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How the salvation army sheltered my family in our time of need

Our family did well for a long time. I had a government job and my husband was a supervisor with a reputable company for over a decade. We had good jobs with benefits, we had nice cars, and our children wanted for nothing, we were happy.

Things started to decline once I left my City of Houston job ahead of departmental layoffs in 2011. We lost both cars and rode the bus for everything for over two years. Because we had no car, my husband would get off work, bring the kids home on the bus, then go back to work to spend the night in his office just to make it to work on time in the morning. He did this for over a year, then he lost his job of 14 years in September of 2014.

 We weren’t worried initially, he has an impressive resume and I was a work study student at the University of Houston. We just knew it wouldn’t be long before he found something else, and he did. He started working again less than a month later. But the unthinkable happened. In October, I was hit by a car on my way to school.

I dropped the kids off for school and got back on the bus to bring myself to school, as was my morning routine. Today I decided to make a quick stop for some coffee. I got off the bus, heading to a local McDonalds for some coffee and ended up face down in the street beneath the bumper of someone’s car. Then everything fell apart.

My husband had to leave his new job to care for me, as I could barely walk without help for days. Once we lost his income, we lost everything. We were already behind on rent, and soon our power was turned off. I didn’t even have the bus fare to make it to therapy for my injuries. We were living in the cold and the dark and I was feeding my family on my student meal plans.

Shortly after that we were evicted. Our landlords adored us and gave us as much time as they could. We were model tenants for almost 8 years and they didn’t want to see us go. But, we couldn’t live there for free and we had nothing.

 My boss was kind enough to let us sleep in his office on weekends. We could least shower and use the computer at the University. My family of four had already made pallets on the floor around my desk when I called The Salvation Army Family Residence to see if they had any vacancies.

I expected the worst. I expected to be housed with drug addicts and prostitutes. I expected common sleeping areas where I had to guard what few meager belongings we had left. I expected to live without safety and dignity just to keep my children off the streets.

I was completely wrong.

What I found was a loving and caring environment. We had our own room, we had our own bathroom. We were surrounded by happy children, caring staff, and 3 cafeteria ladies that would spoil you better than the most doting grandmother.

The Salvation Army took care of everything for us. They took care of our food, clothing, and medical care. We found spiritual and emotional support with both the staff and the other residents. I was given every resource I needed, and whatever resources they didn’t have were found. Everything I lost sleep over before I came was rectified. Almost a week after we moved in I was able to sleep through the night for the first time in weeks.  We were finally safe.

During my stay, I had a chance to reflect on the things that brought us there. I learned how to save money, and budget, and how to avoid all of the bad decisions that contributed to our arrival.  I cried myself to sleep many nights during my stay, but there was always someone there to help me to smile again. After a few months of painful job searching, I was able to find employment, and after 7 months my family and I were able to move into our own home.

The Salvation Army still helped my family after we left. They did everything they could to make sure we had what we needed to start again. The Home Sweet Home program helped us with cookware, dinnerware, and many of the things we still did not have the money to buy once we left. Our children had a wonderful Christmas that we would not have been able to give them without their help.

We have been in our home for 5 months now, and we still have a sturdy stockpile of toiletries that were provided to us before we left.  I didn’t think much of those things then, but the money we have saved has made all of the difference over the last few months.

Though we were well cared for, our time in the shelter has not left me without scars. I still worry about bad times and misfortune. I still worry about losing my job, or falling ill, or the millions of other things that could possibly put us back in the situation we were before. I am still not very vocal about having been homeless, and there are very few people that know about the time we spent in the shelter. Despite all of this, I don’t know where I would have been without The Residence.

I think the biggest testament to the Salvation Army’s success is my children’s view of the time we spent there. I struggled and cried and felt helpless because of where we were, but my children were happy, comforted, and well fed. They remember the smiling faces in the office, and the friends they had there. They remember the scores of selfless volunteers who made sure they had fun every weekend. They remember being spoiled on their birthdays and Christmas. They remember amazing field trips, good times, and good friends. During what has been the darkest time in my adult life, all my children will remember is love and happiness.

For that alone… I owe them a debt I can never repay.