The past year and a half has been a disruptive time for many of us, but those disruptions have been particularly acute for our members whose lives have been upended by quarantines, closures, school closings and more. Members like Princess Norwood, who has been coming to The Gathering Place on and off since 2017 and has more recently become a weekly fixture at 1535 High St. Then the pandemic hit, Princess ended up with COVID in late 2021 and was forced to quarantine while she recovered. The absence of her community at TGP during that time jumped out at her: “Everyone was like ‘where you been?’” she laughs, “because I come so often, but I couldn't come for a while.”
Princess is experiencing homelessness for the first time with four kids following a split from her husband. She went from having the stability of another income and being able to care for her young kids to being on her own. Princess recently sat down with us to discuss her experiences at TGP and what she values the most during her time here. Here’s what she had to say.
What brought you to TGP in the beginning?
Princess: “I had been here a few times to get diapers for my daughter in 2017, but once I was able to get everything on my own I didn't have to come as much. Then, when I was pregnant with my youngest [Bryant] last year I started coming more frequently, originally to get help with my rent and then after that for help preparing for the baby. My case manager, Paris, knew I had two boys and she helped me a lot because she knew I was stressing. I was separating from my husband and couldn’t think straight. She helped me get this stroller for the baby and prepared everything for this little man to come into this world. Seriously!”
And what programs and services have you utilized the most?
Princess: It's mostly been the Family Area, but I’ve also used the rent assistance and gotten help with my resume. I’ve also washed clothes here a few times. It is a nice break for me because everybody's so nice and they know the children and we're all comfortable here. Paris always had some kind of toys or gifts for them, so that is always nice and they're always surprised. And every time we visit TGP offers us lunch, so it takes the stress off me to have to worry about their lunches or getting them something to eat.”
What has that meant to you?
Princess: “The Gathering Place has really changed my life and helped me get the things that I needed for my children. I'm serious; I don't know what I would have done without that help. It took the worry, the anxiety, the stress, everything off of me because this place literally prepared me for everything I might need. Bottles, clothes, socks, bibs, diapers…everything. A changing table! A stroller! A car seat! Paris got us this stroller and his car seat that he needed to leave the hospital that he's still using. Literally everything! I literally couldn't even think straight at that point, but she knew what we would need and helped me get everything that I needed for my baby.”
Do your kids like coming to TGP now that they’re older?
Princess: “My daughter, Cariana, loves to come here because she loves to play with the toys. She's always like, ‘can we go to The Gathering Place?’ When we’re at home, I’m always cleaning, it's always teaching time. I don't get to just see them in their element just playing with toys and leaving them all over the place because you can't do that with me, you've got to pick it up. And they know that; it's how I am. But when she comes here, she is free to just play and do whatever she wants to do. So is my son, Princeton. He loves coming here. They're free, they can play. Their freedom is probably what they love the most, not even the playing or the toys. It's the freedom to play.”
What would you tell others about your experiences at TGP?
Princess: “I tell everybody about The Gathering Place because of the services. If it wasn't for The Gathering Place, I wouldn't have been prepared for my baby to come into this world. At all. Because I was so stressed out from other things. But literally, Paris prepared everything that I needed for this baby and even thought about my other children, too. That's why I'm so thankful that we come here and are able to get the things that we need. Even when I was married I still wasn't able to get the things that I needed for my baby because rent is so expensive, life is so expensive, but TGP was here for us.”