Loving Homeless Women & Children




Women often come to the Crisis Shelter fearful, broken and anxious. No one wants to come here: itís the last resort.

That was the situation when Penny* checked in. She and her children had fled an abusive partner. Her face was still black and blue from their last fight. When they arrived, they were cold and scared, and her daughter clung to her. Staff got them warm blankets and hot tea. They reassured Penny she was safe and she would be OK.

Pennyís response was, ďI feel broken. I donít think Iíll ever be right again.Ē Penny described feeling helpless to do anything to change the situation she was in.

The emotional and psychological scars are not immediately visible, but Penny was worn down by abuse and the lies she was told about herself. She admits she often felt that she deserved what she got. She experienced difficulty sleeping at night, anxiety, panic attacks and sometimes self-harming acts as result of the emotional impact of the abuse. Grief, anger, and fear encompassed her and she had a low sense of self-worth.

We want the Crisis Shelter to be a safe haven, a place of peace and rest. Thatís what ladies experience when they first check in. They are given clean clothes, a place to shower, food if they are hungry: the bare essentials.

Staff and volunteers listen to them and try to reassure them, but it takes time to build trust. Homeless women and children need time, safety and a chance to build trust to make good decisions for their families.

TRAUMA AND ANXIETY

Children that witness domestic violence and chaotic home lives often ďact outĒ in an attempt to cope with their emotions. Some children perform well at school but scream at siblings and mom and throw fits at home.

Iíve witnessed an 8-year-old boy yell at his mother constantly, criticizing her about everything she does. Iíve seen a 7-year-old girl that cries every morning before school and clings to her mom as the bus is waiting out front. There was a 13-year-old who suffers from migraines and withdraws from sports and friends, who finds it difficult to fall asleep at night and even more difficult to get up the next morning.

Though these behaviors present different challenges, they have one common thread: anxiety.

We desire to love our guests right where they are, help them to set goals for themselves and provide resources and support in reaching these goals. We want to come alongside families with unconditional love and support and see them experience healing and life change.

BUILDING TRUST

Again I think of Penny, who came into the shelter so broken. She was defensive and easily provoked. Her kids, too, were reacting from the trauma they had experienced and were often loud and unruly, with frequent meltdowns.

Gradually, through consistent relationships with staff and volunteers, classes and chapel services, Pennyís defenses started to come down. She began to understand, open up, and heal. She began to parent in a different way. It wasnít easy and took a lot of work, but Penny was determined to be the kind of mother her children needed. Penny enrolled herself and her kids in counseling. She got connected in a local church. Penny was able to find employment, which greatly boosted her self-esteem.

I remember the day Penny came in to tell us she had found housing. Tears streamed down Pennyís face as she clung to me and shared how sad and bittersweet it was to leave this place. Penny and her kids still stop by now and again to donate clothes and needed items, never forgetting the fresh start they received here. In fact, Pennyís daughter did a service project for the shelter through her school and brought essentials and little extra items for the children that she remembers were helpful for her when she was here.

The women who come into the Crisis Shelter feel broken and crushed by their circumstances and life experiences. It takes a lot of courage to come here. It takes tremendous courage to start over and begin to trust. But I see these women as strong overcomers. They are beautiful and caring mothers, sisters and daughters despite the situations theyíve come from. Itís a privilege to be here for them.

*name changed for privacy.