Finding blessings through homelessness: shelter helps family move to stability
By Julie Filby
Photo by Daniel Petty
One “horrible, horrible day” not too long ago, Melissa McDaniel couldn’t contain her frustration any longer.
Homeless, pregnant, raising two boys, and estranged from her on-again off-again, abusive boyfriend, she remembered shouting at God:
“I don’t know what you’re trying to do because I’m not going to break! Quit testing me; I’m not breaking.”
She had lost her job, her home, and even access to any type of shelter when the words poured from her mouth.
“Once I calmed down, I realized (God) was doing it so I wouldn’t break.”
Sitting poised and relaxed in the living room of the Father Ed Judy House Dec. 11 to share her story with the Denver Catholic Register, one would never know the winding road of challenges she’s faced in her 33 years. A six-month stay in 2010 at the Father Ed Judy House, a shelter for single women and children run by Catholic Charities, proved to provide the support and guidance she needed to get her family back on track.
Where she’s been
McDaniel didn’t have it easy growing up. Her mother died when she was 4, she was separated from her two younger siblings and sent to live in a dysfunctional and abusive family situation before being adopted. While she described her adoptive parents as having “good intentions,” they weren’t equipped to help her deal with the pain she was experiencing.
“I wanted someone in my life,” she said. “I prayed to God to bring someone to love me.”
That “someone” arrived. McDaniel and her boyfriend (who was not named for confidentiality reasons) have been together off and on for 17 years: some good, some not.
“It was tough at times, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “There was a lot of domestic violence in the early years.”
In July 2009, they broke up and lost their home. Left to fend for herself, she and her young boys spent time in two area homeless shelters before finding security at the Father Ed Judy House right after Christmas 2009.
Two weeks later, daughter Anna Jo “A.J.” was born.
“It was our second time to be homeless,” McDaniel explained, as A.J. ran around the familiar building that served as her first home, visiting with staff and banging on the piano. “We were homeless once before when the boys (now 13 and 12) were in preschool due to a lot of domestic violence.”
The Father Ed Judy House, established in 2005, is located on the grounds of the Fort Logan Mental Health Center campus at 4024 S. Newton St. in Denver. The small brick facility, originally an adolescent mental health facility, has been warmed up as much as possible to provide a home for nine families, up to about 30 people at a time—for as long as it takes.
“(Guests) can stay as long as they need,” said program director Wendy Oldenbrook. “We keep working with them until they have stable housing, instead of moving from shelter to shelter.”
For that reason, the home doesn’t fit neatly into a category when it comes to municipal funding. In the past, they received city and state funding.
“We’re not an emergency shelter, we’re not transitional housing,” said Oldenbrook. “We don’t fit into a box because neither do our families.”
The Father Ed Judy House—funded by Catholic Charities and donors such as The Catholic Foundation—provides shelter, basic needs, support groups and classes, and case management for families. Ninety-five percent of the women have been involved in domestic violence situations, though pre-screening is required to ensure they are in safe situations, as the Father Ed Judy House is not designated a “safe house.”
Father Ed Judy House
36 families served at the
83% of new families moved
95% of alumni remain
72 days was the average
$460 per month was the
284 volunteers served the
1,681 volunteer hours were
McDaniel and her three children called the Father Ed Judy House home for nearly six months before moving to transitional housing. After another six months, in December 2010, they were able to move to the Denver home where they remain today: a low-income housing unit among a cluster of eight, with three bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room and living room.
Where she is now
“We feel at home; we’re settled,” McDaniel said, recalling how hard it was living in a shelter.
“It’s really difficult,” she said, especially with children. “You do everything in your power not to be there.”
Still she can’t say enough about the Father Ed Judy House and its seven full-time employees.
“The staff here is amazing, I never felt judged; I felt welcomed and supported,” she said. “To come here was one of the biggest life-changing things for me; it was a blessing in itself.
“I wouldn’t say being homeless was a blessing, but the fact that it brought me here, and then to move on … it was where I was supposed to be.”
McDaniel is on track to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Argosy University in May. Her boyfriend has received extensive counseling and is employed as a mechanic. The couple reconciled more than a year ago, and is expecting a baby girl in March.
“(He’s) worked so hard to make things right,” she said. McDaniel too has received counseling to deal with domestic violence and childhood issues.
“I saw myself through my kids’ eyes,” she said. “I (learned) I’m not a victim, I’m a survivor.”
McDaniel, along with 60 other alumni, remains connected to the shelter. Through the alumni program established in 2010, women can continue to receive counseling with professionals they established relationships with while at the home, gather for social events and holidays, receive support with ongoing legal issues, or call on staff when they simply need a pack of diapers, $25 to make rent, or a listening ear.
“Of all the programs I’ve been in,” McDaniel said, “Father Ed’s helped me the most.
“We’re so blessed.”