My name is Dawn Wilson. I am a former resident of Community of Hope’s Girard Street shelter. Since May of last year, my kids and I have been in our own place as part of Community of Hope’s Home Now program.
I first came to Girard Street May 1st, 2008 with 3 of my children. The house I was living in was sold, and I was told by the new owner I had to find somewhere else to live. My kids’ father tried to help but at that time he wasn’t working.
Calling DC General was the last resort. I called them on February 15th – a Friday. They called me back Sunday. I was upset. I had my kids and I was pregnant. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do – it was a really, really low point. I think I cried most of those two days.
On February 17, 2008 I went to DC General. I had my baby on April 1st, and on May 1st of 2008, I moved into Community of Hope’s Girard Street shelter.
I was there a year and 7 days. It was a long year, but I got through it. You have episodes where you’re feeling down about yourself and you think that maybe the world is against you because you’re going through a lot. But I let people know that because I’m homeless I’m still somebody too. It could happen to you today or tomorrow just like it happened to me.
I was depressed; I think I was in denial about this for a long time. You get to the point where you feel like you don’t have anyone. And when you feel like that you don’t care. You feel “no one cares about me so why should I care about anything?” There was a period when I did not care. But after a little while, I realized it wasn’t fair to my kids because they didn’t ask for this. I’m not going to give up on them like that. So I did what I had to do, I tried for the best. It’s hard; I’m not going to sugarcoat it for nobody. But I say to anybody going into there now, Community of Hope is what you make it.
I had to put in a year before I could get the voucher to go into the permanent housing program. They teach you what you don’t know. If you didn’t know how to clean, there was someone to teach you. If you didn’t know how to cook, they had people come in to show you. There’s a lot of purpose to being in there, if you go in with the right attitude. I didn’t go in there with the right attitude – I know I didn’t. But when I came out of there, it was different. I’m still a work in progress, but it’s good. The program is really effective. It’s what you put into it. You put in nothing, you going to get nothing. You put in your heart, you’re going to get your heart. If you get fed up with having nothing, you’ll do something and pray it’s not too late.
Someone asked me what helped me get through that time. Willa, a counselor, had group meetings for about an hour a week. Everybody could learn from each other’s situation. There were people who had gone through things I was going through and were able to talk to me about things I didn’t know.
My case worker at Girard helped me through a lot, and sometimes she went over and beyond. I can honestly say she was there for me.
It was a good learning experience, bottom line. I was still homeless at Community of Hope but I didn’t have to sleep outside on somebody’s bench. You’re uncomfortable but you still have a place to stay. You’re not out there when it rains, when it’s thundering, when it’s cold. You’re not where you want to be but you got a warm place to live. You gotta look at a bad situation and try to make a positive out of it.
Community of Hope does help. It helps get you ready for what you have to do when you get back out here. If you have to pay rent, you have to pay rent. By the grace of God right now, I don’t have to pay rent. But I do have to pay utilities. I’m managing with 5 kids and myself on $542 a month. That’s nothing – but you have to make do with what you got.
It takes a strong, strong individual to experience something like this. I’m not saying you’re not strong if you’ve never been homeless, but to get through this takes a strong individual with good faith.
I have girls, a baby boy, so I have to go out there and make something of myself and do what I have to do. Going into that shelter made me change my whole outlook on life. I set two goals – what I always wanted to do. My short-term goal is to finish beauty school now – I already have a name for the shop. In 10-15 years I might have a shelter for teenagers, girls out there. I’m working on a business plan and planning for the future.