Sometimes it makes all the difference in the world to be able to step back from our day-to-day lives, take a deep breath, and figure out manageable steps toward making the wrong parts right. When Diane (name changed for privacy) found herself four months pregnant and in a dysfunctional living situation in New York in 2000, she did not have the luxury of perspective that would allow her to see a brighter future. “I didn’t know how to understand or appreciate anything,” she says. “I was in such a depression. Something inside was missing.”
But deep down, she knew she needed to make a change. So she got on a Greyhound bus with $100 and one suitcase and headed to her home state of North Carolina, where she had a contact at a church in Fayetteville. She asked God to help her make it.
Diane stayed at several homeless shelters, but she knew she needed more than the short windows of time they allowed people to stay to get her life back in order. That’s when she found Genesis Home. She was relieved to be assigned a case worker for therapy, counseling, and career support at Genesis Home – and to have the privacy of her own apartment to spend time with her young son, David (name changed for privacy). “Genesis Home had all the resources I needed and offered me relief from worrying about the necessities of life so I could give full attention to getting healthy and thinking about who I wanted to be,” Diane says.
Diane stayed at Genesis Home for 14 months. “It took that entire time to get to a sense of peace,” she says — a peace she felt “for the first time ever.” She learned the importance of having goals and plans: “Knowing there was a possibility of coming out of poverty and pain gave me a whole new reason to live. I knew I could rise above my past.”
While living at Genesis Home, Diane began to work at retail hair salons (she had been a hair stylist in New York since the age of 17) and was able to find child care for David. Eventually, she gained approval to move into her own apartment with Section 8 assistance. Realizing that the best way to economic independence would be to own her own business, Diane opened her own hair salon, The Beauty Spot, in 2004, and began building a loyal clientele.
Soon, however, she realized that it was tough making ends meet. A friend and customer who believed in Diane was willing to put up the collateral for her to get a microloan from Self-Help. With that support, Diane has been able to grow her business. “Through the support of my case worker at Genesis Home and the loan officer at Self-Help, I have learned about money and finances,” she says, “and I am still learning. I also learned to give back when I meet people with depression. My work lends itself to listening, helping, giving back. I love my job and don’t want to do anything else.”
In October 2010, Diane was approved for a home loan. “Now I’m a homeowner and a business owner! My credit score is going up. I am so proud,” says Diane. “Having come from a dysfunctional family and environment, I realized I had to choose to stay or wipe my hands of the past. I had to do a radical thing and step out. It was the hardest but most rewarding decision of my life.”
Wearing a 1,000 watt smile that shines even brighter when talking about her family, you would never know Mrs. Hafiza Marshall has experienced significant trauma over the past two years.
In 2011, Hafiza and her husband Lawrence were working and raising two boys in a town north of Philadelphia when the unthinkable happened – Lawrence was laid off from his job of 14 years. Then just a short while later, the police department where Hafiza worked downsized its staff due to budget cuts, leaving her unemployed as well. “We just didn’t have enough,” said Hafiza. “We got evicted.”
Lawrence’s uncle invited the family to stay with him in Durham, but just a few weeks after arriving, they had to seek shelter elsewhere because there just wasn’t enough room.
Fortunately, Hafiza found her way to Genesis Home. Tammy Mauldin, the Genesis Home Family Services Coordinator for the Marshall family, recalled the first day that she met Hafiza.
“I was coming into work one morning, and I saw Hafiza standing at the door with headphones on,” said Tammy. “She must have been there at 5 a.m. just waiting to talk to someone. She was determined to move her family into Genesis Home.”
And Hafiza did just that. She, Lawrence and their two boys Devin (age 9) and Isaiah (age 3) moved into Genesis Home’s Family Matters Program in January 2012.
In working with Miss Tammy, Hafiza revealed that the trauma of losing both of their jobs, their housing, their car and suddenly finding themselves in a brand new place without shelter was impacting her both mentally and physically.
For Hafiza, the five key interventions identified by Genesis Home (Housing, Income, Mental Health/Substance Abuse, Financial Literacy, and Family Health & Wellness) played a crucial role in empowering Hafiza to address the impact of the trauma she experienced and to move forward.
“We were just losing stuff, one by one,” said Hafiza. “When you can’t provide, you feel like you’re failing your children, your marriage, yourself. It takes you into a depression.”
