“I tried not to cry in front of my kids.”
A Whatcom County mother said this when she, her husband, and their four children became homeless last summer and started sleeping in their car.
Daytimes, if they had gas, they’d take the kids to parks to play. “I tried to make it seem like we were having fun,” Jennifer says now (name has been changed). “But I was worried because we had no place to live.”
A cascade of events led to homelessness:
- The family’s longtime rental home in Bellingham was deemed unfit due to mold.
- As they were moving out, Jennifer’s mother died, several states away. Jennifer returned from the funeral to a letter from their landlord seeking thousands in damages.
- Jennifer’s husband got pneumonia and spent a week in the hospital.
- Jennifer’s birth certificate, social security card, and sentimental items, stored in a plastic bag at a relative’s house, were accidentally thrown away. “That was the cherry on top!” Jennifer says now.
She describes life without a home: “It was hard to find places to park. The food bank could only provide junk food since we had no way to cook. My son is in a wheelchair; we had trouble finding a bathroom for him. My young daughter regressed and began acting out. At night, my husband and son had to sleep in the bushes in the park, to make room in the car for our daughters and me to sleep. My husband and I would feed the kids what we could and go to sleep hungry ourselves.”
The Opportunity Council led them to Interfaith’s Family Promise. Jennifer says Family Promise was the best thing she could have done for her family.
“Family Promise is for people who want to help themselves. You have to make goals for yourself; you have to open a savings account. I got in the habit of getting our daughters to bed at 7:30. It was motivating! My son was motivated to go back to Bellingham Technical College. He was inspired by the energy of that place.
“I picked up good habits there. I taught my kids to clean up after themselves. I kept a schedule and organized my life. Those are things I do now.”
Family Promise works by housing local families in available spaces in participating congregations. Three or four families stay a week in each place. Volunteers provide meals and other support.
Seven weeks in Family Promise gave Jennifer the opportunity to seek longer-term housing. The family now has an apartment. “The kids were so excited!” Jennifer says. “We didn’t care that we didn’t have furniture. Family Promise got us some mats to sleep on. My husband is now looking for work. I’m going to school; I’ve registered for winter quarter. I want to work in human services. I could help others. I understand, because I’ve been there.
“I’m grateful to Family Promise for inspiration and motivation. I never felt looked-down-on, and I always received a listening ear. That meant a lot.
“At Family Promise, we weren’t sitting around waiting for things to be handed to us. Every mother there puts in the work. Every mother wants something better for herself and her children.”
Family Promise is entirely funded by local donors. Jennifer is grateful to those donors. Those able to donate are luckier than they know. “It would be awesome,” Jennifer says softly, “to be able to help.”
Article by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy