Part 9 really didn’t think it would take this many posts to reach the here and now but alas it has.
So we left off and the girls and I were at the shelter, Cece was in her various therapies and also in the SPED preschool. During this time I had applied for an Alaska Housing Voucher, section 8 voucher, to help us get our own place. I received a letter saying that we were placed on the waiting list and that we were #7 on the list. They told me that the estimated waiting time was going to be 1 to 2 months. So we continued our lives at the shelter anxiously awaiting to come to the top of the waiting list.
Life in the shelter was hard. So many people coming in and out, no privacy, curfew and rules that must be followed. Like I mentioned in Part 8 tempers flared. This shouldn’t be surprising as everyone who is staying in a DV shelter doesn’t want to be there but we know that we are safe there. You try to get along with each other but with different parenting styles, different temperaments, and all of us trying to reach the same goal, leaving the shelter, you can’t help but rub each other wrong.
Then you have people whose goal in life is to cause drama, they thrive off of causing hate and discontent between everyone. They lie, they steal, they cheat and just cause problems. Thankfully the shelter staff could see right through that kind of behavior and acted as mediators. If necessary the person would be called into the office and talked to, the rules reiterated and if needed the person was written up or put on contract. From my understanding individuals that were put on contract were basically on a day by day probationary period. If they didn’t follow the rules then they had to leave. This is just my understanding as I was never written up nor put on contract for the nearly 5 months that we were there.
I saw many people come and many people asked to leave. It always boggled my mind that people found the rules so hard to follow. I don’t know if it was just my experiences going through boot camp and serving in the Navy that made following rules and regulations easier for me or not. But I never thought that any of the rules were out of line. We were to treat each other with respect, not discipline each other children, clean up after ourselves and our children, complete a single chore every day, cook dinner for everyone once a week, be in by curfew, have the children in bed by their designated bedtimes, never break confidentiality etc.
I mean here we are in this shelter. They are providing us with a safe place to stay, a room, beds, food, laundry facilities, and more services than I could ever name. We were charged $5 per day to stay there. Three dollars a day for an adult and a dollar a day for children but this cost could be easily off set by doing volunteer time at the shelter. For every hour of volunteer time that you gave you received one days credit on your stay. Volunteer time could earned in various ways such as helping carry in food from the food bank and putting it away, washing the windows, helping with donations, raking the leaves, sewing DV awareness ribbons, coloring posters for the shelters school DV outreach/awareness programs, defrosting the freezers, helping the advocates.
I can remember one time the advocate on duty wanted the refrigerator cleaned out and leftovers frozen and just generally organized. The person whose chore that was for the week had left the shelter so the advocate asked up to pitch in and help. No one pitched in and the advocate asked me if I could do it. I don’t remember what was going on but I initially declined but then she told me that if I did it she would give me 16 hours of volunteer time! Heck yeah I’ll do it LOL 16 days worth of credit on my stay by doing about 1/2 hour worth of work! Another time I spent geez like 8 hours sewing teal ribbons on lil safety pins but I earned 12 days credit doing it!
Now you’d think that all this time spent at the shelter would not be a very healthy environment for children but amazingly the girls absolutely thrived. Cecelia grew leaps and bounds to the amazement of everyone but especially to her doctor. He was amazed at her transformation compared to when he met with her the first time. The second time we went and saw him three months after his initial diagnosis he said that she was a completely different child. I refrained from telling him that we were still staying at the shelter until the end of the appointment. My reasoning behind this was because he had initially tried to say that all of Cece’s issues were related to domestic violence. But I wrote him a letter stating that he had the chronology of Cece’s symptoms/regression wrong. That she had started regressing long before I had gotten into a DV relationship. After explaining to him not only his misinterpretation of her chronology but also what I felt were his misconceptions of domestic violence and shelter life he changed his diagnosis and apologized. So when he saw her the second time I refrained from mentioning that we were in the shelter. He ooh’d and awed about what a different child Cece was and told me to keep up the good work.
I had told him about her therapies and school. Then near the end of the appointment I told him that I was expecting to see some regression/disturbance to Cece’s progress over the next few weeks. He asked why and I told him that we were getting our own place to which he uttered totally astonished…”You are still at the shelter?” To which I told him that yes we were still staying at the DV shelter and that all of Cece’s improvements had occurred while we were there!
During our stay at the shelter Glenna also flourished. She took her first steps there, her speech is unbelievable for her age. She speaks English, Yup’ik and also uses sign language! She bonded with many of the workers there and learned many social skills including how to stand up for herself. She cracked me up when she quickly learned the word “Mine”! One time a lil boy was trying to steal her snack from her and she told him “Don’t touch!! Mine!”.
