Charlene's Story

Or, perhaps I should call this story “How knitting and selling a few hats provided the funds to move a domestic violence victim several hundred miles to a new safe environment”.

When I met Charlene she was living in a one bedroom apartment with her four children.   I would guess the size to be about 600 sq. ft., with a desperate lack of furniture and storage for such a large family.   The apartment came furnished, and she was not allowed to bring in any furniture of her own.  She had collected large tote bins to put clothing and toys in, as her budget would allow, and yet she still had piles of clothing and toys around the apartment.  Because she was unable to put everything away in the one closet and dresser she was afforded in the apartment, she was given a 10 day notice to move out with her four children.  On top of all this, her apartment was being invaded by mice because of a large hole behind the cabinets through which they entered from the vacant apartment next door.  Her apartment was simply not up to any reasonable standards, and she was being blamed for it.

If this is beginning to sound a little like a ghetto, let me explain where she was.  Charlene was living in an apartment used as shelter for homeless families in our county.  It was the only family shelter available.  She had originally moved into the domestic violence shelter in our town and was moved to this shelter when she timed out of the program.  All shelters necessarily have limits on length of stay, so the family shelter focused on these domestic violence victims as a priority for their apartments.  They received funds from the state, HUD, local churches, and individual donations, but never had quite enough money to do everything they wanted to do, and so a family of five was put into their only available apartment—the small one bedroom I described.  These apartments are not located in the ghetto.  In fact they are located in the heart of town close to shopping, schools and social service agencies.

For the six months leading up to meeting Charlene I was on the board of this organization.   So, when I heard about the 10 day eviction, I objected, and instead began a process of getting her into one of the 2 bedroom apartments in the program.  Even that only afforded her a little more space.  She would still have to sleep on the couch. She still would not have enough storage or closet space for 5 people.  And she would still be forbidden to bring in any additional furniture.  At one point she did break this rule to bring in a table and chairs so that her family wouldn’t have to eat dinner on the floor, or the one couch and chair they had.   And they still wanted her to move out.  “You don’t understand, once she is really ‘homeless’, then DSS will step in and help her”, one board member told me.  I told him DSS didn’t have a shelter, so how would they be able to help?  He said, “They will put her in a shelter in the next town and send the children out to foster care homes.”  I couldn’t believe my ears.  I thought we were in the business of keeping families together.

Charlene originally fled another state to come to our town for refuge.  Her ex-husband was under a 3 year restraining order, but he said that would not keep him from killing her.  She left a well paying job with the government, lost her home, lost all contact with her family, and ventured out to find a safe haven for her and her children.  She left no forwarding address, and couldn’t even use her previous employer as a reference in order to keep herself and her children safe.  In short, she broke all ties and just left without a word one day, after secretly planning her own escape to safety.  Even with all this caution, her ex-husband was able to find her by phone.  She used only prepaid phones, so he was unable to connect the phone number with an address.   Charlene left everything behind except her life, her will to survive, her desire to thrive and her four beloved children, ages 9, 8, 5 and 1, who she would protect at any cost.

Most people would be discouraged at all the adversity Charlene has faced over her short lifetime including her last year in this place of refuge--but not Charlene.  She was determined to make this new start work for her and her children.  While working at a local department store for little more than minimum wage, she continued her education and began finding ways to better her situation.  She became a licensed nurse and continued toward a business degree.  She has recently been accepted into the MBA program at her college.  Under her loving care, and away from the abusive husband and father, her children flourished in their new school, bringing home good reports and awards for their scholastic and behavioral excellence. 

I met Charlene for coffee in a local shop one day, and to my surprise she brought her children with her.  I was prepared for a noisy cup of coffee, but they were so quietly doing their homework or drawing in their notebooks, that the barista came over to our table to comment on them.  She said they were the best behaved children ever to visit the coffee shop.  I was proud to be their friend.

Next she began looking into new jobs and new areas to live.  She managed to find a job and a house several hundred miles away.  All she needed now was to get moved.  This is when Hats for Helping the Homeless was able to help.  The program she was leaving didn’t have any provisions for helping their clients get into their own places when leaving the shelter.  Victims of domestic violence often have to find their own way out of their abusive home and to a safe place.  This would be the second time for Charlene to attempt this move.   Using the money I made knitting and selling hats over the winter season, my husband and I were able to move Charlene to her new home over a short weekend.   Using my husband’s Tahoe and my little PT Cruiser, and a U-Haul trailer we packed her family up and moved her several hundred miles to an undisclosed location.  While finding a place to rent, she had already made such an impression on her new landlord, that he was there in the evening waiting for her with a couple other men ready to move her in.  These new friends have encircled her with a new community. 

Charlene’s new house is a giant step forward for her.  It is a lovely 3 bedroom house, perhaps 1200 sq. ft., with a beautiful front porch and a large backyard.  The children were excitedly moving into their rooms, one bedroom for the two boys and one for the two girls.  All Charlene could talk about was having her own bathroom with a garden tub.  She only recently moved and has a long way to go to make this a home for her family.  But, she will make a great home there.  She’ll be able to bring in all the furniture she needs, and will have enough room for all the storage she needs.  I have every faith that she will get her life back now.  And when she does, she and her children will thrive.

If you have purchased a hat from Hats for Helping the Homeless, then you are a part of this success story!  Thank you so much!  Oh yes, and Charlene is not her real name, of course.