A reader's question led us to ask formerly homeless people what helped make the difference for them. The answers range from an addiction-recovery program, help in getting that first home, a good wife and a co-worker in Kansas who "never gave up and never let go."
Much of the policy conversation about how to ease homelessness involves people who have never been homeless. Some people who survived homelessness advise All Home, the group coordinating King County’s response, but it’s rare for most of us to hear directly from someone who got off the streets about what helped to at least start to turn things around.
So when reader Kim Roberts asked, “What do people who formerly were homeless but are now housed say about the factors that helped them overcome homelessness?” Ask Project Homeless decided to pose the question.
Here are seven answers: Responses have been edited for space and clarity.
Annette Jones, 45, co-founder of Jones Community Solutions, homeless frequently as a child and from 2013-2014:
“I would say that this question implies that once someone is housed again all problems are over. I’ve been homeless multiple times throughout my life and … all of the services that are there to help someone not be homeless anymore stop as soon as the person is housed. Putting a roof over my head did not resolve all of the issues that were contributing factors.
I’ve been housed now since 2014. When I first moved into my place, a homeless friend of mine came for a visit and asked me how long I thought it would take me to lose my ‘homeless mentality’? It was a good question and one I was unable to answer.
I realize now four years later that it is because the experience has altered me forever and the living in survival mode I was doing at the time is the way I am still living my life. The threat of being homeless again is real and something I face each month as I am or am not able to cover my rent.”
Derrick Belgarde, 45, deputy director of the Chief Seattle Club and homeless until 2008:
“I spent most of my life suffering from alcohol and drug addiction. I hit my rock bottom around 11 years ago. I burnt all my bridges, I was alone and isolated away from my family and friends. I found myself homeless on the streets of downtown Seattle. I was hit with the realization that if I didn’t change I would soon end up a statistic. I entered a treatment center, where I stayed for seven months.
During that time I was able to begin healing; emotionally, mentally, physically, and most important, spiritually. I was supported by my wife who was kind enough to help me through these dark times. We began to truly get to know each other once again and quickly fell back in love.
After getting out of the treatment center I stayed in a transitional home for 30 days. During that time my wife and I searched hard for a new apartment where we could start over. We eventually found something in Beacon Hill. Even 10 years ago the rents were unfair, but we seemed to manage with our newfound focus and dedication for each other. We’ve had a wonderful decade together since. She is my main support and my rock in life.
I often think about how many people have to suffer alone, and I often wonder, would I be as successful today without her? I don’t think so. This humbles me greatly and makes me sad for others who have no one to support them. And it keeps me from being judgmental toward others. If we could come together as a society and be more supportive of one another, I totally believe there would be many more success stories.”
Krystal Marx, 35, Burien City Council member and homeless as a child:
“I was homeless for six months when I was 8 years old in Aberdeen, Washington … and what ended it for me and my mom was being able to stay with my mom’s sister. But not everyone has that option. …
The biggest thing … is being given a chance at permanent housing — not temporary shelter, not case management, not job services, not drug treatment — but housing that they can rely on to access 24/7.
We cannot focus on committing to case management, securing employment, or making the decision to address substance-use disorder issues while wondering if we will have a place to sleep that night, a place to store our belongings, a place to collect our mail, to shower in safety, a place free from harassment or drug sales or exploitation. Until there are more housing-first options available with co-occurring services, other services become stressors to manage instead of solutions to attach to.”
Richard McAdams, 50, search and rescue coordinator at Union Gospel Mission, homeless 2003-2013:
“For me there were a few factors that needed to be overcome before I was able to get out of homelessness. Addiction was the first. My addiction stems from a childhood trauma that never was truly addressed. I used drugs throughout my life to cope with pain, and until I learned how to deal with things in a healthy way, my addiction… led me to become homeless.
I entered into the Union Gospel Mission Recovery program, where I learned healthy ways. When I graduated, I rented a room from a friend which taught me how to navigate through the daily routine of paying bills and being responsible for myself. After 10 years of living on the streets it was kind of overwhelming to move directly into my own place. I currently live in my own place and after two years of living there I am confident that I am going to be ok.”
Brian Chandler, 50, director of outreach at Union Gospel Mission, homeless June -November 1990:
“The easiest way to sum it up is, people. Not just any people — those that don’t judge you, they hold you accountable with grace and love, and they never give up on you, no matter what. That guy for me was Andy Brown. While sleeping on the streets of Wichita, Kansas, I was holding down three jobs to feed my addiction. One of those was a bearing company where Andy was a district manager. He soon found out that I was deep in my addiction to drugs and alcohol. I literally spit on Andy, cussed him out, threatened his life, but he never gave up and never let go.
It seemed that the more I pushed him away the closer he got. I began trusting him and then leaning on him. Before long Andy became, and still is, my best friend. On January 31, 1993, Andy introduced me to Jesus and my life has never been the same. My wife, who I was with for this entire journey, was my rock (still is). Though she asked me to leave because of her concerns about my addiction, she stuck with me. Today I am married (30 years) with three children and one dog. My children are doing amazing at life. I went to college with three children and a full-time job. Today I am a director over one of the most crucial ministries with the greatest organization. All due to Andy and Sheila.”
KeAndra Radchenko, 24, case manager at Mason County Housing Options for Students in Transition (HOST), homeless off and on from childhood until 2016:
“I experienced poverty and homelessness intermittently for many years because of circumstances completely beyond my control, resulting in my participating in an extremely unhealthy lifestyle. When I was 16, my father passed away and shook my world to its core.
I began working on cleaning up my life; educationally, I flew under the radar and easily went unnoticed, though I had been truant for years prior. The courts and the school system were set on forcing me to attend school, but not one person stopped to ask why I didn’t. I was finally identified as McKinney-Vento (homeless and eligible for federal aid) by the school district liaison, but I wasn’t yet 18. I couldn’t access services, nor could I find information on resources that may have been available to me.
On my 18th birthday, I was admitted into the HOST program and began receiving services that day. About a year after that, Kim [Rinehardt] began working with HOST. Kim saw past the face I put on for the world and began nurturing my potential. After I graduated in 2014, she told me if I enrolled in college, she would give me a job.
In January of 2016, I rented my first home, where my sister was able to come live with me. I was safe, stable, and I found my passion in helping others. Last year, I bought my first home and currently live there with my partner, sister and our animals. I am finishing my bachelor’s degree and I am looking into graduate programs. I also work on various other projects surrounding social change causes I believe in. The HOST Program was truly life-changing for me. It was through HOST that I began believing I could do something meaningful with my life while also being provided with the tools I needed to get there.”
Melissa Ryder, 18, student at Choice Alternative School in Shelton, homeless since 2014:
“I have been experiencing homelessness since the age of 13. I have lived in cars, tents, trailers and uninhabitable homes that had no water or power. I had to take showers at friends’ houses where they and their families encouraged me to continue my education despite my circumstances.
Soon, I started my freshman year at Choice Alternative School in Shelton, which was the very first time I got involved with Mason County Housing Options for Students in Transition (HOST). They helped me get all the little things I needed, like shoes and hygiene products, but I didn’t participate in the program at the time.
Three years later, I found myself applying again for this amazing program, this time needing a home. I was placed in a host home about two months ago and I could not be happier. I love the family I live with; I couldn’t ask for anything better. Because of the HOST program, I now am able to focus on graduating from high school and move on to college. I plan to attend The Evergreen State College and get my master’s degree in secondary and elementary education.”