“Sometimes things don’t go the way you planned,” said Lisa, who’s from Lansing and had been homeless for about a year before coming to Holy Cross Services’ New Hope Community Center.
“At first I thought it was embarrassing,” she said. “It was hard. I didn’t want to be here. I thought the world was on my back. I was broken. It was horrible.”
But Lisa didn’t just have herself to look after, she had two children – a primary school son and a preschool daughter – and was pregnant with a third.
FEAR OF LOSING CHILDREN
“Being in a situation like this with your kids is hard,” admits Lisa, cradling her sleeping newborn baby girl who’s wearing a polka dot headband. She hesitated to come to the shelter at first, because she was worried it would mean she’d lose her children to the State.
“You think they’re gonna look at you like you’re not stable because you’re in a shelter,” she said.
But the New Hope Community Center has shelter accommodation for women with children.
“They help you with getting clothes, the school bus comes here to pick up kids,” she smiles, looking to her little boy who proudly shows off the superheroes on his t-shirt.
COUCH-SURFING WITH A NEWBORN
Holy Cross Services set Lisa up with a case worker who helped her budget to see what permanent housing she could afford. She didn’t have a job, so she signed up for Section 8, a state program that helps people with low income pay for housing.
While all this was happening, Holy Cross also helped alleviate some of Lisa’s biggest worries.
“They serve you food and you don’t have to figure out how you’re going to get your kids fed,” she said, as her young daughter spins on a chair beside her.
Lisa says without Holy Cross’ help she would be bouncing from couch to couch, trying to find a job. And with a newborn, she says it’s almost impossible for her to work right now.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
But once New Hope Community Center helped Lisa and her children into a safe situation, they started looking to the future for the young family.
“I would never have got as much help if I wasn’t here,” said Lisa, who added that unlike many shelters, New Hope Community Center didn’t allow her to get too comfortable. Instead, counsellors encouraged her not to focus on her current situation, but to set goals for the family and where she wanted to be in the coming months.
“The encouragement from the staff and everybody, it’s a good experience for me.”
THE STRUGGLE TO FIND A HOME
Three times Lisa had housing lined up, with three different landlords. But with three children, no job and a history of evictions, the landlords would back out and she would lose the chance at stable housing. Then Diane, who works for Holy Cross, got involved.
“She reached out to a landlord she knew…they ended up allowing me to get the housing,” said Lisa. “Now I’m good. They paid my first month’s rent and deposit.”
LIFE LESSONS LEARNED
Lisa and her children now have a place to call home. She says she owes everything to the shelter staff, who taught her patience and perseverance.
“I feel like I can do something now,” she smiled. “I feel like I grew up being here.”
Lisa also gained a new understanding of those who use shelters. She said she used to think people who were in homeless shelters were lazy and didn’t want to work.
“I don’t look at people like that anymore,” she said. “There’s people here that lost their job and it’s not because of their lack of responsibility…it’s not fair to look at them like that.”
After seeing the difference the New Hope Community Center can make in someone’s life, Lisa now says she wants to work at the shelter herself.
“I love it. I love helping people. This is what I want to be a part of.”
The New Hope Community Center is in Lansing at the site of the former Volunteers of America shelter. In 2018, Holy Cross Services stepped in to save the shelter from closure. Since then, Holy Cross has expanded services at the newly named New Hope Community Center. Since 60 per cent of homeless clients served at Holy Cross have mental health and substance use disorders, those services have been added at the shelter. There is also a Women’s Specialty program that allows women, plus women with children, to receive residential treatment for substance abuse issues, keeping the family unit intact.
New Hope Community Center is largely funded through funds raised at our annual Homeless No More gala. This year’s event is March 5th at the Kellogg Hotel & Conference Center in East Lansing from 5:30-7:30 p.m. Please consider attending or sponsoring this important community event. Tickets and sponsorship information can be found here: https://holycrossservices.org/event/homeless/