A tenet of Trauma-Informed Care is supporting consumer control and choice. Trauma often strips a person of control over their own life, and one way to give that back is by providing clients with the opportunity to have a say in their own care. For Hafiza, that choice came from Tammy after getting to know her and seeing the depression manifest through unhealthy behaviors.
“I told her to choose—either probation or therapy,” said Tammy. “Hafiza chose therapy, and it has worked out really well for her.”
Hafiza agreed. “I’m dealing with everything a lot better. My therapist and Miss Tammy have helped. Miss Tammy gets to know you as a person—not as a homeless person—but as a person. She gets to know you on a human level. She knew something was wrong and helped me get help.”
But the challenges didn’t end there.
In addition to Hafiza being diagnosed with depression upon entering Genesis Home, her youngest son Isaiah was diagnosed with a mild case of autism.
“I noticed Isaiah wasn’t talking as much,” said Hafiza. “At first, they diagnosed him with just a speech delay, but we took him back and he was diagnosed with autism. My depression got worse after that. You blame yourself. Where did I go wrong? But I have learned that wasn’t the case.”
The autism diagnosis and treatment plan for Isaiah was part of addressing the Family Health and Wellness intervention. Isaiah is attending a special needs preschool and Hafiza and Lawrence have been learning specific parenting techniques to address his needs.
“Genesis Home gives you that little tap for you to go forward, but you end up pushing yourself forward,” said Hafiza. “The self-sufficiency I learned here was very important for me. I learned parenting skills, budgeting and how to adapt to a different type of environment. I learned responsibility, even as an adult.”
The Marshall family has now graduated and moved into a rental home. Hafiza says Isaiah is talking more and is much calmer, and their oldest son Devon has been excelling academically, making the honor roll at school. She credits our after-school tutoring program for helping him achieve this success.
When asked what her hope is for her family’s future, Hafiza has her sights set on being an entrepreneur. “One day, I want to own our own home and start a daycare business,” she said. “I just want us to keep moving forward. And I’m going to come back to Genesis Home and volunteer.”
According to a recent study, nearly 90 percent of participants in programs based on Trauma-Informed Care have either remained in Section 8 housing or moved to permanent housing.* With the skills they have gained and the innate determination of both parents, we are confident that the Marshall family will be in that 90 percent.
And we look forward to seeing Hafiza’s smile back at Genesis Home as a volunteer, supporting our mission to end homelessness for families with children.
*Laura Winn, et al., Trauma-Informed Care: What Do We Know? Homelessness Resource Center, http://homeless.samhsagov/Resource/Trauma-Informed-Care-What-Do-We-Know-50016.aspx (February 13, 2013).
“The Genesis Home is not for [homeless] people. It’s for people that need to [find] a home.”
-Josh, age 7
Josh is right. Genesis Home isn’t just about providing shelter for homeless families.
It’s about empowering families to achieve housing stability.
When we found Josh’s letter in our archives, it reminded us just how powerful our youth enrichment efforts within the Family Matters program can be.
The goal of Family Matters is to help families identify and overcome the root causes of their homelessness, while taking a holistic approach to teaching life skills essential to obtaining and retaining permanent housing. That holistic approach includes providing youth enrichment programs for our Genesis Home children.
From summer camp at the YMCA to after-school tutoring and reading programs, we work to give our kids the tools they need to focus on academics, build confidence and learn skills that will help them both inside and outside the classroom. However, we would not be able to achieve these goals without our Genesis Home supporters who donate both their time and money. In fact, thanks to the efforts of fundraisers, volunteers and corporate sponsors, we raised nearly $25,000 for our youth enrichment programs and direct client assistance through the 2013 Great Human Race.
Former Genesis Home Board member and our 2013 Great Human Race Honorary Chair Barbara Smith said working with children during their stay at Genesis Home is paramount. “There’s a great amount of work done for the children at Genesis Home,” Barbara said. “They need a lot of help and support, and there are so many different programs at Genesis Home that achieve this with leadership and guidance from our family services coordinators and volunteers.”
Recent Genesis Home graduate Hafiza Marshall echoed that sentiment. She attributes her son Devon’s academic growth to our youth enrichment efforts, specifically the after-school tutoring program. “He’s made the honor roll,” said Hafiza. “Genesis Home gives you that little tap for you to go forward, but you end up pushing yourself forward.”
Thanks to your support, we are able to continue providing youth programs that empower our Genesis Home children to push themselves toward a bright future.