Sometimes A Glass Ceiling Looks Like Having No Ceiling At All
By Emily Ball
I sat down recently with 2 women in our community who’ve broken through the hardest ceiling of all: homelessness. Asenath and Alisha have both borne the unbearable and come through with grace and wisdom. Both of them were clients in Homeward Bound’s Room in the Inn program, a mobile shelter for homeless women operated in partnership with almost 50 local faith communities, who work together to provide all of their meals, transportation, and overnight care.
Homeward Bound ends homelessness in WNC by moving people into homes of their own, and both Asenath and Alisha have moved out of Room in the Inn and into their own apartments through Homeward Bound in the past year.
In talking with them, I’d hoped to glean enough of their stories to write something that would inspire you. But these women don’t need me to do that, and you don’t need me to do that either—their stories, their lives, and their very selves are wildly inspirational on their own.
In their own words …
Alcohol and drugs … that’s why I was homeless. I thought I didn’t have a problem, but it really affected my job a lot. I was a cook at Grove Park, and I had a boss who tried to stand by me. I went through a treatment program and got back on track, but when I lost my mom, I fell off the wagon again and lost my job.
I got back on track again, got a job at Cracker Barrel, but I got into a bad relationship, and I relapsed. I finally learned that I can’t be around drugs and alcohol—I can say I’m strong, but you never know. When I lost that job, I was staying with my daughter, but it was causing stress on our relationship, and I had to go. That’s when I ended up at Homeward Bound and got into Room in the Inn.
Room in the Inn is a great program for women. Sharon was agood director and a good friend. She told me I didn’t have to be there if I didn’t want to—it was my choice. Knowing that I’m either going to drink or drug myself to death if I don’t stay on this path helped me make that choice. I had had seven years clean and sober in the past, so I knew what that felt like, and I wanted to do it.
Homeward Bound gave me a chance to get a place again and stand up on my own two feet. At first I didn’t think I could find my way back, but I love this part of me now. I’m proud of my home and of being a productive member of society. I’m just enjoying life now, clean and sober. Enjoying my daughter and my grandkids. Living life.
I went from making $50,000 one year to being in a shelter the next year, because I picked up a drug, because I couldn’t get over some things that happened to me.
When I was six weeks pregnant, my uncle shot himself in the head, and I had to clean it up. I’ve had nightmares ever since. My kids’ father introduced me to crack, and I started using to cope. I don’t know how I managed to keep the job, but I did, for a while. I was in and out of hospitals with depression and was abused by my kids’ father and then another man after that. My friend reported me to DSS, and I had to move out and leave my kids with my parents. I was a prostitute for a while to pay for the crack, and then I was raped. It wasn’t a good environment and I couldn’t handle the stress. I was pissed off at the world, and I tried to smoke so much that I’d die, because that’s what I wanted to do at the time. Drugs were my way of coping, because nobody was listening and I didn’t care about myself.
When I got to the shelter, I was still hopeless. I didn’t feel like there was anything for me. I thought ‘why is life important?’ With Sharon at Room in the Inn, I felt like somebody actually cared for the first time. She pushed me and I didn’t want to do it, but I did, and it’s all been positive. I wouldn’t have gotten my kids back if it wasn’t for Sharon. And it felt really good to go into a church and have them not judge you but value you for who you are.
I’ve been clean for a year and a half now, and Homeward Bound moved me into an apartment last December. I’m getting back to normal; it’s a process. It feels good to be housed and to know that I can apply for jobs without worrying about passing the drug test. I’ve become good friends with my neighbors and it feels like a safe environment; I get to decide who can come in and out of my home. My strength and perseverance have gone up.
Being at Homeward Bound has taught me lessons that I’m teaching my kids now, like empathy and compassion. Before I was homeless, I had no sympathy for homeless people, but since I’ve been in it, I’ve learned that everybody’s a human being. When you’re homeless, you don’t have rights, you can’t go into so many places. Being homeless is not freedom; it’s torture. People are so damaged and hurt—they’re broken, from broken families.
Now I take my kids to volunteer; I want them to meet people who are homeless so they’ll understand. At first they didn’t like it, but just the other day my daughter said, “Mommy, these people are really nice – why don’t they have homes?”
Sitting in my office telling me about their journeys, Asenath and Alisha displayed more courage than almost every woman I know … myself included. They have the bravery to face their own stories and to share them. They’re open and honest and strong and true. They see themselves as they really are, not as they wish they were. They’ve wrestled with real demons in their lives and in themselves, and they’ve emerged on the other side. They burst through that glass ceiling of homelessness, and they’ve got bruises and scars and shards of glass in their hair, but they’re not defined by their addictions or limited by their lack of housing anymore. They’re women in our community who are rising to the top one step at a time.
Alisha and Asenath did that hard work to change their lives themselves, but they didn’t do it on their own. They did it with Sharon’s help in Room in the Inn. They did it with encouragement from other women in the program. They did it with support from Homeward Bound’s substance abuse counselors. They do it every day with Homeward Bound staff and volunteers walking alongside them.
At Homeward Bound, we’re committed to Asenath and Alisha, and we’re also committed helping the women in our community take the next steps out of homelessness and into housing. Our Next Step Fund does exactly that: provides resources to pay for housing and support for women who are moving out of homelessness and moving into a new season of stability through permanent housing.
You can help! Join us on October 4th for a Womansong concert benefitting our Next Step Fund. Womangsong is Asheville’s oldest and largest women’s community chorus. The October 4th concert, Help Somebody, will be held at 7:30 p.m. at Central United Methodist Church and will include sweet songs celebrating friends and support. Tickets are $18 in advance or at the door and $10 for children under 15 and are available at Womansong.org.
Emily Ball is the director of community engagement at Homeward Bound of WNC, a local nonprofit that has moved 640 people out of homelessness and into permanent housing since 2006, with an 89% retention rate in housing. She can be reached at Emily@homewardboundwnc.org.