Updated: Oct 4
This month we chatted with Terri, a lifelong Central Oregon resident who is happy to be living in her own apartment in Redmond after experiencing homelessness. We are so honored to share her story with you, and so grateful to know her.
*TW: interpersonal violence
It was exactly a year ago when Terri became homeless: October 2021. Reflecting back on the past year and how far she’s come, Terri choked up as we talked about her experience and how different she feels now at this one year ”anniversary”. Last fall Terri was living with another woman, a roommate, who struggled with alcohol use and became violent. After being assaulted multiple times, Terri knew she had to get out. She was worried about her low income- she had been working as a support person for folks with developmental disabilities. Her work had been very hard on her body though, and she had decided to start the Social Security Disability process.
Terri made the decision to leave, and her first stop was Alfalfa Pond. She made the most of her 6 weeks living at the pond, creating her own environment where she could be safe. She even constructed a lava rock fire pit she was quite proud of! But soon the cold weather brought edema to her feet and she knew she had to move into a shelter for her health.
Terri decided to move to Bend and stayed overnight at the Shepherd’s House Second St. Shelter. When she wasn’t working she would spend her days at public parks, where she was able to use the restroom, or she would meet with Thrive at the Downtown Bend Library. However, mid-winter her car broke down. Terri’s boss at the nonprofit she worked for was very worried about her, and gave her her car to use. Around the same time a friend gave Terri a small trailer to live in, and she was able to move to the forest area off China Hat Rd.
She appreciated her own space, but it was bitterly cold. The trailer wasn’t insulated, and though Reach was able to supply a propane heater, she would spend most days under piles of sleeping bags. On days that Thrive was at the library though, Terri would always keep her appointments with former Community Outreach Advocate Sophie. Even though she didn’t want to get out of bed, and her body ached from the cold, she would make herself put on clothes, pull on her boots, shovel out her car and get herself into town.
When we asked her if she had advice for others seeking or interested in our services, she said,
“It’s called put your boots on, have faith and get your a** to an appointment. Get there early, if you get there really early you can just hang out in the library and stay cool -or warm depending on the season. If you do, you will feel a ray of hope when you leave, but only if you let yourself.”
It was those mornings that she knew she could count on. Even though it was so hard to get out of bed, out of China Hat, she knew that she could get to the library early and it would be warm and comfortable. She also knew that once she met with Sophie, her day would be a little brighter and she would have a glimmer of hope.
She and Sophie worked together applying for affordable and subsidized rentals. Terri says that she works with computers and apps in her work, but filling out housing applications was intimidating for her. We hear this a lot in our work: that the pressure and stress of doing things correctly for federally-funded apartments is another barrier folks feel when looking for affordable housing.
We will finish with Terri’s own words, because she expressed herself so beautifully:
Sophie was very efficient and she treated me with dignity and compassion. I didn’t feel lesser-than. She made me feel like a real person, and that I mattered too. It was a delight just going to these appointments. It didn’t feel like a chore to me - it was the opposite of a chore. Every time I left the Thrive office, I would feel a little more hopeful.
When I would leave the library, I felt like this little aura was protecting me when I got in my car. They helped brighten the light at the end of the tunnel for me. At first the light was really dim, I could hardly see the end and I didn’t know if I would make it. Finally the light was so bright that I found myself in a real home. Not only a home, but I have friends- I have a life! It’s the beginning of the rest of my life.
When we asked Terri if she had any parting words for our community, she mentioned a song that kept coming to mind as she prepared for our interview that reminded her of her experience with Thrive. It’s the refrain from Blake Shelton song, Neon Light:
There's a neon light at the end of the tunnel
It ain't all that bright, but even though it's subtle
It's got me feeling alright, go on and make it a double
There's a neon light at the end of the tunnel, tunnel, tunnel