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Birmingham Woman Left At Salvation Army As An Infant Returns As Adult to Escape Domestic Violence

Dominique and her three children came to The Salvation Army Birmingham Area Command in 2018 to seek refuge from a verbally and physically abusive relationship with an ex-boyfriend. Because she had witnessed her mother being killed by her stepfather early in life, Dominique knew she had to do something to prevent repeating the cycle. Determined to keep her kids safe, she formed a plan to start a new life.

“Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace.”

Dominique and her children were living with her father, stepmother, and sister when an altercation occurred between herself and her youngest son’s father. When presented with the chance to leave, she took it. Dominique found out about the women’s Center of Hope shelter at the Salvation Army in Birmingham. She and her children moved in and began preparing for their new lifestyles.

“Being in a shelter was different. My kids didn’t know what to expect; I didn’t know what to expect,” Dominique stated. “Believe it or not, some of the best sleep I’ve ever had was at The Salvation Army. I had peace,” she added.

Dominique stayed at the Center of Hope for four months before finding permanent housing. During that time, she joined The Salvation Army’s Education and Workplace Development program. The program helps individuals sustain employment through job readiness as well as life and educational training.

“My teacher was constructive. She had us write down our goals. My goal was to go back to school for real estate, and that’s what I did. I had help along the way, and whatever I asked for to better myself, The Salvation Army helped me. They offered assistance with school, my children, and extracurricular,” Dominique shared.

“It took me longer to finish the program because of being in and out of court concerning my domestic abuse case, but my counselors were patient and encouraged me. Kudos to my caseworkers. They tag teamed and helped me get everything I needed with going back to school. They were there for me all the way,” Dominique added.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around.”

Headshot of Dominique

Dominique was able to realize her dream and obtain her Real Estate license in 2020. However, as soon as she began to build her client base to start a new career, the COVID-19 pandemic put everything on hold. Even with two jobs, she struggled to pay her rent. Thankfully, she was eligible for The Salvation Army’s COVID-19 financial assistance program, which has helped pay her rent and utilities throughout the pandemic.

“It’s been a big adjustment, being a mother of three during the pandemic. My middle son started having more behavioral problems, and we’ve been going to the doctor and therapy all year. He was diagnosed with ADHD, and learning this during the pandemic is tough,” Dominique shared.

Having to turn to The Salvation Army for assistance again, Dominique reflected on previous times when The Salvation Army helped her. Staying at the Center of Hope in 2018 wasn’t her first encounter with the Army. Her mother abandoned her at The Salvation Army when she was an infant. Dominique was entered into the foster care system where her grandfather was able to locate and adopt her.

“To come back with my kids I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ It’s crazy how things circle back around,” Dominique stated.

“I just want to give God full credit because He’s the one who did everything for me and turned my whole life around. I didn’t do anything. There’s nobody but God who has brought me through this,” Dominique added.

Louisiana Grandmother and Her Three Grandchildren Sleeping In Graveyard Turn to Salvation Army

The Salvation Army of Shreveport has provided a second chance for a homeless woman and her three granddaughters. They turned to live in a graveyard when faced with homelessness at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. They now live at The Salvation Army Merkle Center of Hope, where they’ve celebrated Christmas and are being assisted in building a safe, independent lifestyle.

Twyla was living in Arizona when her daughters contacted her, saying that they could no longer care for their children and wanted her to take custody. She quickly made arrangements to move to Shreveport, Louisiana, to care for her three grandchildren.

“Their mamas weren’t acting right. They told me I better come get them, or they’re gonna just walk out,” Twyla shared.

Twyla immediately filed for full custody of her three grandchildren, ages nine, eight, and five, when she arrived in Shreveport. She was told that she could stay in one of her daughter’s homes to care for the children, and her daughter would move in with a boyfriend. After getting settled, Twyla’s daughter changed her mind and stated that she and the boyfriend would be living in the house, so Twyla and the children would have to find elsewhere to live.

The family ended up sleeping in the woods and abandoned houses, but Twyla couldn’t find comfort in those situations.

“I have no family here [ in Shreveport] except two daughters who are only about drugs and thugs. We had no place to go, so I started thinking about the safest places for us to live,” Twyla shared.

