Stacy is a self-proclaimed mama bear. She has an uncanny ability to see through drama and deceit but will just as quickly wrap you in a hug. As a staff member at the Open Doors shelter, there’s a reason Stacy is so good at her job: Three years ago, she was in the same position as the residents she serves.
Stacy working hard in the main Open Doors Office.
“2004 is when I became homeless, after I buried my mother,” she told me. Stacy had been homeless for 14 years before coming to Bridges, a transitional shelter for permanent housing through Family Promise.
In the office of Open Doors, Stacy sat wearing her name badge and told me about rock bottom. “When it’s winter time and you have nowhere for your children to go ‘cause they’ve never been homeless—I’ve been homeless in the winter time but I always had somewhere warm for my children to go. Not me, but my children. I had nowhere for my children to go.”
A mother of three teenagers, one of her kids’ wrestling coaches offered her a home when they learned of her family’s situation. She’s been there ever since.
I asked her how her experience helps her in her position of guiding homeless families. “I really feel like it’s my calling… Some families just don’t have a voice and I have to be their voice. To encourage them. To empower them. Let ‘em know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
How have her experiences changed her view on homelessness, if at all? I asked. “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Only because even as a single mom being homeless, when I was in the Bridges program—when I went to go to the resources they looked at me like, ‘Well you’re not on drugs, you have a job, why can’t you get a house?’ That kind of thing. So that judgement on that aspect… Some people can pack it, some people can’t, but who are we to judge? Everyone has a heartbeat and we’re all human. Choices are choices… I put myself in my situation at times; I take ownership of my own self… I can’t make anybody else take the blame for their own stuff. Because once you hit homelessness… You’re at rock bottom. You either have a choice to fight your way up out of this hole—’cause you’re literally at rock bottom—or you wanna just expect somebody to do it for you, or you’re just there to use the system… But I mean, some people just don’t have that mentality.”
I asked Stacy how it felt to reach out for help to be met with rejection, and into shame. “That I wasn’t gonna get anywhere… Like I was running in place and I couldn’t get nowhere.”
Stacy has learned to be strong. “...We’re not all promised a good day all the way through when you start from the bottom. So you gotta be ready for that bad day, and let yourself get up and like, ‘Okay, thank you good Lord for another day that I was able to wake up to fight this fight for my children.’ ...That’s my opinion, that once you’re at rock bottom as a parent, the guilt that you have for your child because you feel like you failed as a parent—you didn’t fail, this is a new beginning, to start fresh… 14 years is a long time to be homeless, so I got tough skin, so there’s not really much—not much that can tear me down.”
I asked Stacy if she has faith. She said yes. But it wasn’t always easy. “I was mad at God forever,” she told me. “I still have my bad days where I’m like, ‘Good Lord. Why? Why?’ I cuss him out every now and then. But I still… Every morning thank the Lord for allowing me to get up.”
What was the most empowering moment being on staff? I asked. “When I do the intake and I get to see them get into their house, and their face, when it’s glowing, like, ‘I did it.’”
Favorite story since being on staff at Family Promise? “I have a few… Family comes in, and I work with the mom, ‘cause I had two jobs when I first started… I come in to do my shift—she sees me and she tries to hide. Because the embarrassment of being homeless and hav[ing] nowhere to go. And I gave her a hug and said, ‘It’s alright. It’s alright.’ And then the joy in their face[s] knowing that I was there with them the whole way, and knowing that—I made sure that there was no judgment passed on… It was just the cutest thing ever, like, ‘It’s alright! You gotta start somewhere.’”
Did she know you were homeless too? I asked. “No. Nobody. Nobody ever knew,” she responded. I asked if she always kept it a secret. “Yeah,” she said.
Stacy continued, “I’m just like a big ol’ mother hen when it comes to these families. And I would go to the ends of the earth for every last one of ‘em.”
I asked Stacy how being on staff has given her a greater sense of purpose. “Well I never [don’t] feel purposeful, but… Just like any job I have my bad days. This is just where I’m supposed to be. Every last one of ‘em. And trust me there are some families that I just, I can’t handle. But I’m here every day for them… I just love my job.”
In a closing statement, I asked Stacy what she would like to add to encourage struggling families. “Don’t ever think that you have to make up for your choices to your children… Just know that, it’s just a life lesson and you’ll get through it… This is your temporary home. This is like your first step. Still maintain it, and then just don’t ever give up. But—realize this is your rock bottom.”
Written by Grace Wahlman
Recorded on 8/13/19