The vision behind Voices of Homelessness is to present monthly first hand accounts of homelessness through a series of interviews and portraits, in order to build empathy and action around this vital issue within our club and community.
The Homelessness Solutions Committee is aware that there is no one path to homelessness. We’re confident that sharing these stories will lessen the distance between “us” and “them” and demonstrate how little it can take for the average Portlander to become homeless. In sharing these profiles, we urge you to bear in mind that we are sharing success stories. Sadly, due to overhwelming need and a constant shortfall of resources, most of those currently experiencing homelessness are not getting the help they need. Please consider joining the HSC or getting involved via the resources here.
June's Voice: Jill
Jill is a 35-year old mother of three boys, who are 15, 11, and 7. Thanks to the help of privately and publicly funded programs and her own determination, she's in recovery from addiction, managing her diabetes, and has been successful in her probation as she’s worked through both the housing program at My Father’s House and the culinary training program of New City Kitchen. Jill now has full-time employment at the Montavilla antique mall.
How has homelessness affected you as a parent?
"I’m a single mom - it’s just me and my kids, and when we were out on the streets and not having anywhere to be, I couldn’t focus on my kids. All my energy was spent on the chaos in my head, how I was going to juggle every crazy firework that was coming towards me every day. Where are we going to eat, where are we going to sleep? There’s so much going on, you can’t focus on what’s going on with your kids, what’s going on with you. You don’t have time for that, let alone have the ability to do it. And I’m able to engage now because we have somewhere safe to lay our heads down, and we have some structure and organization and we’re thriving. I’m actually able to be an attentive mom and try to meet my sons' needs and I could not do that before. I was risking losing my kids because I couldn’t function on the streets. No matter how much you love your kids, when you live on the streets with children or you don’t have a stable home, you can’t meet their needs, which creates more problems, which makes your relationships with them suffer. We have much better relationships today, and a huge part of that is because of where we’re at. My Father's House can’t do it for us, but it allows for a safe, warm environment that allows us to meet those needs. And I didn’t have that before."
What was it like for you and your family to live in a shelter?
"In shelters, nothing is done for cleanliness, healthiness, safety. It’s not about the quality of life, it’s about how many people can survive for the night. You cram as many bodies as you can into one space for the night, and then at eight o’clock or six o’clock in the morning you kick them all out again and tell them to go to the streets until it’s feasible to come back at night. You get disease, TB, you may be required to get shots in facilities like that to regulate disease control, but what about the bedbug infestation? What about your poor children? My middle son got made fun of at school so bad, because he had to go to school with bedbug bites from head to toe. The poor kid looked like he had a severe outbreak of chicken pox over his entire body. And they would do nothing to treat it. and my kids suffered. People suffer."
What was your life like before you got into the program?
"I’m a recovering drug addict, I have nine months clean, nine months ago was my last hospital visit. I was dying, I was literally dying from my addiction, and I’m diabetic. I was 96 lbs and my doctor didn’t think I was going to make it after one more hospital visit, it was the tenth one in two years. We were on the streets, we were in transitional housing which was horrid. I’m a single mom with boys, and there are programs for moms that have younger kids, but not for moms that have teenage boys. Because My Father's House got us in, it saved our lives. I would not have survived in what I would’ve gone back to…my kids wouldn’t have a mom. The greatest gift that I could ever fathom is the gift of being a mom. I love my kids with all my heart and being able to be here today and be a functioning part of their life, and give them a parent and a loving environment, is the greatest gift that’s ever been given to me and that’s what I’m given here so, it’s awesome."
How has having stable housing helped you?
"At My Father’s House we’re taught how to take care of ourselves again, how to keep our living place clean, we have rules and expectations, and they don’t just kick us out every morning and tell us to go figure it out. They give us the tools and the skills, and the support and the love we need in order to believe in ourselves again, and learn how to become functioning people again — because when you're in survival mode, you throw a lot of stuff out the door just so you can survive on the street for one more night. I can say as a mother, one of the greatest gifts I’m given here is that I get to cook my kids food. We’re given back our humanity here and that’s something that I can’t say that I have found, that I haven’t even heard of at any other shelter, statewide.”
What has learning how to take care of yourself done for you?
"My value of myself has gone up immensely. I don’t need other people to tell me I’m okay anymore, I know I’m okay. I may be having a hard time getting a job and have these barriers in my past, but who I am as a person today - I’m proud of that person. And it’s because of knowing how much I’ve accomplished here, and I get reminded of that every week because I have my one-on-one’s with my case worker. I make goals and the next week I’m held accountable for those goals. I get to figure out what’s wrong - not what’s wrong with me, but what’s lacking, and I get to address those areas. I get to grow in those areas. I’m not just sitting in stagnant water anymore. And that is an amazing feeling to me, I’m actually growing in areas I didn’t think were possible because I hadn’t done it in so long. And I couldn’t get that anywhere else."
When you look at the challenges ahead of you, how do you feel about them now?
"I feel like I can accomplish anything. I feel like I’m gonna be okay. I may be having a hard time, it may be a slow go at times but that’s okay because I'm making steps towards the right things, and pretty soon those baby steps are gonna be big steps, and then they’re going to be giant steps, and then they’re going to be leaps, then they’re going to be bounds and then I’m gonna be a superstar (laughs). So I’m good with it. I really am, I'm excited about where I am."
Please join the Homelessness Solutions Committee at 1:30 each first Tuesday in the Rotary Office, 1220 SW Morrison, Suite 425. Together we can change lives!