“I thought to stay in a graveyard because we’d slept in abandoned houses with no windows, mostly in bad areas. I didn’t get any rest. I’d sit up because I was scared. One time we slept in the woods, and it was the same thing because there are so many drug addicts and alcoholics out here roaming all night, hunting people to prey on. I knew this graveyard was over here, and I thought, ‘You know, most people are scared to walk through a graveyard at nighttime.’ That’s where we went, and that’s where we felt the safest. We never saw anybody except the groundskeeper and we didn’t let him know we were staying there. We left in the daytime with our backpacks and came back at night. Most of the time, we’d go to the gas station across the street and just sit on the curb at the side of the building,” Twyla added.

Twyla used her food stamps and to grab food from the gas station. She added herself to the waiting list for a suite for her and the girls at The Salvation Army. When she received the call that there was a vacancy, she immediately headed over to secure her space.

“It was hard, but my grandbabies are my life. I have to speak for them. I don’t want my babies in the system. Once they get in the system, it’s hard to get them back. I live for them. I’m going to take care of them until I have my last breath. Regardless of what I have to do,” Twyla stated.

Twyla and her grandchildren have been living in transitional housing since March 2019. She’s working with Hope Connection to set up permanent housing. Everything is in place but moving slowly since COVID-19 cases are increasing.

“As long as my babies have a warm bed and aren’t relying on gas station food, I have all of the time in the world to wait. We do not lack anything here,” Twyla stated.

“If it wasn’t for The Salvation Army, I really couldn’t tell you where we’d be. This place has really blessed us. This place is a blessing. People need to keep doing what they’re doing. Keep donating. If you’ve never been homeless or walked in my shoes, then you don’t really know what it’s about,” Twyla added.

Mobile Mother and Newborn Living In Car Find Hope With The Salvation Army

Ms. J and her seven-month-old baby came to The Salvation Army of Coastal Alabama’s Family Haven after spending a week sleeping in her car. Although she had been homeless on one other occasion as a child, she was reluctant to be living in a shelter. She and her infant son were newly homeless and were not aware of the social services available in the community. Ms. J was relieved after visiting the Family Haven, and she gladly moved into the shelter.

In addition to homelessness, Ms. J had many needs. Her vehicle was undependable and uninsured, she and her son were battling numerous chronic health issues, and she had no earned income and was in debt, including delinquent gas and electric bills, which would become extreme barriers to future housing options. Ms. J was diligent about developing and implementing a savings plan based on her TANF allotment until she could find gainful employment.

The Family Haven connected Ms. J with Housing First and helped her complete applications for several privately owned homes and income-based apartments. At first, it was a frustrating process. Many properties had an extensive waiting list. Ms. J continued her stay at the Family Haven past the standard three months. Although her physician recommended that she not work and apply for disability, Ms. J was determined to become self-sufficient and care for her family. Finally, she was able to secure employment and stable childcare.

Ms. J was accepted at one of the housing complexes of her choice but could not sign her lease until her delinquent utilities were paid and established in her name. Fortunately, The Salvation Army was able to assist her with the outstanding bill. After four months of staying at the Family Haven, Ms. J and her child moved into permanent housing with a subsidy.

Ms. J used her time at the Family Haven wisely by applying for housing, saving money, and finding ways to eliminate her debt. Her diligence made her a perfect candidate for The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope initiative. Since participating in this program, Ms. J has gained more stable employment, established mainstream banking, and purchased a new vehicle. The program will follow Ms. J for the next two years helping her to eradicate generational poverty.

Pathway of Hope – Angel

Angel joined the Pathway of Hope to get to the root cause of her chronic homelessness. After years of running away from settling down, she decided she wanted a more stable life for herself and her two daughters. They’d moved around a lot, and eventually, Angel and her daughters had become homeless and were living in her car.

Angel established life outside of her home state and was financially stable but returned to Mississippi out of fear of failure. She did not have a support system, so she lived off of her savings in a hotel room. When funds were exhausted, Angel and her daughters turned to live in her car, having to rely on hospital bathrooms for personal hygiene upkeep. Angel kept her daughters preoccupied by spending their free time at the public library.

“I fell asleep at police departments sometimes just so that I could know that they were safe. There were many mornings that I woke up to a police officer knocking on my window, asking, ‘Are you okay?’ I never want to go back to that place. I never want to take my daughters back to that place. I’d watch over them. I didn’t get much sleep during that time. At night, that’s when it hits you. When it gets dark, and you lock your doors, and the kids are asleep, ” Angel shared.

