When I was asked to share my story with our community, I was really excited. I immediately knew where to begin. I am 14 years, 10 months and 14 days clean. I am a Housing and Resource Specialist at Catholic Charities’ Rachel’s Women’s Center and an activist for drug policy change. I am on the board of A New Path, Parents for Addiction Treatment and Healing that is helping to transform archaic drug policies with therapeutic treatment rather than incarceration. Today, I am paying it forward by helping those who come after me. I am proud of every step I’ve taken that has led me to where I am today. Yet, sharing how I got here terrified me. I would need to look back at who I was, how I showed up at Rachel’s Women’s Center on the most desperate day of my life. I wanted things to change, but that would mean I had to ask for help. I was scared no one would listen.
I remember the day I was asked to leave my home like it was yesterday. Thanks to the generosity of a maintenance man, I was given one last night there. I was scared, tired and broken. I crawled into bed, too scared to move, fearful if anyone heard me they would ask me to leave. As I lay frozen, the darkness of the room scared me like it had when I was a child. But monsters were not in the closet or under my bed, they were in my past, my present and unfortunately my uncertain future. My mind was racing. Is this my last night inside? My last night safe in my bed? Where am I going to go in the morning? How am I going to do this?
I kept repeating over and over the haunting words of my doctor. “Kelley,” he said, “we are both killing you me with the chemo and you with the drugs. One of us has to stop.” My life of disappointment had caught up with me; I was bitter at my school for kicking me out, at my past involvement with a violent man, and now I was homeless and totally alone.
I remember parking my car a block from Rachel’s and gathering up all the strength I had. Trying not to get my hopes up, but thinking maybe, just maybe this place would help, would understand I was at rock bottom. I couldn’t live one more day like this, I deserved a shot at life and I was just barely existing. I was trying to make it on my own and the reality was… I needed help.
“I was trying to make it on my own and the reality was… I needed help.”
When I walked through the doors, barely a shell of a human, I mustered up all my strength to say to the woman standing at the front desk, “I have one breast, a bald head, I am one day clean and I can’t do my life anymore.” I finally decided to be honest because I had nothing to lose. I knew they had rules, and I was not drug free. The breast cancer was too much to face and I just needed something to numb me, numb my aching body, numb my mind of all my thoughts, just to get me through. I had already made a deal with myself before I walked through the door, if I was going to do this, I was going to change. What could it hurt? It couldn’t get any worse.
The first time I asked Catholic Charities for help they gave me food, shelter and, for the first time in a long time, hope. Looking back, I realize how lucky I was to get a bed. It would forever change my life. As I walked up the 35 steps into the shelter, I felt as though I was climbing out of my past. There was nowhere to go but up. I spent 4 months at the night shelter. I slept in a room with 34 other women whose pasts also haunted them. I underwent 25 treatments of radiation and attended 2, sometimes 3, meetings a day to stay clean. I slowly started to put myself back together. Nine months later I found myself working at the night shelter and later as a Housing and Resource Specialist. I know I have been every woman here at one point in my life; a victim of domestic violence, an addict, homeless, having to take my kids to their dad’s because I couldn’t take care of them. Who better to help the women here than someone who has been them? Someone who is now walking down a better path, paying it forward.
I have the courage to share my struggles because they made me who I am today. The women I help have become a part of my story too. My greatest accomplishment so far has been assisting an 80-year-old undocumented, homeless woman whose only safe, reliable source of food was the lunch she ate at Rachel’s. We had to get creative to find her a way out of her circumstances. As it turned out, an old drug charge from her past was the answer. She was willing to go to an outpatient drug program which led to her getting her own home, including meals from a senior agency. She would never be hungry again. This is why I am here. Helping women like me gives me purpose and the strength to stay clean and committed to my life. I am able to share my story because Catholic Charities did not judge me, they took me as I was. They helped me pull myself back together.
“Helping women like me gives me purpose and the strength to stay clean and committed to my life. I am able to share my story because Catholic Charities did not judge me, they took me as I was. They helped me pull myself back together.”
Here, they see the whole person and treat each person with the dignity they deserve. Because that was done for me, I pay it forward. A total stranger saved my life. I want to be that stranger for someone else, and each day I think I am.
Thank you for taking the time to read my story,
Kelley’s story illustrates just how vital it is to find a safe a supportive community while experiencing homelessness. We ask that you give a gift today that empowers those we serve to achieve their full potential.