If I start to feel depressed, I look around me and think, 'You know what? I have nothing to be depressed about. I have a roof over my head. I have food in my fridge and in my cupboards. —Linda Bonds
SALT LAKE CITY — There are large, furry slippers on Linda Bonds' feet and a lanyard clipped to a host of keys around her neck.
The keys jingle and shake with Bonds as she walks through her home, speaking with spirit and animation. Their weight rests against her torso as she stirs the homemade split pea soup on her stove.
"I'm inside," she said. "I'm in. I'm in."
Not more than two weeks after Bonds stood outside the homeless shelter at 210 Rio Grande and asked for a second chance, she got one.
It took her age, 57; her income, a Social Security disability check; and the number of nights she's spent homeless, more than 600, to qualify for it. It came in the form of a one-bedroom apartment and a voucher for $365 to Deseret Industries that bought couches, a kitchen table, chairs, and a bed. For the first time in years she is home for the holidays.
Darren and Theresa Williams, the parents of two boys, ages 11 and 15, have been homeless for more than a year. They are marking this season of hope back at The Road Home shelter in Midvale. They thought they may have a line on a home more than a month ago, but it didn't come through. But they said they haven't lost hope since first sharing their story with Deseret News readers in October.
The holiday season means different things to different people. But for Linda Bonds and the Williams family, faith, family and hope are again at the center of their Christmas season.
A new home
Linda Bonds had not had a home for six years. And when she was asked what she loves the most about her new place she responded with one word: "Everything."
"I wanted a second chance, and I got that. Thank you, Jesus! I thank him every day. I do. I'm blessed — truly."
Bonds said it was about a week and a half after an October Deseret News article on the city's homeless that she was told that she qualified for a new program and that she would be getting placed in an apartment.
"No! Are you for real? Really, really?" she demanded of her caseworker. "He said, 'Yeah. Really, really.'"
She moved in Nov. 6, along with eight others who had been living on the street. She likes having keys and the ability to lock her door. She likes that there are security cameras at the building. When she found a man asleep in the hallway of her building, she asked for better lighting.
Now, she feels "peace and serenity."
"I can go out in the street to do what I got to do knowing I can come home and close the world out if I choose," she said. "I can run buck naked through my house if I want to, leaving footprints everywhere I go, because I have a mop."
She keeps the place spotless. She said it's a contrast to conditions living among others and sharing space in shelters. She especially loves cooking. Thanksgiving Day, she had friends over for a home-cooked meal.
"I put a little spread on. It was all good," she said. "I was able to feed them. Everyone had a good meal. It was just lovely."
Bonds has been in and out of homeless shelters since 2006. Sometimes she would stay with family or friends. Other times she would take her checks and use them to pay for motels. She panhandled.
But after five years on the streets, she wondered how she could handle another five. This became part of her prayers.
"Whatever you have in your will for me, I will do it, but please hurry up," she recounted.
Bonds said she made a commitment to God to do right and said she avoided drinking and offers to work in prostitution or sell drugs.
"It's very easy to get into trouble," she said. "I chose not to, and (God) blessed me. I chose the right road. Prayers go up and blessings come down. I didn't only pray for myself; I prayed for others."
Bonds said it was this faith that sustained her, and she thinks of the years of homelessness as a trial of that faith.
"He's said, 'If you have the faith of a mustard seed, I can do wonders in your life,'" she said, referring to scripture. "He was testing me. But he said, 'Once you go through trials and tribulations, you become like gold.' I'm gold now. Just a little nugget."
She said she used to get depressed. She said she tried to take her own life at least once. Now, she said, she realizes life is a gift and it's getting better.
"If I start to feel depressed, I look around me and think, 'You know what? I have nothing to be depressed about. I have a roof over my head. I have food in my fridge and in my cupboards,'" she said.
Bonds said when Jesus was on the earth, he didn't have a home. If he could live without a home, she decided she could, too. She made him a promise, should a home for her come up.
"I told God, 'You give me this home, you are here and you are welcome any time.' And I feel his presence," she said. "God is good. All the time, God is good. I know I'm one of his because he looked out for me. … I finally have the home I've been dreaming of."
The Williams family
From her family's corner at The Road Home's Midvale shelter, Theresa Williams continued to dream of a holiday at a home of her own with her husband and her two children.
"I want a purple frosted Christmas tree with the matching lights and our families — my other son, my sister — in our own home," she said. "We'll get it, too. We will."
For now, it's a small camp, about 6 feet long and 6 feet wide. Most of their belongings — the ones they sat with and guarded in the rain on the curb near 210 Rio Grande in October — were put into the truck of an acquaintance who was supposed to drive it to the shelter in Midvale.
"We never saw it again," Williams said. "So this is it. Right here."
She points to a mound covered in blankets that includes three cots, one for Theresa, one for her husband, Darren, and another for their 11-year-old, Skyler. Their older son, Sterling, continues to live with a friend in West Valley City, for stability.
Williams, often full of charm and optimism, seems tired. She said the distance from his family has started to take its toll on Sterling and the family is struggling with going another Christmas without a home.
They were able to go to Candy Cane Corner and pick out gifts, but it didn't ease the frustration of the situation.
"I'm grateful for whatever to help my kids," she said. "It's all about them. It's (Darren and my) fault we are where we are. They're getting tired of it, and so are we."
The woman who once said she never could have imagined she would be homeless has now been so for more than a year. It's long enough to earn her family a designation as chronically homeless, which she said has actually opened up a number of programs to them. The family continues to search online and through lists provided to them for housing that they can keep long-term.
"I don't want to come back," Williams said. "I really don't. When I get out, I want to stay out."
She said too often they see someone leave the shelter only to return again.
"People can't pay and are right back here. We've seen people come and go," she said. "I'm not leaving until I'm for sure we're not coming back. I don't want to move and move again. I like it to be stable."
Both Theresa and Darren Williams are still seeking employment. She understands that a lot of property owners don't want to rent to people who don't have jobs.
"We've been trying (to find a place), but it's hard when you don't have a car, don't know how you'll pay," she said.
She said they want to wait to find work until they know where they will be living, so they can manage transportation. That's actually the way the homeless are helped in Salt Lake City — home first, job second.
Michelle Flynn, associate executive director of The Road Home, said employment is absolutely "the end goal" for those they work with, but that it's very difficult for those who are homeless to find and keep jobs.
"It's not easy for folks to get a job without a great work history, and it's even harder when they're in crisis and living in a shelter," Flynn said. "They are much more concerned with making sure their kids are off to school and have a place to study and that they have enough food for their children."
She said there are numerous programs to assist homeless families in their efforts to find homes. Getting in the home is the first priority, followed by employment, Flynn said. Without the stress of homelessness, finding jobs becomes much easier.
"Once they get in their own home and get settled in, they can take a deep breath and see what bus and TRAX are available to them," she said.
Since returning to the shelter, Darren Williams said he's seen a spike in his stress level.
"My anxiety, it tears me up," he said. "You feel like the walls are caving in. Your chest gets tight. You just have to think of a happy place and put blinders on."
By a week before Christmas the family still had not made plans for Christmas this year.
"We haven't even gotten that far yet," Darren Williams said. "I'm just trying to focus on what I'm doing that day and then trying to plan for the next day."
"We're going to spend it all together. I know that much," Theresa Williams added.
Little things have changed in their family, going through this and being away from Sterling. Theresa Williams said she doesn't think that homelessness was totally necessary to prompt the changes, but it's a positive that she'll take.
"(Sterling) being apart from us brought us so close together," she said. "We appreciate each other."