“When I needed help, JOIN was there”

As we near the end of a tremendously challenging year, I’d like to share a story with you. JOIN has the privilege of witnessing incredible transformations and people overcoming hardships to create a future of possibility for themselves and their families. These stories energize our work and inspire us to continue day in and day out.

What’s most inspiring is that for every triumphant story we can tell, we’ve got a dozen more complex stories. While I share this story with you about our friend named Bug, please know that we are asking you to support our work not just for our triumphs – as is true in Bug’s story – but also for the stories that journey through a complicated set of twists and turns. It’s important to know that much of our work and triumph is in the journey of progress and the time we invest in partnering to get to the desired destination.

After her grandmother died, Stephanie – who is known to most people as Bug – was wading through addiction with no clear path out. She relocated from California to her hometown of Portland. She had burned bridges with her family and friends, and was left with no option except to live on the streets. She recalls this time in her life by sharing, “I was always trying to hide from my problems, but my problems never left me.”

Bug met JOIN Outreach Worker, Rebecca. Rebecca gave her a card and asked Bug to visit her at JOIN’s Day Space. Shortly before meeting Rebecca, Bug had tried inpatient rehab to get clean, but she says she didn’t really know what she was getting into, and it didn’t work. At the same time, the hardship of the streets was getting old, and she was looking for a change.
Bug could relate to Rebecca; they shared similar experiences of feeling ostracized by their families for a core part of their identities as LGBTQIA+ individuals. They both understood the feeling of isolation without anywhere or anyone to turn to in a time of need. This mutual experience built a critical foundation of trust. Through a trusting relationship, Rebecca was able to help Bug out with supplies to keep her safe and warm and worked to get her connected with other housing resources and services. Bug visited the Day Space for warm showers, food, and to connect with Rebecca for support.

“I got close with the staff and people at JOIN. I could feel the support that they wanted me to be better, that when I was doing barter work, I was working for something. The Day Space at JOIN is about bettering your life.”

Bug shared that her last run really made her commit to changing things around. With Rebecca on her side, she connected with a drug treatment group in Portland– and also found out she was pregnant. Two days later, she checked into detox. After twenty-one days in a detox center, she moved into transitional housing for parents-to-be with addictions to ensure her baby would be safe, and she’d be able to get help treating her addiction.

Baby Mo’Nique was born drug-free. Rebecca helped Bug move into a townhouse in North Portland with her new baby, and settle into life as a parent. Her story isn’t without setbacks and challenges, but having the motivation to keep going through the hard spots has kept her going. “When I needed help, JOIN was there.”

Bug’s Retention Worker, Ericka, continues to help Bug with her needs while offering support. “I know it’s been hard with the pandemic and that she’s had to adjust how this work happens. Ericka brought me baby gates to help me keep my very active baby safe– we have really steep stairs, and I wanted to keep her out of the kitchen. She asked me what I needed, and that’s what I needed most.” Ericka has also helped out with rental assistance and connecting Bug with employment support. Today, Bug is stable in her housing, committed to her sobriety, and providing a loving home for baby Mo’Nique.

When Rebecca talks about Bug, she knows that all of the real hard work was done by Bug. “I’ve done this work for long enough to see people in the same situation as Bug, and to know that there’s a choice to be made. I’ve seen people take the other path and continue to cycle through the same challenges. Bug did the work to exit that cycle and make a better life for herself and her daughter.” Rebecca frequently gets photos of Mo’Nique texted to her by Bug.

“I never thought I’d have a baby, and that’s how I would finally find the motivation to change my situation. I love where I’m at; I’m proud of where I’m at.”

When we talk about homelessness, there’s a tension between recognizing the unjust systemic barriers that cause this unnecessary phenomenon and the inspiring personal achievement narratives that overcome those barriers. In truth, it’s both. We want to celebrate the work that Bug and others have done to overcome insurmountable obstacles because it is truly extraordinary, a demonstration of strength and resilience we all aspire to have. We are grateful to witness these transformations, to be part of a network of support that coalesces around people working toward stability. We also want to continually reject the injustice of a society that demands this exceptionalism in order for a person experiencing racism, homophobia, poverty, addiction, and/or trauma to obtain the most basic of needs.

JOIN provides support for people to exit cycles of poverty by moving into permanent housing as a foundation for building a brighter future. This year, our communities face greater challenges brought on by the pandemic and racial injustice, yet our mission is unwavering.

We’re in this together, and we need your help. Together we can make triumphs possible, as is true for Bug, or we can simply show up to help carry each other and shoulder the burden.