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One of the many difficulties of homelessness in Rhode Island and throughout the country is the struggle that families often face to stay together. It is not uncommon that parents and children have to be due to shelter rules about gender or age differences, or a simple lack of space to accommodate an entire family together.
Kevin* came to us a year ago, in March of 2016. His family had struggled with homelessness for over two years. Kevin and his wife had gone from full-time employment to part-time employment to no employment. Towards the end of this chapter in their life, it took all of the fortitude and strength the two parents had to feed and protect their three children while keeping them healthy and together. Family was, and still is the most important thing to them, and staying together was all that mattered.
Kevin made the decision to move his family to Rhode Island even though they did not have a permanent place to stay. They had friends and family in the area, and while they could not fully rely on these relationships to support them, it was a smart and conscious decision to move to Providence.
When asked about the decision to move, Kevin said that it made sense for his children, so that they could be safe and get an education while he worked tirelessly to find employment and a home for all of them.
Luckily for Kevin and his family, he was referred to our housing department, and we were immediately able to place them in one of our two family shelters, where they could stay together.
As soon as they arrived at the family shelter, life began turning around for Kevin, his wife, and his children. Crossroads was able to find housing for the family, and within a week of moving in, Kevin found part-time work as a dishwasher.
The best part about the job was the security and the permanence that came along with it. Kevin’s job began midday and went long into the night, but he persevered and even went a step further.
In the mornings, after Kevin and his wife got their children off to school, Kevin would come to Crossroads, where he entered and completed the Janitorial Training Program.
Kevin spent his mornings educating himself and his afternoons and nights working. This hard work soon paid off in the form of a job opportunity at a hotel in Warwick.
In March 2016, the family was struggling to stay together and keep their family whole. By July 2016, Kevin was fully employed as a second shift janitor at the hotel and his family will be able to permanently and securely stay together through the housing opportunity afforded them by Crossroads and our generous donors.
Kevin isn’t the only one perusing a career with the help of Crossroads’ Education and Employment Services department; his wife just started attending our CNA Training classes! Their story is one of perseverance, success, and family.
While Kevin and his family have just begun the road to a new chapter in their life, there are always more families who need our help to end their homelessness. The work we do is possible only with the support of our caring friends and neighbors who wish to lend a hand up to people like Kevin.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
Yaritza and her five children became homeless in 2014 when she developed an allergy that left her unable to work in the culinary industry that had been her passion as well as her source of employment for many years.
With nowhere else to turn for help, Yaritza and her family entered Crossroads Rhode Island’s Family Center.
“The shelter is big, and it’s not easy living with different personalities,” said Yaritza of her time in shelter. “But the experience at the Family Center was worth it.”
After only one month and one day at the shelter, Yaritza and her children were able to move into Employment Based Interim Housing, a transitional housing program where Employment Services are integrated into a Housing First model.
Yaritza found a job working as a Medical Assistant for a local clinic. She has completed both Medical Assistant and Certified Nursing Assistant training.
In December of 2014, she found a new job at a local clinic and is now a Health Center Assistant. In June 2015, Yaritza and her family moved out of transitional housing and into permanent housing.
Her five children are doing very well in school, and are now living stress-free, Yaritza says. Her oldest child will be graduating from high school this year.
“I have to say, any advice that was given to me by [Crossroads staff] I took it to heart and I did what I had to do,” Yaritza said. "Whether it was paperwork that needed to be filled out by staff or myself, as well as advice given to me to move forward. I took every piece of information, embraced it, and started to work toward my goals. I'm blessed that they came across my path because without their guidance I would not have made it."
Crossroads Rhode Island would not be able to offer innovative programs that integrate employment and housing support without the generous financial investments of individual and corporate funders, including the Walmart Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation, the Bank of America Foundation, the Citizens Bank Foundation, and the Amgen Foundation.
As the weather began to turn cold in Rhode Island last November, Natalya found herself without a home. As a single woman with grown children, she came to Crossroads and was placed in our Women’s Shelter, which has space for up to 41 single women in need of emergency shelter.
While working with her case manager to find secure stable housing, Natalya enrolled in our Janitorial Training Program, which provides students with the skills, certifications, and experience that they need to become qualified candidates for employment in the janitorial field.
