Penelope’s Journey with the YWCA Niagara Region

About a year ago, I shared with you how I ended up in the YW’s transitional housing program in West Niagara. I shared with you the joy that came with finally having a place to call home again. I shared my gratitude for all of you, who support the Coldest Night of the Year walk-a-thon. Without you, this program wouldn’t exist – for my boys and I, and for so many more who access the supported transitional housing program.

Here is what I didn’t know then: that entering the program is not actually the end – it’s where the real work beginsThe work of figuring out what’s next. I met with our amazing support worker often, and we talked, and crunched numbers, and talked some more. It quickly became clear that my main barrier was my minimum wage job. My only realistic shot at finding a home that I can afford was finding a new job. It made sense, I knew that she was right when she said that this had to be my main goal, but… it was so incredibly overwhelming. We had just found safety and stability by entering the program, so the thought of another new beginning, another step, another gamble… it was a lot. But Keshia, the support worker, was there for me every step of the way. And she helped me break this big overwhelming goal down into smaller goals. Manageable ones. And once there was a plan, once I knew she was going to be by my side for whatever may come, I was like a dog with a bone! I attended every virtual workshop that was available about writing applications and about interviewing skills. Every day after work, once the boys were in bed, I would apply and apply and apply some more. It was a crazy time, and I needed Keshia’s support often, as so many applications were turned down, or even worse, went unanswered. But eventually, it finally happened, and I found a job that pays a living wage. That was my turning point. It’s the one puzzle piece that had to fall into place for me to be able to see a future where I can truly take care of my family and be on my own with my boys.

Only a year later, here I am proudly writing this from an apartment that I am renting at full market rate, no more support needed. The place is a little bit farther from the boys’ school but we’re still in our home community, which was important to me. Sounds a bit like a fairytale? It is and it isn’t. This is the short version. Towards the end of my time in the program, when it was clear that we were going to move on to our own rental unit, the fear was almost unbearable at times. The fear of not making it. Of finding myself back where I was two years ago – evicted, couch-surfing, or even back in the shelter. But it was my support worker, who once again helped me work through my fears. “Take stock,” she’d say. “Let’s focus on what we know.” She’d remind me of my secure employment – a job that doesn’t just pay the bills but that I truly enjoy. We looked at all of my finances together to see how I can put some money aside for a rainy day, even if it is just a tiny bit every month. Because fear of that rainy day has become my constant companion. But Keshia has that covered, too. “We’re not going anywhere,” she said. “Just because you transition out of the program, doesn’t mean we’re gone.” So when I get worried or overwhelmed, when I see the gas prices and the price of groceries getting higher and higher, I try to remember that I am not alone. And sometimes, I just pick up the phone and Keshia still picks up on the other end. She’s still in my corner. And because of that, I have more and more moments when I know that I’ll be okay. And that my boys will be okay. I take stock and I focus on what I know – that right now, I have a job and a place to call home. I have two boys, who are doing well, because I am doing well. I have a support worker who is still on my side, and a community that is, too. I have these moments more and more often, and I hope that one day, these moments of gratitude and confidence will compete much less with my moments of worry and fear.

All of you signing up for the Coldest Night of the Year, all of you raising funds – you remind me that I am not alone. Your efforts change lives. They sure changed mine. Thank you.

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