Stepping into a woman’s homeless shelter for the first time in my life, I wasn’t expecting it to be exactly the way it looked from the outside — a normal home.
Haven of Hope is a women’s shelter (though the residents will tell you otherwise) operating as part of Hospitality House, a local organization that services homeless individuals.
Inside, a group of women relaxing and checking their Facebook accounts greeted me. Irene Bazan — Haven of Hope’s director — stepped out of an open office and introduced me to the women.
One was Catherine Buchanan. She is sixty years old, with white hair and a certain elegance to her appearance. You’d never guess that she was homeless.
Originally from California, she was part of, at least on the surface, a typical American family. One of four siblings, she came from an upper middle-class background.
Her financial struggles started in 1997. Prior to that, she had a career. For nearly 15 years she was an information technology weapon specialist for the US Navy, but cutbacks resulted in her loss of employment. Since then, she hasn’t recovered. “The older you get, the less opportunities you get for employment,” she said.
Buchanan moved to Wenatchee in June 2012 and lived with family, following a two-year stint as a caretaker in Nevada. “The work was extremely difficult. Not only physically difficult, but mentally as well,” she said.
Unfortunately, things did not get easier for Buchanan. Her troubled relationship with her father spread onto her relationships with her siblings. “We’ve all been estranged. Even when we were all in the same house, we were estranged,” she said. Her stay at the house of her brother and sister-in-law house did not last long. “His wife and I kind of had problems, and I got thrown out – that’s where the homeless comes in,” she said.
Throughout the past year, Buchanan bounced from agency to agency trying to put some stability back into her life. She eventually found her way to Haven of Hope.
“That saved me,” she said. “This place is clean. The women are wonderful,” she added.
Buchanan noted how different, and special, her stay here has been compared to other shelters she’s experienced. “You really have to get up off your butt and do what you have to do,” she said.
“This is not a shelter. This is a miracle,” she added.
Buchanan has become a success symbol for the organization. She moved out of the shelter back in March, and is currently living independently. Her next task involves moving to Oregon to become her father’s caretaker, a challenge she is ready to accept.
Jeric Quiliza spent the past year as an AmeriCorps volunteer in the Eastmont School District. He writes about homeless issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org