First Hand Account: A Mother Who Experienced Homelessness and How Her Family Achieved Stability

Rachel (whose name has been changed for her own protection) was born in Italy and spent most of her life in South America. In 2001, she immigrated to the United States with her young daughter.  She found herself in a situation of domestic violence.  In 2009 she left her abuser and moved to California, where she had only one family member, no home, and no safety net. She ended up homeless.

USICH: What programs were most important for you to get stability and help, and how has your journey led you to the Hamilton Family Center?

Rachel: When I moved to the West Coast, I looked for information everywhere and knew I had to find answers for myself. I was looking, constantly looking, to get more help and support to get a new start.  Then I found the Riley Center (a domestic violence service provider). Therapy helped.  I also worked with a case manager through CalWORKS to continue studying and further my education.

Currently I am a full time student and have two semesters left to receive my Masters in Adult Education with an emphasis in ESL. As an immigrant and an ESL student, I understand the importance of learning English in order to better adjust in a foreign country and do well professionally. I like teaching English as a Second Language and I know the tools needed to learn a new language, which can be hard for others. If I have the opportunity to learn and get a better job in the future I will do that instead of entering a job with no opportunity to grow. My situation is not traditional, but this program is the best for me given my past education and what I can already do.

I was excited to enter this program, but at the beginning I did not know how I would be able to support my family. Step by step, working with my case manager, I was able to get the support I needed and the Hamilton Family Center came in to help with the rent so that I can continue to go to school.

USICH: What programs helped your daughter in this situation?

Rachel: Right now, my daughter is entering 9th grade and has been through a lot of changes since 2009.  She was able to get scholarships to attend sports camps and fun activities during the summer, which is important for kids in her situation. We also found out about a CalWORKS program that gives her summer work and training opportunities where she learns time management skills and how to be responsible with money. During our transition from the shelter to a stable apartment, she would’ve liked to have received more access to books, music, and other activities that make kids feel like normal kids.

USICH: What advice would you give service providers or those in the community to help moms like you?

Rachel: Education is the key for assisting those who need help. The entire community needs to get involved to make their programs known to women who need your help.  Giving information to women in crisis and helping them step by step get resources to rebuild their lives will give them a chance to recover. It took me a lot of searching on my own to find the resources in many different places.  It could be made easier.

USICH: What advice would you give to other domestic violence survivors who have found themselves homeless?

Rachel: Getting back on your feet is a slow process, especially for someone that is displaced. It is painful, especially with children, because you are trying to get a whole new life while you are supporting your children, but going step by step for resources is necessary. You must give importance to the emotional aspects of your life during this process as well. Seeing a therapist helped me to look at the outcomes I’m reaching for and was the first step in helping me connect to people who could help. Building a network of supports to help you is very important, and therapy is how I got connected with other organizations that help. Take one step at a time.

Work towards getting an education first, getting healthy, getting away from your abuser, and get a roof over your head. It is a painful process, but is a necessary process. My motto is to always change challenges into opportunities – not every situation is a good one, but you can use what you’ve learned to be better in the future.