Terisha Brown’s path to homelessness started before she was ever born. She was only 2 when her mother, a longtime drug addict, was murdered. She was sexually abused by a relative when she was 8 and had a baby at 14. Still, she never thought she would be forced to sleep in a car, an abandoned trailer or on the cold, hard ground.
“Nobody wants to be homeless,” said Terisha, now living in a safe, affordable apartment at the YWCA Central Alabama. “It makes you feel like you are a nobody. It makes you get discouraged about things. It makes you want to give up.”
This year, during National Homelessness Awareness Week, November 15-23, the YWCA Central Alabama will partner with One Roof and the Low Income Housing Coalition of Alabama to help the public better understand the issue. One Roof will facilitate a homelessness simulation on Thursday, November 20, at 6 p.m. so participants can experience the systematic barriers to housing. On November 21 at 6 p.m., the YW will host a screening of “Storied Streets,” a documentary that explores the issue of homelessness in the United States. A community discussion will follow each event. To register, click here.
Terisha, 27, was a teenager the first time she had no place to go. She’d grown up in California, living with relatives or in foster and group homes after her mother died. Shortly before turning 17, she moved to Birmingham and lived with her father for a while until he kicked her out of the home. “There was an abandoned trailer nearby, so I broke in,” she said. “I felt like I did what I had to do to keep my baby warm.”
Since then, “I’ve been homeless so many times,” said Terisha, who eventually lost custody of her six children because of the lack of safe housing. Over the years, she lived with other family members off and on, and she’s spent some time in a shelter. At one point, she slept in her boyfriend’s car for about six months. “I was scared,” she said. “I would sit in that car and I would think and think.”
Although Terisha has held a job at a fast food restaurant for three years, she didn’t make enough money for rent or down payments. Last summer, she was referred to YW Homes, and she moved into an apartment in the YW’s downtown Birmingham building in July. Since then, she’s regained custody of her 2-year-old and is working toward getting all of her children home.
With the help of the YW staff, Terisha has received counseling, completed parenting courses, learned money management and gotten child care for her baby. “This is the first time in my whole life where I’ve actually done everything I needed to do and maintained it,” she said. “I want to pat myself on the back, because it wasn’t easy. I think this program is like, ‘If you’re willing to help yourself, we’ll help you.’ ”
Terisha said realizing that someone believed in her helped her to finally believe in herself. “My mindset was not right before,” she said. “Once I started thinking positive things, it started getting better. I want to tell other people in the same situation that it takes time. You have to set goals and you have to have patience. It’s not always going to happen when you want it to, but it will come.”
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