Elena’s Story of Resilience, Resolve, and Relentlessness
With Help from Mary’s Home, Elena Is Paving Her Path to Economic Self-Sufficiency
In 2015, Dream Centers in Colorado Springs opened Mary’s Home, a comprehensive, supportive housing program for mother-led families experiencing homelessness. In Mary’s Home, women receive up to ﬁve years of housing and ongoing supportive services on their paths to economic self-sufficiency, including individualized, trauma-informed family advocacy and therapy, holistic healthcare, career development, and training in life skills. Currently, 14 single mothers and 22 children reside in Mary’s Home. There are plans to grow to accommodate 19 mothers and up to 57 children by the end of 2020.
Mary’s Home was one of 102 organizations to receive a WFCO Relief Fund grant
When the pandemic hit, women in low-income jobs were among the first to experience unemployment and at the greatest risk of losing their housing. WFCO awarded Mary’s Home, along with 101 other organizations throughout Colorado, with a grant from its WFCO Relief Fund. The grant’s purpose was to aid Mary’s Home in meeting the immediate needs of current residents during the pandemic with food, bus passes/transportation, and computers/technology.
Additionally, a significant portion of the grant was designated to renovate apartments of an affordable housing “four-plex” Mary’s Home had purchased to open up new apartments and prepare for the influx of new residents experiencing domestic and family violence caused by the pandemic. One of the first families to move into the four-plex was Elena and her 5-year-old daughter, Olivia.
Finding a home at Mary’s Home
Residents of Mary’s Home affordable housing, such as Elena, are in phase 3 of the program. During this stage of their career development, they pay for utilities and a low fee (less than 30 percent of their income) toward rent, so they can finish their degrees and launch their careers without debt.
“(Phase 3) is another stepping stone toward independence, but we want to be as supportive as they need in order to continue to thrive,” said Matthew Ayers, CEO of Dream Centers. “Our program is a ‘culture of coaching.’ People are motivated, we just need to surround them with resources.”
Having access to affordable housing while she finishes her associate degree has made all the difference for Elena. In addition to housing, Mary’s Home offers a matching program for phase 3 residents. If they save $200 per month, Mary’s Home will match those savings. In large part due to this cash assistance, Elena aspires to purchase a home in 2021.
Women experiencing homelessness have often experienced domestic abuse, also
Five years ago, Elena could not have imagined being in this position. In March 2016, she was living in her car, having fled a violent relationship with the father of her daughter. A Department of Justice study indicates that domestic abuse is the reason why 25 percent of women experiencing homelessness are without shelter.
“It was traumatizing,” she said of living in her small Nissan Versa. “I was terrified all the time.” To avoid being noticed, she would park her car at rest stops. If anyone asked why they were there, she could say they were taking a break from driving.
Not only did Mary’s Home give Elena shelter, they helped her obtain the legal documents she needed to file for primary custody. Over the past four years, they taught her budgeting skills. She had almost $4,000 in debt, and Mary’s Home helped her put a plan in motion to pay it off.
“It’s a huge weight lifted off of me, being a single mom with no experience and no college education,” said Elena about paying off her outstanding debt and having housing assistance. “To find a job to pay for rent, day care, groceries, utilities, it seems practically impossible. Even when it was just me, I couldn’t afford it, and that’s how I found my way into abusive relationships.”
She said that having a consistent, stable, and safe roof over their heads is a nearly indescribable feeling. “I’m just very, very grateful,” she said. “Honestly, Mary’s Home is the biggest blessing I’ve had. Without their support, and without the housing, I wouldn’t have been able to go to school, pay off thousands of dollars in debt, or afford to go to court.”
A career as a case worker is in Elena’s future
While she finishes school (she plans to graduate in 2021), she works part-time as a case services aide for El Paso County. But once she earns her sociology degree, her heart is set on being a case worker for the county or a court-appointed special advocate. Her own history has given her a great deal of empathy for people who have to navigate complex systems and don’t have the resources they need.
Although Elena did not lose employment because of COVID-19, she acknowledges that without Mary’s Home, she would not have been able to pay her bills or rent.
“Before my daughter started kindergarten, her daycare shut down for 2 weeks and we had to quarantine. Without the assistance from Mary’s Home, I would not have been able to take the full two weeks off to stay home with her and lose half of my monthly income. It’s not a loss that I would have been able to recover from.”
Among the 102 organizations receiving a WFCO Relief Fund grant, 42 percent used those dollars to provide safe housing for participants in the form of rental assistance, emergency housing, and transitional housing.