At first, Laura was nervous about coming to The Gathering Place. It was January of 2021 and she had just been released from prison. She didn’t know where to go, and her parole officer didn’t offer much help. A friend assured her that TGP would provide the support she needed without judgment, but she still wasn’t sure.
“When my friend first brought me here, I was really doubtful about the treatment that I would get because most people only see what's all black and white,” she says. “They don't really see the person. At least, that was my experience with agencies in the community. And so I felt resistant, like I don’t want to open up about who I am.”
Still, her friend encouraged her. “I didn’t believe her until I got here and on that day I came in, they [staff] weren’t judgmental and they helped me.” On her first day, the team in the Family Program helped her obtain a hotel voucher to get her family into a safer temporary place. Ever since, Laura has been a member of TGP’s community and has worked towards her long term goals of stability and safety alongside TGP staff.
“They've been there every step of the way for this homeless journey, helping my family and me with food, with clothing, with anything that I've needed. They've been there. It feels like a chosen family, like a community.”
Laura describes moving from one shelter to a more stable living space in transitional housing. “Someone had stolen my car from the shelter. I was pregnant at the time, and we didn’t have a way to move our stuff. So, Ryan [a TGP staff member] came and helped us to move to where we are now. They've been there for me more than my own family has been there.”
Now, Laura is living in long-term, affordable housing. Her family was nominated by her case manager and TGP’s Family Program Manager for a housing voucher and were able to move in last December.
“It's a blessing because we've been homeless since I got out of prison last year. It’s been a dream, really. My kids were beginning to get hopeless,” she shares.
Laura describes that the night before learning about the housing nomination, when her daughter was imagining having a house to decorate for Christmas. “I was like, it's going to happen. We're going to have a place soon, and the next day we got the news. It was incredible timing.”
When we spoke to Laura in early December, she and her family were extremely excited for the next step in their housing journey. While they were grateful to have transitional housing while they waited, their unit was in a refurbished motel and didn’t have a kitchen. Laura resorted to using a shared kitchen facility one building over. She spoke honestly about the challenges of their temporary housing, which only had two rooms for the family of six. Her teenage son, 12 year old son, and 11 year old daughter shared a room while Laura and her baby shared the other. Laura’s five year old daughter stayed with her grandmother because there wasn’t enough space for everyone. “I'm grateful for the safe space that we do have, but I'm ready to move on to the next phase and to have a kitchen. We all love to cook.”
When asked what she loves most about The Gathering Place, Laura immediately thinks of her children. “My kids feel comfortable here. After being incarcerated for four and a half years, they have issues with feeling accepted. My children feel welcomed here and it makes me feel good to know that they like to come here.”
Laura is currently studying to become a para-family specialist. “It's nice because I can come here to study or train. They are awesome. They’ll find me a room to do my stuff. They’ll hold the baby for me and keep him entertained.”
“I have felonies on my record and some people only see your past. The people here at TGP that know me, they know us, and they know the work that I've put in and that my kids have put in. They know the sacrifices that they've made. People don't always talk about what the kids have sacrificed on this journey, but I see what my kids go through, moving from a motel to a shelter, being ashamed and embarrassed of being in a shelter. It’s a lot to carry. And so I always acknowledge their struggle, their part in everything. It's not just me that’s going through it.”
Looking forward, Laura plans to volunteer to help others get on their feet with the help of TGP.
“One day, I came in to TGP and some girls were asking for wipes for their babies. There weren’t any available, and I had some extra money, so I went and bought them and brought them back. The girls were like you didn’t have to do that, and I just said, ‘I know, but I want to do this. I’ve been where you are now. I know what it is like to have a need and not be able to fill it,’” She explains. “Even giving something so small as wipes, it’s really giving hope.”