“I grew up in Bessemer and came to Mobile with my husband. I love science and once thought I would be an astronaut. I still like to look at the sky. In high school, Mrs. Waters was my psychology teacher. She was a great teacher. I became fascinated with psychology and went into social work. I was a social worker in Mobile with DHR. Removing kids from homes was hard. Especially when moms loved their children, but the children weren’t safe. Mothers are scared of losing their kids. I think that is why they don’t get help sooner.
I left DHR to work at the Penelope House domestic abuse shelter and started finding my place. I grew up in a volatile home, especially when I was younger. Helping those women felt like I was healing myself. I remember feeling helpless as a child. I felt loved but there was also something unloving about all that was happening. I was conflicted by my dad’s self-centered behavior. He never hit us, but he was usually not loving to my mom. I am very close to my mother and proud of her. You can’t hurt her and be cool with me. I used to be angry with her for not leaving. After I started working with other families I saw how hard it was for her to make certain decisions. She didn’t have a family that was financially stable enough to help or an education to fall back on. She stayed where she knew we could be housed. She acted as our protector and we were never hurt. Both of my parents came from difficult backgrounds and they did the best they could given what they grew up with. Dad matured and apologized to me when I was an adult.
I left Penelope House and worked at Sybil Smith Family Village for 13 years helping families. Just because you live in a homeless shelter, transitional housing, or a domestic abuse shelter, people assume you aren’t a good family. That is not true. There are issues we helped them work through, but there was so much they were good at. There were a lot of lessons I stored away and used for raising my own kids. I saw women work so hard. Their mornings started at 4:30 getting kids ready for school and then worked one-and-a-half or two jobs. My co-workers at Sybil Smith were heaven picked. Some had been there themselves and understood trauma and crisis. We brought clothes our kids had outgrown or bought things out of our own pocket when there wasn’t quite enough. One woman lost her son to an illness and kept coming to work. She said sometimes you cry and keep moving. Later I had problems with my pregnancy and came back to work. I was stunned and crying, but I kept moving. God had this and I had a good doctor. I also learned not to let other people’s tears make me uncomfortable.
I am now executive director of Family Promise of Coastal Alabama and provide emergency services to house families. In normal times, we serve four families in shelter and three families in transitional housing. Partner churches open their worship space to provide shelter. We set up beds in Sunday School rooms and the church provides meals. It is a very cost-effective way to serve people. It also brings together people to share meals and support. Our clients don’t pay for services, and eighty-five percent of the families we serve achieve permanent housing.
The pandemic hit and we switched from churches to extended-stay motels. Some of the partner churches donate money to cover rooms for their weeks and have been bringing supplies. The United Way and Community Foundation have also helped. It is working, but it is not the most cost-effective way to do this. We are working on getting sleeping space at Central Presbyterian Church and how to staff it safely. We can now only serve two families at a time in shelter, but I am getting calls every day from families who need help. We have been opening the day center to let them shower and wash their clothes. We helped a family stay housed by paying their rent and we want to do more of that. Helping families avoid homelessness is the best we can do.
There is a lull in the spring because families get their tax refunds and can pay for shelter. There was no lull this year. The people around the families are stakeholders who can house families until they are back on their feet. In my situation, there were a couple of times my mom tried to leave, but the stakeholders around here weren’t stable enough to help her until she was independent. We start with anyone close to the family who could help. But living with friends and family is stressful. In the past, there would just be issues in the summertime because kids went to school for the rest of the year and ate meals there. In the pandemic, people are doubled up and together all day long. The food and power bills have gone up. Everyone is stressed. The pandemic has made hard situations worse.
We are currently helping a lady who is pregnant and has a small baby. They were supposed to move in with her sister, but her sister caught the Coronavirus and had to stay in the hospital for a couple of days. Now she can’t stay with her sister. We are extending her stay in a motel. The baby is due in October and we have to get her into transitional housing soon. However, housing is hard to find because we have a severe shortage of affordable housing in Mobile. Some projects have been torn down, families were displaced, and nothing new was offered. The waiting lists are closed for many housing options and it is difficult to get Section 8 vouchers. People who are going through homelessness for the first time are scared to death.
Family Promise offers the community real ways to make a difference. One lady makes a $50 contribution every month. She has no idea how helpful she is and how much we appreciate her. We give families a respite from the heat, a break from sleeping in cars, meals with healthy food, and the dignity of showering and washing their clothes. Even if we can’t solve the affordable housing issue, it is worth it just to give people a chance to eat, sleep, and think on a plan to get going. People are resourceful. We can prepare them for interviews and a chance to check their email. Mobile would be a little less family-friendly if we weren’t here.
I want to do more to strengthen families and help relationships before they break down and go into crisis. Those of us who have been there understand what families in crisis are going through. I use my own experiences to love and help each family I meet.”