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When stereotype becomes story, everything changes. 

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By Jane Farstrider




When you meet Norm, you can’t help but be disarmed by his openness and warmth as he shares details of his past ― many of them moments a person might rather forget. But he always returns to the good things he experienced amidst the struggle.


As he tells his story, Norm reaches down to stroke Little Bit, the grinning pug who’s been a constant companion to Norm and his granddaughter, Cheyenne, for the past eight years.


Norm describes a younger version of himself that doesn’t seem to fit the soft-spoken man of today, who shares photos of his spunky 10-year-old granddaughter with smiling eyes. But back in the 90s and early 2000s, addiction had a firm grip on his life and he wound up in jail more than once. “I was a real thug back then,” he says. “I thought I was a real tough guy, you know?”


It was a serious car accident that eventually shook that tough guy image and set Norm on a different path. “When I hit my head on that windshield in 2006, my entire life changed ― I became a different person,” he says. “My life has been really full, except that I had a drug problem.”


It was a long, rough road to sobriety, but with a broken neck and the possibility he might never walk or talk normally again, he knew something had to change. After 52 days in the hospital, he left on his own two feet, determined to make a better life for himself.


A parietal lobe stroke added to his struggles in 2011, and Norm explains that even now it can be difficult to communicate ― apologizing when his story wanders. Norm’s battle for social security assistance stalled for years, but he did his best to get by without it.



He started his own telemarketing company in Arizona, and got to work building a life for himself and Cheyenne, who he has cared for since she was born. Regret tinges Norm’s husky voice as he reflects that he wasn’t really around for his older children as they grew up, and the chance to be there for his granddaughter changed everything. “It’s been the most amazing ten years of my life, raising Cheyenne,” he says.


But when his business went under in 2016, they lost their home. For four years, they bounced between temporary living situations, and Norm would often house-sit so they’d have a safe place to stay.


In early 2020, Norm and Cheyenne returned to the Northwest, where he had some family and hoped for a new start. With $390 and whatever he could fit in his vehicle, they made it to Spokane and briefly stayed with Norm’s niece. The situation didn’t last, however, and before long they were back at square one.



Not knowing what to do next, Norm says he and Cheyenne spent their days exploring Bear Lake, barbecuing and making the most of it, despite the uncertainty they faced. At night, they would park at the Flying J truck stop on Broadway to sleep, because there was security and it felt safer.

With the colder weather, Norm knew they had to figure something out soon, and was preparing to drive to a warming shelter in Idaho that would take the two of them. “It’s hard for a man and a girl to get a spot. Really hard,” he says. “I’d been to churches ― everywhere.” But when a new acquaintance told him about Family Promise, they jumped at the opportunity. “We never had to do the shelter thing where you have to sleep on the floor. We had our own room ― everybody did! There were five families there.”


“We met some amazing people through Family Promise. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I’ve been around.”


“This is so much different. They’ve stuck with me through all my trials and tribulations; helped me with electric bills; helped me get my vehicle fixed a couple of times. It’s a tried and true program … I’m not saying people never fail, but not because they aren’t trying to help you.”



“It’s not just getting you into a place,” Norm continues, “they set you up. They’ve helped me with so many things that I’m sure would have pushed me back … Now we’re able to do everything on our own to make it.”


He pulls out his phone, and flips through photos of a beaming Cheyenne in her Halloween costume, and talks about the basketball game he’s taking her to at EWU for family day. He says he wishes he was better at doing her hair. Luckily they have a friend ― an insurance agent who helped Norm when they first came to town ― who fixes Cheyenne’s hair when they see each other. “I guess I’m pretty good at making friends,” he says.



In August of last year, Norm and Cheyenne got their own place in Cheney, where Norm had heard good things about the schools. “That’s what I want,” he says. “I want her to have the best schooling.”


They seem to have settled into their new life, and Norm is a regular volunteer at Family Promise. These days, it’s common to see him around throughout the week, helping sort donations and lending a hand with whatever needs doing. “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for these people,” he says.




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Baby Lilly* is blue-eyed in bright pink, looking up with curiosity from the arms of her mother, Larissa. Her cheeks are still rosy from the warmth of the blanket left on the bed.


Noah and Larissa’s story is one of perseverance and hardship. A story that is so similar in its heartbreak, but different in the details – from the stories of so many other families. “We’ve been here about a month,” Noah and Larissa tell me from the cozy nursery of the Infant House—Family Promise’s respite hideaway for families with newborn babies like Lilly. A month of peace. A month of sanctuary and respite from the bitter cold that has plagued Spokane as of late.


“And how old is she?”


