My name is Jessica and this is my truth.
I always knew that my chronic homelessness had a thin line between being caused by chance and by circumstance. What started by circumstance created a pattern in my life that consisted of bad choices and hard decisions. A lot of it can also depend on your stance of whether or not the disease of addiction is a choice. But that’s for another time.
My life on the streets began at age thirteen. That doesn’t mean that’s where the trauma started.
I lived with my mother in Aptos and Santa Cruz my whole life, except for six months that I lived in Amsterdam with her for her work. My mom was a six-figure making, beautiful, sophisticated woman with Masters degrees in Physics and Mathematics. She was born and raised in Holland until coming here at age seventeen.
One day, I came home after a weekend at a friend’s house to a red eviction sign on our beautiful home. All the furniture was gone and so was my mom. A year before this happened, at twelve years old, I had survived being kidnapped off the street by a group of men for five days, and I believe the trauma for me and my mom’s feeling of powerlessness led to her finding an unstable partner that introduced her to drugs–for the first time in her life–to cope. And now she was gone.
I could say I waited for her but deep down I knew she wasn’t coming back for me. And thus the homelessness began. Sleeping at friends’ houses, at parks, behind my school, all the while forging signatures so I could continue school. And I did. From ages thirteen to seventeen, I lived on the streets and attended class. I had also found alcohol and soon found heroin. At seventeen, the cops found me and found my dad, but it was too late.
From all of the pain, I found something to take it away. I also found a camaraderie from
other young people that were homeless. For the next ten years, my life was drugs and jail. I stuffed all the trauma from being kidnapped, abandoned, abused…into a dark, secret place inside my mind and locked it away.
Six and a half years ago, I met my partner and my best friend. For the first time since I found drugs, I loved someone more than I loved heroin. He loved me just enough before I could love myself. A year and a half ago, we took that chance to get clean and see what life was really meant to be like.
After finding my path into recovery, I saw a life I had never believed was for me, begin to form right before my eyes. All of a sudden, my potential started to appear, and with that came my dreams I had lost along the way. Arriving at HGP, I had a little flame of hope inside me. After being here, I started to form plans for my life.
I was given the task of growing Dahlias, having no idea what it was going to do for me. I spent hours and days separating tubers, looking for eyes, building beds, planting the tubers in a rainstorm. I was dedicated to these flowers and I actually had no idea what they looked like. I was in for a surprise.
Out of all my hard work and patience bloomed the most beautiful flowers I have ever seen. I was proud of my work. I was grateful and overwhelmed with humility and strength. I did this. This was the first time in my life I had ever seen the fruits of my labor. And using it to contribute to my community as well. I see now what I can accomplish.
I believe in watching my life bloom, knowing I’m not always going to see the end result right away. Everything in life takes time. It takes heart and dedication. I am right now in the pre-employment process to begin working at the Camp recovery center in Scotts Valley, and aiming to start Cabrillo College next semester to take the two-year certification to become a treatment counselor.
I can use all my experience to help others still struggling. I can be a light in another’s dark tunnel. HGP is my light. They gave me hope that I can live the life I thought I would never have. Gaining the skills of employment and the strength I needed to do what I always wanted to, but thought I didn’t deserve. Thank you Darrie, Mike Erickson, Ansley, Anthony and everyone else working for HGP and the crew, for helping me find my way.
And thanks to all of you that are here tonight in support of this amazing project. And thank you God for giving me a second chance. I’m not going to waste it!
Jessica Anthenien started at Homeless Garden Project in late January of this year. She’s a natural leader, wise and eloquent, capable and above all, compassionate. Jessica shared this talk with nearly 200 people at our September 15, 2018 Fall Sustain Farm Supper. You can see more photos of the supper here. Click this link for a video of Jessica presenting this talk, with an introduction by HGP’s Executive Director.