In addition to this training, Natalya started going to our Learning Center to prepare to get her GED. Although Natalya was educated at a university level in her home country of Russia, her lack of formal education in the United States has made it difficult for her to find gainful employment here.
Natalya studied for and passed practice online GED exams, which cost $6.00 per exam. Crossroads covered the cost of these exams. Official GED exams cost $30.00 per exam, but free vouchers are given out when a student is graded as “likely to pass” by scoring highly on the online practice tests. Natalya met those requirements and was able to take her official GED exams at no cost.
In February, she passed her official GED Math exam. In April, she passed her official GED Science exam. In order to complete her GED, Natalya still needs to take the Language Arts/Writing and Social Studies exams.
Last month, Natalya spent 42 hours in the Learning Center preparing for those exams. Her instructor described her as a very hard worker.
Recently, Natalya moved out of our Women’s Shelter and into her own room in our Housing Tower. In addition to ending her homelessness and furthering her education, she is expecting a grandchild at the end of this summer!
The training that Natalya has received from our Education and Employment Services department is made possible by our generous donors and dedicated corporate partners, including Bank of America Foundation, BJ's, Citizens Bank Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, Amgen Foundation, and Walmart Foundation.
Matthew came to Crossroads with a desire to learn and a determination to land a job and get his life on track. A case manager from The Providence Center rehabilitation offices referred Matthew to us, and specifically to our Janitorial Training Program.
When we met with him in December 2015, it was immediately evident that Matthew was looking to improve his circumstances. Matthew realized that education was a primary step towards his goals & betterment. In January 2016, Matthew became a student in our Janitorial Training Program, and during his first week he was given our “barriers to employment” exercise. This exercise asks class participants to explain their current living situations and determine the habits and barriers that are preventing them from finding employment.
The level of honesty that Matthew put into his work in that first week, as well as his steadfast participation throughout the course was noticed and discussed among his instructors and case workers.
Matthew's main barriers to employment were health-related issues, prior addictions, and a criminal background. Matthew cited a need for consistence and for more educational training in his life, which is why the opportunity to participate in the Janitorial Training Program meant so much to him. During the bitter end of winter 2016, Matthew kept up excellent attendance and acted as a leading team member in the class. Matthew came to class prepared and stayed positive throughout his time at Crossroads. As a result, Matthew ended up turning his life around.
The Janitorial Training Program at Crossroads requires students to complete an internship to gain work experience. Once Matthew began receiving his certifications (the program offers OSHA 10 safety certifications, as well as mold removal, green cleaning, and blood-born pathogen cleaning certifications) he worked with us to land an internship at the St. Martin DePorres Center in Providence.
As the weeks went on, both the internship and the class were drawing to a close, and Matthew began to worry that his consistency and the sense of worth brought on by the program would be lost. In response, we set him on a path to find employment.
Using a computer, especially to apply for jobs, is difficult for many of our students. Matthew suffered from this difficulty, but all the same he persevered and did not give up on learning to navigate a computer. This determination led to a great job opportunity for Matthew; he eventually landed a position as both a line/preparation cook, and a janitor. For the firsrt half of his shift Matthew prepares food and helps to cook food, and for the second half of his shift he is responsible for cleaning duties.
Early on in his employment, Matthew came to Crossroads to check in, and he was ecstatic to tell us about his progress. Matthew told us that his managers and co-workers are always complimenting him on his cleaning skills and his commitment to the job.
“I know there is much harder work ahead of me, but that work is what I have to do to get ahead in life,” Matthew said.
Matthew has turned his life around, and recently received an award for a major success in his fight against addiction. He is working hard, he is on the path to recovery, and we at Crossroads are deeply grateful to have had the opportunity to help Matthew, and to see him be the best he can be.
In January of 2014, she began working with a Case Manager. Over the course of several months and with the persistent and compassionate effort of our staff, Mirabelle was able to trust the Crossroads team to help her find housing.
When an opening in one of Crossroads' housing units became available, Mirabelle was ready to end her homelessness and move in. With the support of our generous funders, we were able to stock Mirabelle's apartment with basic furniture and supplies for cooking and cleaning.
Mirabelle moved into her apartment last week, and with the stability of her own roof over her head she will now start to work on obtaining an income source. Without our services, the dedication of our staff, and the support of our donors, she would not have had this opportunity to rebuild her life at the age of 60.
