Statistically people like me don’t make it out. That I’ve clawed my way forward says something about my resilience but it also says something about our community. I needed a lot of help to get where I am.
None of us chose to be homeless. I’ve seen and heard countless times, from people who have never experienced it say things like “if only they had made better decisions”, and while this is true to an extent it doesn’t capture the reality that most of us were escaping horrible situations.
Growing up, my mother struggled with drug addiction and her own unaddressed trauma. As a child I suffered in silence. I shut down and became withdrawn. The people I maybe could have gone to, who maybe could have helped, I didn’t, because I didn’t know how to process and express the enormity of what had happened and what I was feeling. Even today it’s hard for me to talk about.
How can you plan for the future and focus on working to better yourself when your basic needs aren’t being met? In my teens and twenties I ran, sought escape and tried so hard to forget the pain. I had internalized so much shame and guilt over things I now know were not my fault. I had no self worth or confidence. I had zero stability and no support network. I didn’t think I could ever dig myself out of the pit of despair and drug addiction. I started using heroin to numb the pain but it soon took over my life and spiraled beyond my control.
I would be dead or on the streets without the services and supports I received. When I finally got sober I went through a residential drug treatment program. I had plans to move on but after my daughter was born with a rare genetic syndrome I found myself no longer able to work. Her father, my partner, was still struggling himself and not yet sober so I was essentially on my own then. I needed somewhere safe for us to go and that is when I came to the YWCA’s family shelter.
Having a safe place to go gave me the structure and consistency I lacked. The foundation to start working on myself. Thankfully we have programs in this city designed to help people in need. Parenting programs, education programs, health advocates, financial coaching, volunteers who would come just to play with our kids. The director and staff would sit and talk with me when I didn’t want to be alone. They genuinely cared about us.
Childhood is as much about the things that do happen as it is about the things that don’t. I was never shown the love and caring that I deserved. I lacked so many of the things people take for granted like food, clean clothes, undergarments, toiletries, a safe space, having someone you trust to talk to. Shelter helps provide those things to the children of struggling parents.
Cambridge is a wonderful city. So many caring and compassionate individuals have helped me move forward along my path. Baby U, a family support program providing parent education and other resources, helped me learn to parent with love and compassion. I accessed support groups through Cambridge Women’s Center. Cambridge Community Learning Center was where I first learned to use a computer and set up my first email account. I received education and job training through Just-A-Start and later continued working toward my associates degree at Bunker Hill Community College. There’s many more, these are just a few of the organizations I benefited from.
It has not been easy. We stayed in the shelter for over three years before finally getting housing. Then, in December of 2016 my family and I became homeless again after a ten alarm fire destroyed our home. It happened so fast we only had time to get ourselves out. I felt like I had lost everything I had worked for in an instant. I was devastated. This was the first place that I felt truly at home and at peace. It was the first place I experienced stability. A month later my mother’s cancer progressed to stage four. She died in April.
The losses I experienced that year were almost unbearable. I fell into a deep depression after all of this. The loss of my mother triggered a cascade of memories to come flooding back.
Thankfully our community once again helped us get back on our feet and we were able to move into a new home just weeks after losing everything in the fire.
It’s been ten years since I stayed in the family shelter. I am still unable to work due to the lack of childcare for children with significant needs. I don’t have a lot of material possessions but I have love, family, and friendship. The things that really matter. This is my success. That I made it out of the darkest place imaginable. I have had so much trauma and pain in my life, but I am still here and my life today is a gift.
Last year with the start of the pandemic and being stuck at home I started doing art again for the first time since I was a teenager. I had given it up for so long, first because of addiction and later because I was busy pursuing an education and raising my daughter. Something about it feels right today, feels like it’s what I should be doing. Art is meditative for me. It helps me quiet my mind and process my feelings. And as I continue along this path I feel like this is what I should be doing and it is enough.
Sherri H., Former YWCA Cambridge Family Shelter Client