Pam’s Story

To see Pam today, you would never know the ordeal and the difficult hurdles she has

faced. She is positive, upbeat, cheerful, and eager to talk to you about her journey to

housing. But Pam describes her past self as passive, timid and with a very low self-

image, especially as she compares herself to her college-graduate twin brother.

After years of an alcohol addiction and “always trying to get away with things,” Pam

found herself homeless at the age of 61. With no income and the additional barriers

her age presented her in finding employment, she entered emergency shelter in

House of Hope CDC’s Operation First Step shelter for women.

There, she says, she had to stand on her own two feet. Accustomed to seeking others

to do things for her, she now had to learn to navigate systems herself, advocate for

her own needs, and take her life into her own hands. Her case manager Lynne, was a

support and cheerleader for her, but would often hang back and give Pam the

opportunity to come out of her shell and work toward her own accomplishments. As

Pam took charge of her own life and her sobriety, her self-esteem and self-confidence

grew. She also knew that she couldn’t keep relying on others; if she was going to get

housed, she was going to have to do some real work.

 

While at First Step, Pam enrolled in the House of Hope Boutique Sewing 101

program. This supported employment program provides a six week training program

where participants not only learn a craft-centered skill, they also learn the soft skills

necessary to succeed in the workplace or the community – showing up on time,

working collaboratively and independently to complete a goal, navigating

transportation, and taking pride in the tangible goods made while in the program.

Pam excelled in the training program and was eager to continue on her path to self-

sufficiency.

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Pam was eventually ready to move up into House of Hope CDC’s Second Step

program, funded by United Way of Rhode Island. A graduation from First Step,

Second Step provided more independence and the ability for women to develop the

skills and resources needed before they’re ready for permanent housing, such as

maintaining their recovery from substance abuse or mental illness, securing income

and income supports, and developing a budget and savings for housing costs. Here

Pam was able to apply for SSI/SSDI with the help of her SOAR-trained case manager,

a program that assists homeless and formerly homeless individuals navigate the

cumbersome disability insurance application process. She also graduated from the

Sewing program and started Retail 101 training, an opportunity to work along side

the Boutique’s Business manger in the storefront and learn retail skills, such as

customer service, cash management and inventory/merchandising. She says she

found her calling in the store. She thoroughly enjoyed interacting with customers and

sharing her story. The timid Pam was long gone. In her place, a confident, self-aware

and successful woman greeted customers, talked about the program and her own

battles with homelessness and alcoholism. Any time Pam talks about House of Hope

CDC, her face immediately lights up.

 

With the help of House of Hope CDC’s social services staff, Pam was successful in

appealing her initial denial for SSI benefits. Securing this income was just what Pam

needed to qualify for housing, and she recently moved into a subsidized unit through

Warwick Housing Authority. She takes great pride in her apartment and jokes that

she decorates it in her head with all of the Boutique items in between customers.

Earlier this summer, she was hired as a part time Boutique employee, earning her

first paycheck in quite some time.

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When asked what the future holds, Pam says her goals are to continue working at the

Boutique, maintain her housing, and spread the word about House of Hope CDC and

what it’s like to be an older woman and homeless. She believes her voice has a place

at the table as policymakers make decisions about funding for affordable housing and

social services and that it’s when people like her share their story that the stigma

around homelessness and alcoholism can be overcome. She adds, “House of Hope

gave me my life back. If I can help the next person, I’m going to.”