The Winter Shelter houses over 300 individuals seeking shelter in the coldest months of winter. St. Martin’s Hospitality Center seeks to support the residents and staff at the Winter Shelter by providing necessary services and referrals for clients in need of assistance. These services include performing Coordinated Assessments, Medicaid and SNAP enrollment, and providing vital information on the in-house services that St. Martin’s offers, such as job development assistance, behavioral health services, and day shelter programs.
The Winter Shelter also provides Outreach at St. Martin’s the unique opportunity to reach a large population of people experiencing homelessness in one place in a relatively short time span. This access allows St. Martin’s to initiate contact and build relationships with people previously unknown to the organization. As we are always seeking to expand our reach to as many people in need of our services as possible, the relationship between the Winter Shelter and Outreach remains an important element of the work we do.
This Outreach Mission Story is about a woman we will call Maria. Maria was encountered by the Outreach Team at the Winter Shelter in early December. She is a 70 year old Native American with physical disabilities that make homelessness a painful daily experience. She uses a walker and has a metal rod and pins in one femur, surgically implanted after a particularly bad fall.
Maria is a survivor of domestic violence. Her first husband would often assault her, and one night he became very drunk and punched her repeatedly in the mouth. He broke several of her teeth and fractured the front of her jaw. The injury deformed her mouth when it finally healed, since he physically prevented her from seeking medical attention. This injury makes verbal communication difficult for her. Maria courageously left this terrible situation and eventually remarried. In 2014 however, tragedy stuck and Maria’s partner passed away.
Shortly after her husband’s death, Maria found herself unable to manage rent payments on her own with her single, modest income. In the coldest months, she would stay at the Winter Shelter until it closed. Then she would use her disability income to pay for a motel for the first two weeks of the month. By mid month, she would be forced to sleep on the street. A small, elderly woman with a walker sleeping outside is an easy target, and Maria was robbed several times. Maria felt completely locked into this pattern and said she expected to die outside, alone.
Several agencies made contact with Maria at the behest of the Winter Shelter staff over the three winters that she resided there. Each time a barrier was reached and Maria would lose contact with them. Understanding the serious nature of Maria’s situation, Outreach performed a Coordinated Assessment to understand her priority level for housing. We also applied to the Low Income Tax Credit housing program. In order to be accepted by this program, very specific documentation was necessary. Outreach ordered her Alaskan birth certificate with the help of a generous anonymous donation, and transported her to get her award letter from the Social Security Office.
When the Outreach Team built a plan with Maria with housing as the end goal, Maria was understandably skeptical. It was apparent that she had been disappointed when she had previously sought help. But she worked diligently to reach each goal that was set for her, and expressed deep gratitude whenever Outreach provided support.
Maria’s hard work paid off; through one of the housing programs at St. Martin’s, Maria is now approved for an apartment and is waiting for it to become available. It is a brand new unit, with a washer and dryer, central heating and air, and a patio. Until she can move in, Maria is staying at Barrett House. She loves to read, particularly poetry, and has a community center with a library nearby.
In the end, Maria proved herself, to Outreach and once again to herself, that she is a survivor. She is a survivor of violence, a survivor of loss, and a survivor of homelessness. The pattern is finally broken, and this is the beginning of new story for Maria. We feel privileged to continue to support her in her journey and we value her for her demonstration of strength and integrity.