There is no universal picture of homelessness. Each person’s story is unique … and some stories may even surprise you.
Take Laura, who grew up in a middle-class family on Long Island in New York. Her father had a good job, her mom was a full-time mother, and Laura never wanted for anything growing up. She graduated from college and life seemed to be progressing on a “normal” path. After college, she got married and the young couple became involved in their church. They had kids. Everything seemed great. However, her husband was hiding a battle with his own demons—a drug addiction that would eventually cause a major setback in the life of Laura and their children.
Hoping to make the bad situation better, the family relocated to Charlotte, where the company Laura worked for had offices. But instead of getting better, her husband’s addiction grew worse. A few months later, he disappeared—with their car, her only form of transportation to and from work.
As a result, she lost her job and money got tight. Her church family pitched in for rent and expenses for a while, but that could only keep up for so long.
“It just wasn’t adding up,” Laura said. “So, I had to make that horrible choice of going to the shelter. You’d never know by looking at me that I was living in a shelter. You don’t know. The person sitting next to you could be living in a hotel, on the street, in a car or in a shelter.”
At the time she decided to enter The Salvation Army Center of Hope, she said she remembered saying to herself, “‘This is not a part of my dream. I have a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old—why am I here?’”
Laura felt hopeless.
“It turns out I had lost faith in God. I said, ‘God has forsaken me because He’s allowed me to be homeless. Here I am with two kids, and it’s a struggle.’”
Despite the struggle, Laura’s story didn’t end here. In a way, it was just beginning.
“Right at your lowest moment, that’s when God steps in,” she said. “God says, ‘Look I’m here. Forget about everything else. Talk to me and only me.’ I just want people to know that even at your lowest moment, it’s going to get better. It’s only temporary.”
While Laura was at the Center of Hope, she began to feel God’s favor on her life. Her eyes began to open and she realized God had a plan for her.
With such a demand for space, the Center of Hope has to maintain a curfew policy. Residents who aren’t there by the designated time forfeit their spot to someone else in need of shelter.
One night, Laura was certain she was on the verge of losing her spot.
“I’m in the back of an abandoned building sitting on this little milk crate, digging through garbage and that was my lowest point. Because I felt like, now, I’m really going to be homeless. But, when I walked in, they didn’t question me at all, they just let me walk on in. I said I better get myself together, start thanking God and rallying around these women.”
Sitting on that milk crate turned out to be a turning point when Laura began to see beyond her current situation. She began to see how God was going to use her to impact others. “God was telling me, ‘This is not your punishment. I need you to do some things here. And, don’t worry. I’m going to get you out of here.’”
Back at the shelter, other women began to seek her out for counsel, advice or just someone to talk to. She helped other women with their job searches, all while she was looking for her own.
“I felt like God put me there for a reason. While I was there, I took the opportunity to minister to other women and let them know that this is not the end for you.”
She began to lead Bible studies, and two women ended up committing their own lives to Christ through Laura’s personal ministry and testimony.
Fast-forward 10 years, and Laura has remarried to a wonderful man, she has a great job, her kids are doing well, and she has very own home. She’s also founded her own nonprofit called the National Association of Virtuous Women, whose mission is to create “a strong sisterhood that truly empowers, inspires, and uplifts while making a powerful impact in our communities through volunteering, networking, mentoring and social activities.”
While her stay at the Center of Hope is in the rearview, Laura has not forgotten it. Now some years removed, she has an understanding of her purpose.
“At the time you are in a frame, you are in the picture,” she said. “You don’t know what’s outside the frame, but you have that feeling of embarrassment, frustration, anger, which is natural. Now I understand it was where God needed me to be. At the time, I just wanted to do what I had to do to get out of there and not come back. Now I find myself wanting to go back because people do really need help.”
Laura now volunteers regularly at the Center of Hope, ministering to the women there. She’s planning a number of things, including “vision board” parties where clients are encouraged to set goals for their future and work daily to achieve them. The idea came from Laura’s own experience.
“I remember being in the shelter thinking I can’t wait to have a broom because that means I’ll have a floor to sweep. All the things that people take for granted, you want that stuff back. You want some dishes to do, because it means you have a kitchen.”
Laura has a story to tell. She often describes her time at the Center of Hope as a “bittersweet blessing.” On one hand, it was a horrible situation that forced the decision. But, on the other, it’s when she let go of control and surrendered fully to God’s will in her life. As a result, she’s impacting the lives of others as she shares her powerful story with all who will listen. And, all who do are inspired.
Now, there’s a story with a happy ending.