But I am getting a little bit ahead of myself. So during this time we had come off the waiting list for a housing voucher. I got our housing voucher that would help pay 60-70% of our rent for a 2-bedroom home/apartment. Now I just had to find a home for us. I thought that this would be an easy task, but it didn’t turn out to be that easy after all. I quickly learned that early summer is not the time to be looking for a home. There is an influx of people coming here to fish and finding a home was difficult.
I made hundreds of phone calls trying to find a new home for us. I wasn’t being picky but of course they needed to accept Section 8 housing vouchers, I needed some place that was close to or in town since we didn’t have a vehicle. Also there were safety issues to take into consideration because of Cece’s special needs. I needed some place that wasn’t on a busy road, wasn’t too noisy because of her sensory integration issues, but something that was still nice and not in the wrong part of town. So my search continued.
I was getting very frustrated, I was depressed, I didn’t think it would be this hard. Many times I’d go to the advocates and cry because I just wanted to get out of the shelter. Don’t get me wrong I am and will be eternally grateful for the help and support that we received from them but over 4 months of staying in a DV shelter was enough.
Also during this time I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay for our initial deposit to move into a new home. There is an organization here that helps and also the local tribe but I heard that both were running low on funds and wanted to see if I could raise the money another way. It then occurred to me that I was technically a homeless veteran, surely the VA could help?! I contacted the VA only to find out that there was nothing they could do to help but they told me to contact the VFW. While I wasn’t an actual veteran of a foreign war I knew that it never hurts to ask! So I made a call to the VFW and spoke to a wonderful older man there. He told me that I needed to come to their monthly meeting and ask for help. Also he told me that I should contact the various local veterans organizations.
He started rattling off all these places I needed to contact. His list sounded like an inventory for the zoo! Call the Moose, the Elks, the Eagles! Wait wait!! Can you please repeat all those animals again! So then I sat down and started writing letters explaining our situation and asking for help. This was one of the hardest things for me to do because as most of you know I am the one that is always helping others! It’s not easy to swallow your pride and ask for help but all I had to do was look at my girls and knew that I needed help!
So I wrote…..
Dear Lodge Members:
My name is Ann Strongheart. I am contacting your organization to ask for assistance. Let me take a moment to give you a little background about myself and my situation and why it is necessary for me to write this letter.
I find it quite difficult to be in a position that makes it necessary to ask for help as I am usually the one that is helping others. But alas here I am, a homeless Yupik Eskimo U.S. Navy Veteran residing at the shelter with my two small girls.
I suddenly became a widow in the summer of 2009. My dear husband passed on due to a massive heart attack at the young age of 38. At that time I was seven months pregnant with our second child.
We had been living in Nunam Iqua, formerly Sheldon Point, a small village on the mouth of the Yukon. That summer we went to Bristol Bay to fish in hopes of making enough money to build a home back in Nunam Iqua. Instead I had to use all of the money that we made that summer for his funeral costs as his life insurance from the school district had not yet taken effect.
My children are: Glenna and Cecelia. Glenna is 17 months old. Cecelia is three and a half. Cecelia is developmentally disabled. She has been diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental disorder (possibly on the autism spectrum). We relocated here in order to have access to the services that she needs to address her special needs. These services are limited if not completely unavailable in bush Alaska.
Currently I am a full-time stay at home mom who is busy taking care of my two beautiful girls. Cecelia’s disability requires her to attend multiple therapies per week in addition to attending the Special Education Preschool. Currently our only income is Survivors Social Security benefits that we receive from the death of my husband.
We have applied for and received an Alaska Housing Voucher which will help pay for our rent once we find an apartment/house BUT we need assistance with the initial security deposit and/or first and last months rent. I am contacting several organizations asking for whatever help they might be able to provide us. Due to circumstances out of our control we are basically starting over, with little to nothing except my drive to do right by my girls and provide them with a stable and healthy environment in which they can thrive.
So I am respectfully requesting any assistance that your organization may be able to provide. We not only need initial financial assistance to move into a home but also are asking for any 2nd hand furnishings that anyone may have that they no longer need.
Thank you in advance for not only taking the time to read my letter but also for any help your organization maybe be able to offer.
Please feel free to contact me at the above contact information is you have any questions.
Quyana Cakneq (Yup’ik for Thank you VERY MUCH)
Would anyone answer my plea? Could anyone help? Would we ever get out of the shelter and continue moving forward with our lives?
To be continued…….