“My husband held a loaded gun to my face and asked, ‘Do you want to die?’,” says Shelly, recalling the traumatic night.
Shelly had been with her husband for several years but when he became addicted to crack cocaine and alcohol, her relationship with him deteriorated. He had become emotionally, physically and mentally abusive, and he had guns throughout the house.
Just one week after being threatened at gunpoint, Shelly summoned the courage to escape from the Pacific Northwest. “I felt hopeless,” remembers Shelly, “I didn’t know what I was going to do, where I was going to go.
“I found one of our credit cards and activated it so I could leave.” Shelly fled with two bags and enough clothes for a week. Her body would twitch with fear, she couldn’t speak without crying, and she didn’t sleep for three days.
Shelly came to Los Angeles thinking it would be a refuge for her because LA is where her daughter lives. Unfortunately, this turned out to be another unstable environment for Shelly. Her daughter started shoplifting when her boyfriend’s addiction got out of control. When they lost their house, Shelly became homeless.
Through a county voucher program, Shelly was able to live in a downtown hotel for awhile. Then she heard about the Women’s Renaissance program at the Weingart Center Association. This phenomenal program helps homeless and near homeless women address the unique issues they face, build self-confidence, and become productive and self-sufficient. Women can stay in the program for up to two years while they get their lives in order.
The Women’s Renaissance program helped Shelly change her whole approach to life without losing the giving aspect of her personality. “I learned how to put me first. I have always put me on the back burner,” admits Shelly. “I’ve learned to do things the right way— to get my priorities straight.”
Shelly volunteers at the JWCH health clinic, doing street outreach for HIV testing. She is also an AmeriCorps member. The AmeriCorps Hope for the Homeless program is staffed by graduates and near graduates of local shelter and treatment programs who reach out to individuals and families in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles, providing them with information about what type of help is available. Upon finishing the AmeriCorps program, Shelly will get a stipend that she can use for education or training. And thanks to the Weingart Center’s mandatory savings plan, Shelly has money that she can use when she transitions into her own apartment.
“I believe that the Weingart Center literally saved my life,” states Shelly. Shelly is nearing her graduation from Women’s Renaissance. She is still figuring out what she wants to do with the rest of her life, but says, “My options are open and that is wonderful. I didn’t have any options before.”