Carla came to Crossroads during the cold and snowy winter of 2015, physically sick, without a warm place to stay, and in need of help to end her homelessness.
In addition to the myriad of challenges and barriers faced by people experiencing homelessness under normal circumstances, Carla was diagnosed with a severe mental illness. Her illness often rendered her unable to fully comprehend her situation, and caused her to experience frightening delusions. Although medical professionals had diagnosed Carla, she did not accept their diagnosis and was often without medication or treatment.
We were able to assist Carla in moving into an apartment - taking her from a dangerous situation living on the street with untreated mental illness to the safety and security of her own home.
Over the course of about six months in her new home and with intensive care from Crossroads case managers and mental health professionals, Carla was able to come to terms with her illness and began to understand the steps she needed to take to treat herself and live a healthier life.
Without the stability of a home and regular help from the professionals who handled her case, it is unlikely that Carla would have made the incredible progress she has made. Thanks to generous donors like you, Carla is still working with Crossroads and mental health professionals to stay healthy and housed.
Since late 2011, the Crossroads Family Center has sheltered a record number of families with small children. The Family Center has space for 15 families, but the demand for shelter has been so great in recent months that the staff has had to put cots and mattresses in the Center’s common area and computer study room to accommodate additional families.
At our downtown location, families have had to share our Family Room or sleep in conference rooms because no shelter could be found for them. Crossroads is working frantically to find additional shelter options for families, and the staff at the Family Center is doing everything possible to help parents and children cope with their situations. Homelessness is traumatic, especially for children, and the severe overcrowding at the Family Center presents additional challenges for everyone.
Chontell Washington, Crossroads’ Family Literacy Coordinator, tries to come up with creative approaches to brighten the lives of the families and help the children enjoy learning activities while they are with us.
“Last year, we had a grant from the Ronald MacDonald House Charities, and I was impressed by their mission to enhance children’s lives. That idea stuck, and I decided we could enhance the lives of the children in our shelter despite the difficulties we are having now,” says Chontell.
She looked through a catalog of arts and crafts supplies, and when she saw some materials that she could use to convert the common area into an impromptu theater, she ordered some paper “guitars” and a backdrop that depicted a curtain and stage lights. The guitars were a little too flimsy, though.
“I knew that Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island employees were coming to Crossroads for a volunteer day in April, so I brought my paper guitars and some materials I got from the recycling center to our downtown location and took advantage of some of the Blue Cross volunteers,” Chontell explained. “They cut out colored cardboard backing and glued them to the paper guitars to make them stronger.”
On one of the regularly scheduled Family Literacy days, Chontell took over the Family Center dining room and brought out all the materials so that parents could work with the children to decorate each guitar.
“It was a great learning experience for the kids,” Chontell says. “They learned about guitars, counted the number of strings and learned how each one makes a different sound. It was a good activity for hand and eye coordination, dexterity, and learning new words.”
When the guitars were all decorated, Chontell put up the stage backdrop, lowered the lights and started the music, which turned out to be a universal language for the multi-lingual group of children. One by one, kids volunteered to be rock stars.
One little boy called his song ‘4’ and happily sang the words, “Uno, dos, tres, cuatro,” rocking to the music, with all the other children joining in.
“The parents were so proud of their little rock stars,” Chontell says. “So many of the children in the shelter are suffering from the trauma of having lost their homes, and they don’t talk to anyone. But when we started rocking, they all began to join in the dancing and singing. It was a wonderful time for them, and parents were so happy to see their children doing something fun.”
After the concert, the children enjoyed healthy snacks and continued to sing and show off their very own guitar creations.
This effort, which brought so much joy to children enduring very hard times, shows how a small effort by community volunteers can make a huge difference in the lives of our clients.
“I am so happy that the Blue Cross volunteers will be able to see how their work making paper guitars turned into so many smiles and so much happiness,” Chontell says.
Crossroads is very proud of Chontell and her woquatrrk to bring a successful Family Literacy program to our Family Center. These kinds of programs are a rarity in a shelter setting, but they are a powerful way to help children create positive memories while they are with us.
If you would like to help dedicated staff members like Chontell continue to enrich the lives of homeless children and give their parents the essential support and services they need to move their families out of homelessness, please consider donating now.
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