“I’d stay up as long as I could — sometimes until the sun came up. My health was failing. I don’t know how I was functioning, but when I look back on that time, I’d gotten a lot closer to God. Sometimes I’d wake up with money in my car. If it weren’t for the help of those strangers, I don’t know where I would have been,” Angel added.

“The main plan was to stop running.”

The physical, mental, and emotional discomfort of living out of a car forced Angel to make a change for herself and her daughters. In her car, she realized she needed to develop a plan to escape the vicious cycle of homelessness. She would take out a writing pad and go through her goals while her daughters slept. Angel made goals for financial constraints to set, how to begin therapy to heal old wounds for herself and her daughters, and she also practiced affirmations. Angel also took financial classes and childcare classes to aid her in getting on the path to recovery.

“These are things I hadn’t done in the past, and I was ready to change the trajectory of where I was going. I would discuss with myself how I will never do this to my daughters again. If you hear something long enough, you’ll believe it, whether it’s good or bad. If I can become a better me, everything else will flow. Yes, some things are out of my control, but if my life is in order, the results will be there. It starts with your mental, then your physical, then your emotional, and on from there. The main plan was to stop running,” Angel stated.

“I didn’t want to see myself as the victim anymore. I wanted to see myself as the victor.”

After reviewing all of her resources, Angel was able to use money from her restaurant job and support from church members and strangers to get her back into a hotel. There were days when she didn’t know where she’d get money to pay for the next night, but she made sure her children were never hungry.

“The movie The Pursuit of Happyness is real. A man and his son struggling with homelessness is real. If you’re not strong-minded, you’ll crash. If you’re not strong-minded, you’ll repeat yourself. But if you have one person that believes in you, even if that person is you, you’ll make it. I had to learn to keep moving forward, even when I was scared. I didn’t want to see myself as a victim anymore. I wanted to see myself as a victor. I realized how strong I was during this journey. Growing up in Jackson, Mississippi, you see poverty every day, and there’s not a lot of help available. I’m glad I’ve experienced this so that I can tell the next single mother who is suffering in silence that she does not have to go through this alone,” Angel shared.

Angel was soon referred to The Salvation Army’s Pathway of Hope Program, where she was provided a caseworker who would assist her in breaking the cycle of homelessness.

“It was a genuine support system. They truly care and get down on the level that you are on and feel what you are going through. My caseworker didn’t judge. It was truly a human to human connection. It was like, ‘I see you’re having a rough time, but I believe in you.’ He saw me at my lowest. He saw me get knocked down and I climbed back up,” Angel shared.

 

“For my kids to come home, turn the doorknob, and go to their own room is amazing.”

The Salvation Army was there to help Angel and her daughters emotionally and financially by covering hotel fees, car fuel, and food. The Army was also there to provide a Merry Christmas for them.

“My girls had a beautiful Christmas. My caseworker would always let me know about events happening in our community. He cared. If I couldn’t provide for my girls, he was sure to find a way to help us. I am grateful to The Salvation Army and my caseworker for allowing me to be human and letting me know that I wasn’t alone. There was constant communication to see how they could serve us. They’re here to help me ensure that homelessness doesn’t happen to my family again,” Angel shared.

After a year of counseling and help through the Pathway of Hope, Angel and her girls are now living in the comfort and security of their own apartment. All three are thriving in their new lives. Angel is working hard with the help of The Salvation Army to ensure that it stays this way.

“My girls have always been protective of me and encouraging, but it has increased since we’ve found a permanent home. What I love about my kids is that they were unfazed by what we were going through. They were always happy and bubbly. They didn’t reflect our circumstances. We still laughed and prayed in our vehicle. Our dynamic didn’t change. We were just a little boxed in,” Angel shared.

For my kids to come home, turn the doorknob, and go to their own room is amazing. When I walk out the door now, I’m excited to see what’s next because if I can overcome chronic homelessness, bring on the next challenge,” Angel added.

Through involvement with Pathway of Hope, families will be introduced to both The Salvation Army and other services within their community that offer a network of support, a sense of community, holistic programs, and spiritual guidance. Pathway of Hope is also a service connector to job training, health services, childcare and education, housing options, legal services, and much more