Image courtesy of Helping Hand House, Puyallup WA.
Diane is a devoted wife, mother of two daughters and grandmother of three. She and her husband are entrepreneurs and have owned their own business for over 30 years. Diane has participated in 60-mile cancer walks, Kiwanis, Lions, and has volunteered with St Jude’s and the Make-A-Wish Foundation. She is a passionate advocate for better programs to prevent and eliminate family homelessness.
This is her family’s story.
One Night in a Car
Over the past year I’ve dreamt of being involved in an event where others can learn what it is like, just for one night, to sleep in your car. If nothing else, the event would increase community awareness around the many children who call the family car home. These kids wake up in their car and head off to school to return to a car that may or may not be in the same place. My family has first-hand experience with homelessness, and I believe it’s important that we join together to help homeless families move out of their cars and into permanent, affordable housing.
Inspired in part by my family’s story, One Night in a Car is a unique opportunity to taste the reality lived by hundreds of school-aged kids across east Pierce County – and the means to change it. More than an experience, One Night will directly impact kids’ lives in the context of community. Partner organizations have assembled a one-of-a-kind experience – a thought-provoking simulation of family poverty with a twist. Funds raised will directly help families out of homelessness. PLEASE join us Friday to Saturday, Aug. 22-23, at Meridian Habitat Park in Puyallup. Learn more and register at http://onenightinacar.org
Many years ago, a CEO at a local mission told me that whenever you see a homeless person panhandling, he or she is there by choice because there are plenty of programs for people experiencing homelessness. With this understanding, though my husband and I have always been involved in our community, I never considered volunteering for any organizations that served the homeless – it just didn’t hit home for me.
Photo courtesy of Seattle University School of Theology & Ministry
A year ago everything changed; our youngest daughter, a single mom with three children, became homeless. She had been working as a medical administrative assistant for more than five years when she became ill. Not able to work, she tried taking a two-week unpaid leave of absence. After two weeks, she still couldn’t work, so she lost her job. Without pay, she lost her home and eventually lost her car. Like many families, we didn’t have the space or resources to bring them into our home. On Mother’s Day 2013, I helped her pack up her stuff, reassuring her that I had learned that if we call 211 they would be able to help us.
I made the call, expecting to get positive news. Instead I heard, “Due to budget cuts, a lot of the past programs are no longer available. We can give you addresses where your daughter and her three children can park and sleep in their car, just for one night at a time.” My heart dropped. They also told me to go to Associated Ministries to get the family on the roster as “homeless.”
As I tried to hold back the tears, I consoled myself thinking that by registering the family on the list as homeless, we would get some help. Instead, I found out that most people on the list don’t receive housing for close to a year.
So what to do in the meantime? We were told to contact the Recuse Mission’s Adams Street Family Campus in Puyallup Monday to Friday between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. If there were any openings we could expect a call back between 10 a.m. and noon. For several months we faithfully called each day, but never received a call back.
With few options left, we decided to visit the Adams Street Family Campus to see if that would help get the family into the program. We learned that Adams Street has an open shelter facility which consists of a big room where anyone who is homeless can come at 7 p.m., get a meal, have a cot to sleep on. The cots are placed very close together to accommodate more people, and then you get up the next day and leave. At least people experiencing homelessness are out of the elements…but this was not a place for my daughter and three grandbabies.
We learned that the program also manages a separate building for families. These include several units that have one bedroom, a small living/eating area and bathroom. While the units are small, at least the family isn’t living in their car. We shared that we had been calling every day during the week asking if there were any openings in the Family Units and had never received a call back. The shelter staff explained that every day, between 8 – 10 a.m. they receive more than 200 calls from families asking for emergency shelter at Adams Street. Many of those families have been trying to get into the program for 8 months to a year!
My daughter was forced to make the difficult decision to split up the family, sending each of the children to a different family member while she stayed in her car.
Toward the end of October 2013, I confided in a neighbor friend about our struggles. She mentioned Helping Hand House. I began volunteering, hoping to learn more about the agency and what services were available to families in need. I began to realize we were not the only families in trouble. While this wasn’t necessarily a relief, it helped us not feel so alone.
We were lucky; Helping Hand House helped my daughter and her children move into one of their Emergency Shelter Homes. What great news! My daughter immediately gathered up all three children from different family members who were keeping them safe to take them to the Emergency Shelter Home.
As they walked up to the house, my daughter told the children that this was their new home for now. Their eyes welled up with tear of happiness. First thing, my eight-year-old grandson ran upstairs to see the bedrooms and bathrooms and asked “Mommy, can I take a shower?” His brother looked into the refrigerator to see the food. That night, after being separated for so long they didn’t want to be apart so they pushed the beds together and slept peacefully. What a good sleep they must have had that night…I know I did, knowing that they finally had a place to go.
Hope for the Future
My hope is that with more funding and awareness, every homeless family can have access to emergency shelter, and get the counseling they need and the tools to become self-sufficient. Housing those who are homeless and getting them to become productive citizens in the community makes a lot more sense than just looking the other way and doing nothing.
To learn more about Helping Hand House visit www.helpinghandhouse.org