A former Project Network client shares how she has turned the tables and is now helping others.
“Growing up, I was in a home with addiction,” said Jennifer [not real name]. “My mom was an alcoholic; my dad was a compulsive gambler. Growing up in that home, it seemed like it was the normal thing. At 12 years old I was using meth and marijuana.”
At 18, she stopped using drugs when she got pregnant with her first child. But right before she gave birth, her mother died and her father began drinking heavily, and eventually began using heroin. He was very ill, on dialysis and unable to work or care for himself. By this time, she had two children.
“At that time, I let my father move in with me, and I worked two jobs and took care of my father and my family,” she said. “My dad continued using heroin, and I was pretty much giving him whatever he wanted because he was dying. I didn’t want him to suffer. Doing that put a really big strain on me and my spouse.”
Ultimately, her husband took the children and left. In great stress, Jennifer began using heroin for the first time. She and her father used together and the house became a center for drug users. Jennifer stopped working and sold drugs to make money to support their habits. After a couple of years, she lost the house and had to go to court. Her father entered a Veteran’s Hospital, and she and the man she was dating ended up on the street.
“At that point, I had lost everything,” said Jennifer.
She was arrested and learned while in jail that she was pregnant. But this time it didn’t stop her using, and she was in and out of jail.
“At 8 months, I went back to jail, and I had my baby while I was incarcerated, so DHS got involved,” said Jennifer. “My daughter went into foster care. DHS came to the hospital and sat beside me and had a conversation with me about what I could do differently if I was willing to go to treatment. I really wanted my daughter, and I wanted to get clean, I just didn’t know how. I detoxed while I was in jail, they put me on medication. DHS got me a FIT worker and they got me released from jail to go to treatment.
“They sent me to a treatment center, and it was LifeWorks [NW]–it was Project Network. Within the first couple of weeks, my daughter was returned to me. I had to learn how to be a mom again, I had to learn how to be clean again.
“I had really great support in there; all the counselors were just amazing. I had a lot of support to get my daughter back in my care, they supported me through everything. They were able to get me new shoes, new clothes, things for my daughter because remember I didn’t have anything. I came from jail.
“They signed me up with Miss Emma; she was just amazing. She signed me up for all these housing options. She got me into Betty Campbell [addiction center] after I graduated treatment; that was a year program. She also got me housing through DHS.”
Unfortunately, as is not uncommon, Jennifer relapsed during the first year. But she reported it, although it meant losing her housing. Miss Emma signed her up for Beech Street Apartments, which is adjacent to Project Network.
“They worked with me,” she says. “For 120 days I had to be clean to move into Beech Street. I went to a shelter, and I stayed clean. I went to outpatient at LifeWorks NW King site, I worked, I did everything they asked me to do, and they got me into Beech Street. So, I got long-term housing, I had my daughter in my care, I got to see both my other kids, they got to come visit me, and I had them back in my life.”
For six years, she was clean and sober. She and her daughter’s dad got custody of his daughter from a previous relationship and they lived together until he relapsed during COVID. Jennifer made him leave since it was jeopardizing their children and her sobriety. She kept all the children and got a job at a community partner’s Child & Family program as a Recovery Peer Mentor.
“I’m giving back what was given to me,” says Jennifer. “I work with moms dealing with DHS and help provide support in getting their kids back. Today, I can say I’m building my first home through Habitat [for Humanity], thanks to Beech Street, Home Forward and LifeWorks NW. Not only did they put me in Beech Street, but they put me on the Goals Program, and helped me with my finances, helped me get my credit back, get savings.”
The Goals Program puts everything above $350 that participants pay in rent into a saving account for the individual. After five years, the participant can receive the total to put toward housing or other needs. Jennifer graduates from the Goals Program this fall.
“They are going to write me a check for my down payment for my home,” she said. “I’ve been building it this whole time; it will be done in January. So that is where I am now, I’ve got all my kids, I’m working, and I get to work with people who need help like I did.”
She really enjoys helping other parents navigate the system, find resources and build new lives.
“When you are in that spot in your life, you just don’t know which way to go,” Jennifer said. “You don’t know how to get links, you just don’t know what to do, so it is always good to have someone there to help guide you in the right direction, and who has gone through the same thing so they know how to best support you.”