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When stereotype becomes story, everything changes. 

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“I had twenty thousand dollars in savings. The funeral was twenty-two thousand.” Melinda was a self-proclaimed superwoman: A single mother of Catholic private school kids, she worked two jobs to care for her boys and had single-handedly ran her home of twenty years. Until her mother died. She used her savings of eighteen years to pay for the funeral. And then she got evicted.

“Everybody’s one life event away from being like us. It doesn’t matter where you are on the pay scale, how much money you make, we’re all one life event away from being here,” she said. Melinda's boys wrestle before posing for a picture. Melinda showed me Facebook pictures of her boys growing up: Tackling each other bare chested, sleeping on the couch with their dog, her home buoyant, average, even, like any other family. Tears streamed down her face as she scrolled. “You become numb… If you look at what you lost, you’re not gonna keep going. Cause I tried that route. But you also become very detached, like, the fear of getting another house again and doing all that is hard too, once you’ve lost it. We were just—we’re normal people. Normal people. We had a house, we were just a normal family.” “What’s your opinion when people say ‘just work hard’ to get out of homelessness?” I asked. “I was that person that thought that. I was that person that said to someone, ‘Just get a job.’ I had never been on welfare a day of my life. My kids went to Catholic school, I figured out how to work three homes with a graveyard shift so my kids could have a bed at night… I did it. I’ve learned more about people because I’ve learned to listen. Before I wasn’t listening even though I thought I was. It’s a whole different world. There’s a lot of ways to help people. It’s not just handouts. We forget to be human to people. It becomes all about who has this, who has that, who has the most money. But we forget to treat each other as humans.” It’s not always the usual stories you hear of homelessness. It can be women who were the picture of average American motherhood. “Ninety percent of the people I’ve met along the way have stories like ours,” Melinda said. “That’s not what we’re told. Stories like ours.” Written by: Grace Wahlman Date: 6/25/2019

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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


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


Brittany and her son in the corner of Open Doors Emergency Shelter.

She welcomes me into her corner with warmth and kindness, as if this were her own home.

Brittany’s story is not the average one of becoming homeless—if there were such a thing as a recipe for it.

It wasn’t induced by drugs or alcohol. Her impeccable nature of nurturing her children in the midst of strangers, bed bugs, domestic violence, and substance abuse is profound and couldn’t be attributed to laziness. Her warm and genial personality begs the question: How did someone like you get to a place like this?

“All they see is eviction,” she says.

Her husband folds laundry on the couch nearby. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree from Whitworth University and held a job there afterwards. He was also a decorated soldier in the Army. Through his VA checks, they paid their rent on a home they had in Spokane to raise their boys.

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


Brittany reading to her youngest son

Brittany shares that when the monthly VA check to pay rent was declined by their landlord, they weren’t given a reason or much notice, even with her being due for her second baby in two days.

“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.”

There is frustration in her eyes that still flickers even if it has long been dealt with. She shrugs in a What can you do? way while I sat staring in disbelief. She is a mother who was one quarter away from graduating college, had not her fibromyalgia flared while raising two kids and working two jobs.

I asked her how her landlord got away with that. “No reason. No reason. It’s all they had to say,” she responded indifferently.

In my fight for justice though I knew its ending, I asked Brittany to tell me how their search for other homes hadn’t granted them favor. “All they see is eviction,” she reiterated. Brittany continued, “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 asked Brittany how homelessness has changed her perspective since being on the other side.

“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.”

Written by Grace Wahlman

Interview on 6/25/19

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