Exactly a year ago today, I never would have imagined I could be in this place now.

Jenn Hargrove in the Field

Not too long ago, I was in a marriage living in a home with my husband and children, and my mom lived close by. My dad died when I was twelve, and my mom and I have always been very close since then. I was married for fourteen years and have been through a lot with my husband. Addiction was a big part of what came between us. We were struggling and I finally made the decision to leave with the children and live with my mom. At that time, I started using a lot more. Eight months after we separated, I got a call saying my husband was in the hospital. He was there for thirty days. It was very serious. My children said good-bye to him because we thought he was going to die.

But he lived. I was hoping for a new beginning, so we moved back in with him. It didn’t work out, we were still fighting, we fell behind on rent and were evicted. We all moved back in with my mom. I wanted to care for my husband even though we were no longer married; he had no one else. Then, my mom passed away suddenly.

And just as suddenly, I had nowhere to go. I lived in my car with my kids. I was in my addiction, grieving the loss of my mom, home, marriage, pets. Within a year and a half, I’d lost everything.

I got into the shelter and my addiction took over. The shelter staff found paraphernalia in my things, and called Child Protective Services. CPS came to talk with me, and within thirty minutes, my children were gone. They had always been with me. There had never been a time they were not with me.

I lived on the street for two years. My whole purpose was to not feel pain. My children were living with their dad and his parents. I was in and out of jail. One time in jail, a CPS worker came and told me my children had been moved to foster care. I felt a deep sadness. I knew my kids needed me, I asked for help and got into a program. A social worker in the jail fought really hard for me to get into a program.

A week after I got into the program, I was able to speak to my children on the phone. I had a one hour visit with them—the first time I’d seen them in one and a half years. Then I started having two-hour visits with them every week. When we were apart, I could feel how much they needed me. I dreamt about them. I resolved to stay clean and did everything CPS asked me to do, and more.

I left the program and moved into a clean and sober house. There, I started to think about work. For ten years, I had worked with my mom, taking care of disabled people. I had a medical assistant certification, but hadn’t worked for quite a while. I remembered that many people had

told me how much they liked working at the Homeless Garden Project. I was downtown and saw Sandy, who was working here; she encouraged me to apply. It was in the back of my mind for a while to apply to HGP.

I attended an orientation to participate in one of HGP’s trial hires. I was so anxious. To suddenly need to be present, be responsible, be around, communicate and work with other people—I wasn’t sure I was ready. I hadn’t done any of this for a long time. After the orientation, I wasn’t sure I’d show up to the first day of work. I overcame the anxiety and just showed up, each day. I started feeling better, the environment was so positive and safe. I recognized other people and knew we’d experienced similar things. HGP is unique—there are not many work places that are safe, positive, clean and sober environments where you feel supported by staff and your coworkers.

The staff here is very clear about their purpose: to prepare people to transition to another job and out of homelessness. I never had a job that helped me prepare for life in such a positive way. Having support with a resume, and resources such as clothing and food has made such a difference.

I never had a job where I showed up every day, was never late, and enjoyed being there. There is a positive energy here. It’s positive to see everyone working on their life, all supporting one another.

In the six months I’ve worked here, I’ve progressed a lot. I’m sober, I have my kids back, I got a car, I have housing—all accomplished while showing up at and enjoying work. I can now include this job on my resume. I enjoy sharing my progress with my coworkers at circle meeting. I’ve been clean for 11 months. Exactly a year ago today, I never would have imagined I could be in this place now. It’s surreal. It’s hard to comprehend all I’ve been through. I only wish I could stay longer.

Looking forward, I’m thinking about getting recertified as a medical assistant, and eventually becoming a nurse. I want to earn enough to support my family and I want to have time with them. Nursing would be a good way to do that.

Just last weekend I signed a lease with the support of the program, “Bringing Families Home” on a two-bedroom condo. The landlords are friends of HGP. I hope to move in this weekend. I do need some things such as pots and pans, a vacuum, chairs and stools and other basic home furnishings. But like everything, those will come.

–Jenn Hargrove, May 2020