Counting Blessings: Misty and David’s Story

Ninety six shelters. Misty still remembers the number of unsuccessful calls she made looking for a place to house her family of seven. It was the middle of winter and they were running out of time.

Call after call brought more bad news. Most shelters were full to capacity. The few that had space available didn’t accept two-parent households, as is the case for the majority of family shelters. Misty could stay with their three girls, but her husband, David, would have to take their teenage boys to an adult men’s shelter. For their close-knit family, that was unthinkable. “Keeping our family together has always been our first priority.”

Staying afloat with a family of seven on David’s salary, while Misty stayed at home with the children, had long been difficult. “We were always over our heads with rent,” remembers David. But when he began having lung problems from years as a welder, then got laid off in the bad economy, their bills became unmanageable. David had trouble finding another job he could do given his new health problems. Misty, having long been out of the workforce and without a high school diploma, found it difficult to get work.

The minute you say ‘shelter,’ people look at you like something’s wrong. How did I end up here? Why do I always end up here? As a parent, you feel like a failure. But the staff helped me see I’m not a failure. I’ve made mistakes, but they aren’t unfixable. Our situation isn’t unchangeable.

No longer able to afford their rent, they spent the next six years bouncing around, staying with family and friends, in hotels and RV parks. In mid-2011, they started staying with family in Everett, but after six months were told they had to move on. They had run out of options.

On the day they learned The Family Shelter had a room for them, they had only enough money for one night’s stay in a hotel. The next night, without a shelter placement, the family would have been forced to stay in their van.

“My kids (by then, all teenagers) had ideas of shelters as blankets, dividers, cots. At the intake interview, they grilled (the staff) about what it was like there,” says David. The family would have their own room. There were activities and outings. They were pleasantly surprised. “Within a day, they’d met friends and fit in.”

Although they would never have chosen homelessness for their family, Misty and David count their blessings where they can.  They took advantage of their time at the shelter and made changes long overdue. They participated in life skills classes on everything from renter’s rights, to couple’s communication. They worked with their case manager to develop a budget that they use to this day. They shop smarter and eat healthier than they did before their shelter stay.  Their children’s grades have improved. Misty even earned her GED, a long time goal.

“We learned structure for a lot of things,” says Misty. “Rent, power, then anything else. (Shelter director) Jackie hammered that into us. We don’t get that flood of late notices anymore.”

They also recognize the valuable skills their children gained, like resilience, a well-rounded perspective and the importance of not taking their situation for granted. “We owe our kids a lot. They adapted. They’ve been the best.” Their oldest daughter even recently returned to the shelter as a volunteer for Children’s Learning Hour.

“The minute you say “shelter,” people look at you like something’s wrong,” David says, his voice growing quiet. “How did I end up here? Why do I always end up here? As a parent, you feel like a failure. But the staff helped me see I’m not a failure. I’ve made mistakes, but they aren’t unfixable. Our situation isn’t unchangeable.”

The first thing Misty and David did when they left the shelter and moved into their transitional housing apartment? They made a five year plan. It wasn’t a requirement of any program, but something the couple knew they needed to do in order to keep making progress.

Two years later, they are steadily checking off their goals. They’ll soon move into a permanent apartment with a federally subsidized voucher. They’ve nearly met their goal of getting off of food stamps. And, through Housing Hope’s Team Homebuilding, a sweat equity program, they even have their sights set on owning a home – something they can pass on to their children.