“She was born December 20, so… about two months.” Larissa tears up at the memory. Just thinking about the terrors of giving birth with no sure housing bringing stark terror to her eyes.






It wasn’t long after Lilly was born that the family was threatened out of their living arrangements. Without anywhere else to go and a brand new baby to take care of, they were grateful and relieved to learn about Family Promise.


Larissa explained the chance encounter that led to their rescue.


“We were giving a friend a ride and he told us about (Family Promise). He had us stop at the main shelter because we needed diapers. Two days later everything happened (with our living arrangements). I called Family Promise and they said they had someone moving out of the Infant House. We literally were able to move into the Infant House the next day.” It was luck, it was chance, but it was meant to be. Without the Infant House, they are not sure what they would have done.


Grateful, relieved and happy, the Infant House is a refuge that finally feels like home for the family of three.




When asked how they’ve been holding up since their arrival, they said, “It’s definitely been relaxing. From what we were going through and our situation only getting worse, being here has been a weight off our shoulders and given us a chance to focus on moving forward.” The simplest steps are often the most difficult. Having a place to call home meant the world to them.


With private bedrooms and spacious living areas equipped for families with new bundles like Lilly, the Infant House welcomes families with open arms. Erin, the House Manager, is a warm smile who keeps guests well supplied with whatever needs arise. Downstairs, a basement pantry is lined with tall shelves of bulk foods. In several nooks and closets throughout the house, supplies are stocked from generous donors: diapers, clothes, formula, toys.


“We had nowhere else to go. This place really saved us,” Noah shares.


Sitting beside him, Larissa nods in agreement, baby Lilly staring peacefully while she speaks. “We are very thankful and blessed for the opportunity to be able to take our time and gather the things we need. These guys are wonderful. We are very thankful for Family Promise.”


The Infant House serves as Family Promise’s refuge for families with newborns. It is generously supported by grants, volunteers, and financial support from individuals. If you’re interested in donating to the Infant House to support families like Noah and Larissa’s, you can visit https://www.familypromiseofspokane.org/give.



* Changed for anonymity.









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On the floor of the shelter, in a corner by the windows, sits Brittany and her two babies. Her youngest babbles next to her while he attempts to crawl. Her older son sits in her lap while she patiently wipes peanut butter from his fingers.


Her warmth and kindness makes entering her corner feel like entering a home.


Brittany’s story is not a typical one of becoming homeless, as if there were such a thing.


It wasn’t because of drugs or alcohol, and neither was it because of laziness. Her impeccable ability to nurture her children was evidence of that. So how then, did someone like Brittany get to a place like this?


“All they see is eviction,” she says.


Her husband folds laundry on a couch nearby. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Whitworth and held a job there afterwards. He was also a decorated soldier in the Army. They paid their rent through his VA checks.


She adjusts her baby in her arms to nurse him. Throughout our conversation, Brittany welcomes interruptions from her own children or from others running around the shelter. She pauses to answer their questions or acknowledge a toy brought to her.



Brittany shares that their landlord stopped accepting the monthly VA check. They weren’t given a reason, nor much notice. All this when she was due for her second baby in two days.


She says of the experience, “We had two days to try to figure out how to go to court so we went down to Center for Justice—that was on Thursday—we went into court, we didn’t fill out our paperwork absolutely perfectly, went in on Friday, and literally, we went in to be induced on Saturday, didn’t have any time to be able to do any work stuff… so I went in, got induced on Saturday and was discharged on Tuesday and had two hours to pack before the sheriff showed up… Brand new baby, just got out of the hospital, and came home with two hours to pack.”


She shrugs as I stare at her in disbelief. This is a mother who would have finished her last quarter of college if her fibromyalgia hadn’t flared up on top of raising two kids and working two jobs. I ask how her landlord could decline the VA check, and she answers, “No reason. No reason. It’s all they had to say.”


Although I already know the answer, I ask why their search for a new home has not been successful. “All they see is eviction,” she reiterates.


Brittany continues, “It’s a bummer that we’re always underestimated and there’s that stigma on homelessness. I’ve been on the other side. I’ve done it.”



I ask Brittany how experiencing homelessness has changed her perspective on the issue: “What I think… is it’s just like when I became disabled [with fibromyalgia]. Before I was disabled, I thought anyone that ever said that they had pain… I was like, ‘Just take some ibuprofen like I do and you’ll be just fine.’ And in that way, my disability made me a better person. In this situation, now that we’ve lived it and now that we know it, now we can empathize and understand what everybody is going through and be able to make a difference.”


Brittany and her family moved into permanent housing of their own in late 2019.






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