Too often when we talk about homelessness, we get caught up in the scale and complexity of it and lose sight of the people experiencing homelessness.
Recently, I had the honor of meeting Janisha. Her warmth and kindness were captivating.
Janisha studied phlebotomy and worked as a Medical Assistant in Louisiana. Her starting salary was minimum wage at $7.25. After eight years of working, and .10 cent raises, her wage plateaued at $8.25. Her husband is a truck driver traveling for weeks at a time across 48 states. Though the cost of living was relatively low, the quality of life was also low. Her mother was born and raised in Oregon, and when Janisha was a child she always felt at home in Oregon. She dreamed of the day when her children “could see their feet in the clear waters of Oregon and experience a better quality of life.”
Janisha has a determined spirit to learn, grow, and work hard for a future that creates opportunities for her children. She has an inspiring attitude of gratitude that permeates her outlook. In order for Janisha to build a life of possibility for her children, she knew that they needed to change their environment. Together with her husband, they decided to move west with their truck and trailer, and saved money to ensure a smooth transition.
They first arrived in a suburb outside of Portland. Soon after, her children experienced racism and bullying that forced them out of the school. Her hopes for a better life for her children were challenged. Janisha said she had not accounted for the drastic change in demographics and the possibility of racism. However, this was not Janisha’s responsibility to account for – no person should ever have to experience racist behavior. Janisha knew that they couldn’t stay. They also found that it wasn’t possible to park their trailer anywhere. It wasn’t a livable situation. They pooled their resources once again and started submitting rental applications – each time a denial followed. The application costs added up.
Janisha started working at Wingstop to help make ends meet. Their resources were rapidly dwindling each week that they were not in stable housing. Amid all the moves between motels and the trailer, Janisha misplaced her driver’s license. She couldn’t apply for apartments without identification. She couldn’t get a new license without her birth certificate. With everything else going on – getting to work, maintaining routine so that her children wouldn’t miss school and above all, having to plan where to sleep each night – the task of getting a new license quickly fell through the cracks. She found herself in survival mode, unable to see more than a few steps ahead. Every night, Janisha lay awake thinking, “what am I going to do when the money runs out, when the car breaks down, when we don’t get approved again?”
Janisha decided it was time to ask for help. She got connected to JOIN’s Mobile Housing Team (MHT) through the Family Coordinated Access System. JOIN is the lead agency coordinating the county-wide response to family homelessness. Her MHT Outreach Worker, Roman, came to meet her the day before their truck broke down.
“Once connected to JOIN, everything I was working toward fell into place. JOIN was the answer to the biggest prayer I ever prayed.”
With support on the housing front, Janisha could focus on her license and birth certificate. MHT coordinated a housing search with JOIN’s Landlord Recruitment and Retention Program (LRRP) Team. The LRRP team manages relationships with private market landlords and property management companies. Through these relationships, JOIN advocates for flexibility around rental screening criteria and move-in costs.
JOIN secured housing for Janisha and her children, they moved in right away.
I asked Janisha – what did it feel like when you moved into your new home? She said, “every day, I would ask myself, is this the last day without having a home? Now being in a stable apartment, it’s more than a relief. It’s amazement. Every day, we walk in our front door and we are all instantly grateful.”
Her youngest daughter, Marilynn asked her, “Mama, we’ve been here a while, when do we have to leave?” Recalling this moment, Janisha smiled with a deep sense of peace and said “it felt so good to have an answer for my child and for that answer to be that we are home now.”
With the stability of home, Janisha is energized by all the possibilities. After two years at Wingstop, she’s working to develop a career pathway in the trucking industry. Her husband is still frequently on the road to support their family. Her children are in school and they are looking toward the future. JOIN’s MHT Retention Worker, Precious, has built a strong relationship with Janisha since moving into her new home. Precious meets with Janisha regularly to learn of her goals and offer support to ensure their stability in the long term. “Precious is someone I can call for support, I never feel judged, I can be myself and know that she’s there for me.”
Janisha’s dream is to continue to stabilize so she can help others. She has a strong interest in mental health and would like to support people achieve their greatest potential, “I want people to understand that what you perceive is what you receive. I want everyone to know that they have a special light within, we all do.”
Janisha is committed to paying it forward. “I received the help I needed. If I can hand out toothbrushes and toothpaste, spare a dollar, or simply smile – it doesn’t have to be big, the smallest acts of kindness can help so much. I received the help I needed at the moment I needed it most. Now that I’ve made it, it’s my responsibility to help someone else. We are each other’s angels.”
Marilynn, Janisha’s daughter, sat quietly listening to her mother. She had a content smile absorbing it all as she was wrapped in her mother’s arms.