I know you stay here; you need this money. She replied. 'I don’t need it. You guys take care of me.' It was $5. It was all she had. —Celeste Eggert, director of development for The Road Home
Her husband is in jail, her week-old baby is in her arms, and she is in The Road Home shelter, hard on Salt Lake’s west side.
Her name is Apparel (pronounced AP-uh-rell) and she is waiting. Waiting for her husband’s legal case to be decided. Waiting for her caseworker at The Road Home to find a home for her family. Waiting for things to get better.
Nobody really wants to be in a shelter on Christmas, but it beats the truck she and Clifford were living in, and the people who work here are kind and hopeful. That’s enough for now.
“Things’ll get better,” she says, caressing her infant in her lap. “I trust God to provide a way.”
Appie, as she is called, has crammed a lot of hard living into her 25 years. She has been married to Clifford, a 47-year-old with his own checkered past, for two years. Appie and Clifford lived in his truck for seven months. It wasn’t that bad, she says. Everything they needed was there. A roof over their heads. A generator. A place to sleep. A hot plate. “I made dinner every night,” she says brightly. It was like camping and, besides, it saved rent while Clifford looked for work. Or didn’t.
“We took the summer off and did our thing,” she says.
He works on and off as a journeyman painter. A few weeks ago he was arrested for burglary, and Appie showed up at the shelter on Nov. 1 nearly eight months pregnant with nowhere else to go. She doesn’t have the money to pay his bail, so Clifford is behind bars and she is here, facing Christmas in the shelter, again.
“My husband and I were here two years ago for Christmas,” She says. “We had a long run with meth. Then he went to jail. While he was in jail we got clean and came here to get on our feet. It was a good experience. There was an outpouring of giving and love from people here.”
There are hundreds of other stories similar to hers among the people who pass through The Road Home. On one typical night last week, 1,088 people slept in one of The Road Home’s two shelters. That included 74 families consisting of 112 people, the majority of them kids under the age of 5.
Most of the shelter’s guests are individuals who are there for a night’s shelter against the cold, and that’s that. But families are automatically assigned a caseworker, as are those who have jobs, medical conditions or are undergoing substance abuse treatment. The Road Home’s mandate in such cases is to locate housing for these people, along with a deposit and the first month's rent. Celeste Eggert, director of development for The Road Home, says the vast majority of those who are set up in a home never return to the shelter. They are just people who needed assistance to get back on their feet again. The Road Home places at least one of their shelter residents in a home every day of the year.
“We never give up on people, never,” says Eggert. “I’ve seen people I think can’t change and they do. It’s the greatest thing about my job.”
On Thursday and Friday, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., The Road Home will hold its annual Holiday “Media-thon” to raise money. Ten radio stations and a TV station will broadcast live from the shelter to encourage public donations. Each year, so many cars show up to drop off donations that the adjacent street is turned into a one-way avenue. They also are looking for volunteers to help with the event.
“We receive the bulk of our private contributions and in-kind donations during those two days,” says Eggert. “We have to stretch it to last all year. We just don’t get this support any other time of the year.”
Eggert is always moved by the experience. She has seen kids donate their entire allowance from the previous year. One year, as Eggert sat at a table accepting donations, she was handed money by a haggard looking woman who had spent the previous night in the shelter. “I know you stay here; you need this money,” Eggert gently told the woman. She replied. “I don’t need it. You guys take care of me.” Says Eggert, “It was $5. It was all she had.”
The people in The Road Home all have their sad stories, as victims of the economy, themselves, fate, or circumstance. For her part, Appie ran away from home as a teen and wound up in state custody. She tried to make a go of it. She went to beauty school, but then the babies arrived and her first marriage crumbled. Her first child is with her ex. Her second child was taken by the state because of her drug use. When social services showed up at the hospital last week, she feared the same fate for her third child, but so far all that has been required is periodic drug tests.
“We were using when I found out we were pregnant,” she says. “But not since then.”
Some friends introduced her to Clifford five years ago, shortly before she moved to Oregon. He kept calling her and eventually suggested she return to Utah.
“He said he would take care of me," she says. "I didn’t know him well and what I did know was not all that favorable. But I got to know him from a distance and started to like who I thought he was. Five years later I still do.”
As she talks, she strokes her infant’s back and holds him close. “Things’ll get better and now me and my husband have good reason to stay straight and do what we need to do,” she says.
Meanwhile, she waits. “The ultimate Christmas blessing would be to have my husband here with us,” she says.
Doug Robinson's columns run on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org