If you’ve ever heard the phrase, “Homelessness can happen to anyone” and had even a moment’s doubt, we ask you to consider Rena’s story.
As a benefits counselor for adults 60 and over, Rena (pronounced Re-nae) loves her job, spending time with her son, daughter, and four-year-old grandson, and crafting beautiful floral wreaths in her spare time. She says with a laugh, “I figure while I got this energy, I better use it. I’m a 65-year-old who thinks she’s 45.”
Growing up in New Haven as one of nine children, her family was poor financially but rich in values. Her parents encouraged her to get an education. Rena was in college when she had her first child, a son, at age 20. Living in her own apartment, she chose to go to business school and become a court reporter to provide for her expanding family.
Rena’s son was very sick with asthma, and it was difficult for her to keep full-time employment with him in and out of the hospital. But as a person who prides herself in professional and personal growth, Rena pushed on. She worked per-diem when she could and had the support of her parents and her son’s father. Eventually the couple had a daughter, and Rena landed a full-time job with a phone company where she flourished for 24 years.
While Rena’s children were in college, she and their father decided it was time to finally get married. Shortly after their wedding, tragedy struck – her husband became very ill with lung cancer and died a year later.
She worked through her husband’s illness, even doing so from his hospital room. But at the time of his death, the economy was in turmoil and her job was being transferred out of state, away from her remaining family. “I had the option to work in another state, but my husband had just died, and I went through this tumultuous experience for over a year…I wasn’t ready or capable of moving to another state to work.”
“I always questioned God, ‘Why did this happen to me?’
I kept hearing this voice saying, ‘Why not you? Who are you?’” –Rena
Rena decided to take time off to heal from the loss of her husband. She had plenty of savings, so she traveled with her daughter who was working towards her degree in medicine. But traveling did not fill the void she felt. She began spending money as a way of coping, “I never did that before. I just wanted to numb myself. And then everything went downhill – it happened in the blink of an eye.”
She lost her beautiful apartment overlooking a river where she hosted many large family gatherings. She ended up living in hotels and with friends and family, but didn’t want to ask them for more than they had already given. She explains, “Being homeless, your dignity gets in the way.” Rena sought therapy, but knew she needed more help to get back on her feet.
As a previous financial supporter of Columbus House through a workplace giving campaign, Rena was aware of our vital work. She stayed at our New Haven Emergency Shelter for one night but did not return for five months because she felt uneasy in the congregate setting. She came back because she knew Columbus House would provide her with the tools she needed to permanently move out of homelessness. She participated in our Length of Stay program where guests pay a small fee to have their own private space in a large room. “I felt comfortable. I had my own bed, and I could leave my belongings.”
Rena was working a minimum wage job while she was in the shelter, a major departure from her former career and not nearly enough to afford rent and utilities for a one-bedroom apartment. She knew once she had somewhere stable to live, she could focus on finding a better paying job.
Thanks to the help of our Housing Specialists and Rena’s persistence, she qualified for rental assistance and quickly moved into her own place. Rena’s ambitious goals and determination, along with continued case management support, resulted in her moving into a nicer apartment a few years later. She also landed a better job – her current one as a benefits counselor for the elderly. She is grateful that it allows her to give back and serve others.
Rena is now fully independent and ready for new adventures! “I feel like there is more out there for me and I’m just going to keep pushing.” Without your generosity, Rena and thousands of our neighbors would have no support, no hope, and no home.
You make it possible for people like Rena to receive shelter and vital services that help prevent and end homelessness. Last year, our caring staff worked with 260 people aged 64 and older, like Rena, to help them move or stay out of homelessness. Thanks to your partnership, Columbus House serves close to 2,800 people each year, including families with children, Veterans, single adults, youth ages 18-24, and seniors.
Will you continue to help Veterans, families, the elderly and all our neighbors experiencing homelessness with a gift to Columbus House? Your support makes a profound difference.