Michelle was six months pregnant and had two other young children when she left her husband to get away from his physical, mental and verbal abuse, but his words stuck with her: “You can’t leave. Who’s gonna want you? You’re old and you have too many kids. Your family’s not gonna help you. And where are you gonna go? You should just stay here.”
His mind games were powerful and she second guessed herself: “Maybe he’s right; who is gonna help me? You put yourself in that situation. You should have known. You should have seen the signs.’” Yet somehow, she found the strength to move out of state – intent on a fresh start – and gave birth to her son on her own in a new city.
‘Where do we go from here?’
Michelle’s freedom was brief; her ex is a truck driver, and he tracked them down. She needed a new plan quickly but wondered, “Where do we go from here?” She contacted her adult son, who lives in Seattle, and he encouraged her to move here for support. “At that time I was so desperate,” she says. “I understand he wanted to help, and I really admire that about him, but he also is my child. There’s only so much help I will accept, and I didn’t want him to worry about me.”
Once in Seattle, Michelle and her children first stayed in emergency shelter downtown until they were placed in transitional housing at Solid Ground’s Broadview facility – a safe space for women and children experiencing homelessness and domestic violence – and they began to rebuild their lives. Right away, she got a job. “My focus was to hurry up and get going. But in hindsight, I was just so frazzled. Mentally and emotionally I wasn’t ready [to work] – but you couldn’t have told me that at the time, I was so driven: Let me give the appearance of normalcy while I’m struggling trying to figure out what I’m going to do day to day.”
‘It was just so unfair’
Michelle had only been in her new job a few weeks when she got frightening news from the HR department: As an employee of the state, her name and workplace were now public information, and her ex did a Google search, found her, and began calling and emailing her employer. And he lied. “He told them I was leaving the kids by themselves and I was on drugs.”
He also called Child Protective Services (CPS), and they showed up at her daughter’s school. “Because I was a state employee and CPS was involved, my supervisor and my supervisor’s supervisor had to be notified. That was embarrassing and humiliating. It was like, ‘Wow, I left him, and then he could make one phone call and my whole life is just back to crap?’ It was just so unfair, and I was angry, for a long, long time.”
Safe space & support at Broadview
While it took time for Michelle to feel secure, Broadview was there for her. “It was a really traumatic time for me. It was difficult making sure my younger kids felt okay and self-assured. My parenting skills had deteriorated, especially since CPS was involved, because now I’m fearful that he can take the kids. I was really concerned, because he knew my oldest daughter’s last name and how to find her. So I’m kind of freaking out: ‘We’re here; now what happens? How are the kids okay?’ Just trying to live day to day was a huge battle.”
She says, “Not knowing what it entailed to make sure the family was safe, Broadview helped me. ‘It’s okay, you’re not by yourself in this. This is a process and we’re going to help you.’” She says her Case Manager Joyce used to say, “‘Just slow down a minute. Get to know where you’re at so you know where you’re going.’ I was just so focused on ‘Go, go, go, we have to get out,’ that I didn’t realize where I was. I had no sense of where I wanted to go.”
Piece by piece, support fell into place. Michelle’s Housing Advocate, Nikki, accompanied her to court to get a restraining order and helped her stay calm when confronted with hearing her ex’s voice on the phone during the hearing. “Just being safe – that was the thing. Through her, I learned about safety and parenting plans, making sure the daycare is aware of the restraining order and what’s going on, and making sure I had peace of mind that the kids are safe when I’m not with them.”
Broadview’s Children’s Advocates helped get her oldest daughter safely to and from school. Both she and her kids received much-needed trauma counseling. And Broadview’s age-specific support groups for both parents and kids created safe spaces for the whole family. Michelle says, “The parenting skills and supportive services really helped to strengthen my family structure.” Although she no longer lives there, she still visits Broadview with her kids about once a month to check in and say hello. “They know me, and I can be myself. Just to know I can go back is a great feeling.”
Next steps on the road to stability
As her time at Broadview came to a close, Michelle searched for housing close to her workplace in Kent – but then a Capitol Hill Housing (CHH) staff person who works part-time at Broadview told her about CHH. She went online, saw she qualified, and realized that staying in Seattle would mean her kids could stay in their schools and daycare. So she applied, was accepted, and settled her family into affordable housing. “It made me feel good to have some stability,” she says. But just a few months after moving into CHH, Michelle’s time-limited job in Kent ended. “Everything happens for a reason,” she says stoicly, “we just don’t know what it is at the time.”
Undeterred, she turned this setback into an opportunity to return to school for an Accounting degree to increase her employability. Veterans’ and unemployment benefits helped cover rent and school expenses. And through Solid Ground’s Rent Smart and Financial Fitness Boot Camp workshops (see story at left), she learned about her rights and responsibilities as a tenant, got help clearing debt from her credit record, and gained skills to create a realistic budget.
At the time of our interview, Michelle had resparked an aggressive job search, because unemployment was proving unsustainable. She says, “Through this whole process, I’ve learned that ‘no’ is not such a bad word. I’d rather have you say ‘no’ than keep me hanging. I just don’t want to be homeless again. I don’t want to struggle. I used to think that success was monetary, but for me it’s just my family is safe, we’re healthy and we’re stable. I was fortunate to be placed with Solid Ground who had so many supportive services.” •
As this newsletter went to print, Michelle called to report a fantastic twist in her journey toward stability: She accepted a job as Leasing & Occupancy Specialist with Capitol Hill Housing!