“None of us saw Skid Row coming,” says Kelisa, but the gritty reality of Los Angeles’ homeless capital is exactly where this 29 year-old mother ended up with her three children after fleeing an abusive relationship in Fresno.
Kelisa had grown up surrounded by domestic violence but that still didn’t prevent her from landing in that same situation herself. She dated the man who would become her husband for three years, but once she got married the abuse — emotional, mental, financial and sometimes even physical — kept getting worse. Embarrassed and scared, Kelisa didn’t want anyone to know the agony she was suffering so she made sure no one knew what was going on at home by keeping a brave front. Fearing how much worse the abuse might get, one day Kelisa just couldn’t take it anymore. She took her husband to work, came home and packed her bags. She literally had nothing except for some clothes and $50 in her pocket that a friend had given her. Once in Los Angeles, she used that money to get a room for one night.
Kelisa and her three children (then aged 10, 7 and a one year old baby) were forced to turn to emergency shelters. “Being over 200 miles away from home, I didn’t have any family or friends here to turn to,” says Kelisa. The struggling mother heard about the Weingart Center through word of mouth and came to the Hope Row Resource Center (HRRC) for help. The HRRC assisted Kelisa and her little ones with getting into a motel for three months. “I was still trying to maintain a normal life by keeping the kids in school while I was looking for a job.” The HRRC allows individuals to use its address to receive mail, and also distributes free voicemail numbers to homeless and low-income people through the Community Voice Mail program. “I used Community Voice Mail when I was trying to establish employment,” states Kelisa. “It helped me rebuild. That’s all I had— my address and my voicemail. That was my identity.”
Kelisa moved many times, drifting between shelters, and went through several jobs. It’s not easy being a working single mom, especially with a toddler to look after. Kelisa naturally got discouraged during her journey out of a life cycle of drama, and she admits that she almost went back to her husband. She pressed through, and became very resilient. Even though it would take Kelisa more than a year to stabilize her life, the Weingart Center provided the initial support which gave her hope, and the knowledge that there is help available. “It all started from going to the Weingart Center,” says Kelisa. “What I needed, they gave me. With their voicemail, mail services and referrals, they gave me a connection to other resources.”
At Thanksgiving time, a year after arriving in LA, Kelisa got her Section 8 voucher for housing, and two days later she and her children moved into their own place. Now, she is working as a Development Coordinator for a non-profit that creates educational opportunities for women and youths. She works doing fundraising and organizing events, and is most happy that she is able to give back.
Kelisa had many trials come her way but she fought through all of the darkness so she did not have to go back into her old cycle. “What I got out of all of this is integrity,” admits Kelisa. “I just turned 31, and these next nine years are going to be so different. I’m living life better than I ever could have expected.”