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-
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.
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.”