As a housing and resource specialist at Rachel’s, Kelley meets separately with as many as 10 participants a day to help them apply for various services offered through Catholic Charities. She has been working here for 13 years, but when she first came to Rachel’s, she wasn’t a job applicant. She was a victim of domestic violence fighting addiction, cancer and severe trauma, all at once.
“I had one breast, a bald head and one day clean,” Kelley says. “I couldn’t do my life anymore.”
Kelley was homeless because the college she was attending had asked her to leave; at the time, there was no protocol in place there to deal with domestic violence. When someone on the streets offered Kelley drugs, they momentarily solved her problems. Eased her bitterness. Numbed her mind. That’s the thing about trauma, particularly domestic violence. It impacts every decision thereafter.
“When you start piling trauma on top of trauma, you’re not just adding; you’re multiplying,” says Antoinette Fallon, director of homeless services at Catholic Charities. “Trauma is the common thread in women’s homelessness. In order to truly assist these women, we have to understand what they’ve been through. It’s fundamental.”
Kelley spent four months at Rachel’s Night Shelter. During that time, she underwent 25 radiation treatments for breast cancer and attended two, sometimes three meetings a day to stay clean. It took her 20 years in total—through homelessness, hopelessness, and wrecked relationships—to regain stability. Who better to help the women at Rachel’s today?
“I am able to share my story because Catholic Charities did not judge me,” Kelley says. “They took me as I was—a broken, beaten-down woman. When I walked in here, a stranger saved my life. I want to be that stranger for someone else each and every day.”