were ready to move into our new home,” Katie says. “We’ve been there ever since. It’s the longest I’ve lived anywhere in my entire life, so I feel like I’ve finally been able to give my kids that stability I never had.”


These days, Katie says that they’re all doing better with that stability. “The kids are doing so good. My oldest two have been able to maintain straight A’s all the way through. The middle two struggle a little in school, but are just blossoming everywhere else,” Katie says with a smile.” She comments on how smart her youngest son is, now two years old.


Katie and her family made a lot of good friends at Family Promise, and found a sense of community at The Rock, a church they first started visiting when they were at the shelter.


Katie’s recovery from the complications of her first C-section was long and difficult, and after eight surgeries she felt lucky to be alive. But life still had some surprises in store for her. “After all those surgeries, they told me I could never have another baby. I didn’t intend to, so I had my tubes tied … and I still got pregnant and had another baby.”


“It was a huge shock and scary because of all the medical stuff,” she says, “and I thought, there is no way this is going to be ok.” But despite the odds, everything went well and now she has a healthy two-year-old boy.


Soon after connecting with Family Promise, Katie started working as an assistant supervisor in the shelter, which she loved. The people she met during some of the hardest days of her life soon became her co-workers and part of her growing community.


“Emma was the one person I really bonded to in a huge way, which is really great because now she’s my boss. Toya used to work here and was a huge support. I was kinda shell-shocked by all the different people, and they helped me feel grounded and feel safe. Serena really encouraged me to come back and saw my potential” Katie says.


Katie says she feels that the struggles she faced were God’s way of helping her find her purpose. “When I was in the shelter, my main focus was always helping the people around me, which was what has always gotten me into trouble in my life,” Katie explains. “But this allowed me to find a way to do it and keep it out of my home life. You don’t have to bring people home to help them. This is really giving me an outlet to feed that part of my soul without hurting my family.”


“Now I’m a donor relations coordinator and connect with our donors and share our story and build impact. Every person who partners with us makes a huge difference and there is success,” she says.


“I really feel like they’re the first organization that doesn't just throw bandaids at it. They really get down to the reasons why a family can’t stay stable and then helps partner with them through that,” she continues. “[Family Promise] didn’t just get us into housing and leave us alone. Even at the beginning, there were things that came up and they helped with each and every one.”

The community connections Family Promise has with other vital organizations solutions were crucial for her family, Katie says. “Vanessa Behan was a huge resource for us so often with the little ones. They can watch the kids for up to 72 hours in any kind of crisis. When we’d go to pick up the kids they’d send us backpacks of new clothes and diapers, and letters telling us how great we were doing; to keep up the good work. They were a huge huge piece of support for us.”


“The first Christmas we were in a house, [Family Promise] had somebody sponsor us. It was Windermere, I think. We hadn’t been able to do anything for the kids before that because we were in the middle of homelesseness and struggling … They brought an entire truckload of presents ― bikes for all the kids. It was amazing.”


Katie says that Family Promise goes way beyond meeting a family’s physical needs. “It’s just the little things. It’s not necessarily just about stability but the joy. Showing people that they matter.”


“I think one of the biggest things is it's so incredibly powerful to be able to use all of the bad that happened to me to help other people. It makes it all worth it: every day that I suffered; every day that I was in pain. To know that I can make a difference to other families and that they’re never going to have to feel quite so alone.”










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