By Jane Farstrider
Imagine, for a moment, that you are a hard-working mother with three young children. You, your husband, and kids sit in a run-down motel room, nearly 2,000 miles from your home state. The few resources your family had were enough to get you to Spokane, but neither of you has a job yet. The credit cards are maxed out. You have no way to pay for another night indoors. You’re exhausted, and the hope of finding a fresh start is turning to cold panic.
For Hailey VenHuizen, facing that stark reality pushed her to look for help she never thought she would need.
Hailey’s quiet determination is striking as she explains how they had struggled in Ligonier, Indiana before deciding to take a leap into the unknown and move across the country.
“Life in Indiana was not ideal for my family,” she says. “I was working 7 days a week from 2 p.m. - 3:30 a.m. to care for my family and catch up on the bills. Finally, when I was almost caught up on all of the bills, the rent had increased significantly and I fell behind. Again. I had received a notice to vacate my home and there were limited resources that would help with rental assistance. I prayed every day hoping God would hear me.”
When an old friend told Hailey and her husband about Spokane, they felt that the opportunities there would be worth leaving everything they knew behind.
In Indiana they didn’t have a support network, the educational options weren’t great, and resources for people struggling financially were sparse. “There wasn’t even a bus system,” she says. “We took our tax refund and escaped Indiana and never looked back.”
Hailey’s husband flew to Spokane in February of 2019, and Hailey followed in March with the kids, who were all between the ages of 1 and 5 at the time.
“The position that we were in was dreadful and embarrassing,” Hailey says. “Maybe we should've had a plan before we moved to Spokane, sure, but we also knew that if we had stayed in Indiana, our position would've been much worse.”
“The beginning of it was terrifying. You feel like a horrible person having to put our kids through that, it is not fair. It was February, pouring rain and we were cold and soaked when we arrived at Family Promise’s Open Doors Shelter.
If it weren’t for Family Promise, we wouldn’t be alive today. We would’ve gone hungry and cold. We would’ve ended up under a bridge in a tent.
When they couldn’t afford another night at the motel, Hailey took action and started googling emergency family shelters, even though it made her deeply uncomfortable.
Hailey says that during this time, she knew she had to hold it together and be a positive role model for her kids.“How you feel on the inside is what you manifest on the outside,” she says. “You just keep going. Stopping is not an option.”
“I mustered up the courage to call Open Doors,” she says. “Katie Theobald answered my phone call. She was gentle and understanding and her warmth made me feel comfortable enough to explain the situation. Katie walked my family through the anxieties and fears that we were experiencing.”
With Katie’s instructions, they never had to face a night on the streets. Hailey and her family got into Open Doors, a day shelter run by Family Promise where they could safely stay together and work on next steps. “Once I had called and spoke to Katie, we were in the shelter the very next morning at 7 a.m.”
“What I love about Family Promise is that they keep the family together,” Hailey says. “On our first day, there was a table full of resources for school, childcare, and jobs.”
One of the brochures on that table was for the Vanessa Behan Crisis Center, where they were able to bring the kids while they searched for work and connected with other resources.
“I felt a lot of security,” Hailey remembers. “We felt safe, wanted, and comfortable. They gave me tools I needed to go home. I filled out an application for another Bridges program – where we’d have our own room for the day, and were taken to a church to stay overnight.” The Bridges transitional living program approved their family quickly, and there Hailey met Susan Heitsman, whose support was particularly impactful.
“Susan was helpful and had gone the extra mile to ensure my family would be successful. When I found a home, Susan and her husband helped us with finding and moving furniture into our new home. I miss her greatly.”
When trying to imagine where they might have ended up, Hailey says “I couldn’t tell you and I don't want to know. That whole experience was so scary, but Family Promise made me feel safe. We felt welcomed and wanted. Their staff is amazing. If you are in a shelter and you don’t feel safe, welcomed and wanted – you’re going to fail.”
They were able to get food stamps, and through a program called Work First, Hailey’s husband found a job as a frozen foods manager at WalMart, and Hailey enrolled in Spokane Community College’s nursing program.
While it was an enormous relief to be in transitional living, they were still anxious to find permanent housing, and once again the options were limited. On a whim, Hailey says she sent out an S.O.S on Craigslist.
“When I say S.O.S, I mean that I was at the point of giving up and shared my story in a post needing help,” Hailey explains. “There were hardly any homes available to my family, even with the housing choice voucher that we had received through Spokane Housing Authority.”
Two days later, a landlord who was touched by Hailey’s post reached out saying he owned a vacant house and wanted to provide a stable home for her and her family. Coincidentally, the house was directly across the street from a daycare where she would be able to take the kids while she was in school. “We were homeless for less than a month from the first day of our arrival in Spokane,” she says.
“If I was talking to someone in the position I was in years ago, I’d tell them to use those resources that are available and keep going,” Hailey says. “They were all wonderful and exactly what we needed to move forward. You need to have grit and patience while you’re on this journey – if you don’t you will fail.”
Hailey says a lot has changed for them in recent years. “We are healthy, happy and in the best position that we have ever been in. Family Promise made it possible for my family to be a part of the community just by providing us support to step into the right direction to achieve stability and success.”
Since 2019, Hailey hasn’t slowed down. Her experiences from that year motivated her to chase her own goals to help people facing similar challenges. With her medical training, compassion, and first-hand knowledge, she is looking for opportunities to get more involved with the program that helped her find her footing here.
“I would love to have a permanent position at Family Promise,” Hailey says. “I want to help other families navigate their own journey. I don't want them to feel alone. My journey was scary and it would've been much worse had I not had the support of Family Promise.”
But she hasn’t stopped there. Just recently, Hailey took the first steps of starting a business that she hopes will help fill in some of the gaps she saw back in 2019.
“My company is called Nest Haven Properties LLC. I have big plans that may just be the answer to our families struggling with permanent housing within the community. What my company will be doing is renovating distressed properties to make permanent housing available to families that hold the housing choice voucher.”
The space and privacy to raise their children during those crucial days made all the difference to her, and Hailey wants to provide that stability to other families experiencing homelessness. By creating job opportunities for them at the same time, she hopes to give people the foundation they need for long-term success.
“There are many apartment complexes that do provide housing,” she explains, “but that housing is not permanent. I want to get to the core of the problem that is in our community and provide housing for families when they leave the shelter.”
“I have these plans all written out with years of projections to show that this would be a success,” Hailey says. Her plans aren’t without setbacks, though. She says startup funding is her next hurdle, and she is hoping someone will listen long enough to see the potential in her plans. “There is no way that I will give up on pushing this company forward to launch,” she says.
“It is amazing how stable housing can make a world of a difference for one family,” she says. “Now that we are stable, I am able to help my community. If every homeless family in Spokane had stable housing, could you imagine what our community would be like?”
“Family Promise loved us like their own. They gave us warmth, food, and shelter. It was like a mom and dad helping us out.”
“It’s wonderful to have a future,” she says.
“I just need someone to believe that together we can end homelessness in Spokane by getting to the root of the problem.”