How Tammy Colored Through Homelessness

Through a difficult upbringing, abusive relationships, and homelessness, Tammy says coloring has been her go-to coping mechanism since she was young. “Coloring got me through my toughest days,” said Tammy. “And ‘till this day, you won’t catch me without a coloring book.”

Tammy first started coloring when she was 16-years-old as a way to escape her difficult home life. “At that time, things were scary at home,” she said. “There was a lot of stress and abuse that was hard to be around.” When coloring didn’t feel like enough, Tammy ran away from home.

These childhood experiences were only the beginning of Tammy’s difficult journey, which eventually led to a struggle with addiction, several abusive relationships, and 4-5 different periods of homelessness. Tammy’s longest period of homelessness lasted three years.

“I would get into housing, but always lose it,” she said. “That was usually because my SSI checks weren’t enough for rent, or because my partner was taking advantage of my income.”

Through the years, Tammy continued to carry coloring supplies wherever she ended up. During her last homeless experience, in 2014, Tammy lived in a tent with her dog, Baby Girl, for six months after fleeing an abusive spouse. Her tent moved from place to place, including the parking lot behind Autzen Stadium, to Richardson Park Campground near Fern Ridge Lake. “Being homeless by myself was scary, but having my dog and coloring books helped me feel safer,” she said. “They got my mind off things, and made the hours fly by.”

During this period, Tammy received help from WomenSpace, which connected her to support groups and legal resources, while she recovered from her abusive marriage. Another support system was Tammy’s mother, who stood by Tammy’s side every day while she applied for housing, and rebuilt her life.

“My mom was living in Section 8 housing at the time, so I wasn’t allowed to stay with her,” said Tammy, “But she supported me through it all – really kicked my butt – and encouraged me to keep applying until I got something.”

After three months of submitting housing applications, Tammy and her mother stumbled upon ShelterCare’s Afiya Apartments, which allows low-income residents to pay ⅓ of their income for rent. While Tammy was told to check on her application every two weeks, she checked in every day for three months, until her name was at the top of the waiting list. “I looked at my mom and just started bawling,” she said. “I couldn’t believe I finally got my own place.”

Tammy was matched with a ShelterCare case manager who visited twice a week. “They always told me I was in comfort now, and the biggest fight was over.” After moving in, Tammy’s case manager helped her get connected to ShelterCare’s Behavioral Health Services, which provides everything from counseling and medication support, to specialized employment services. “I was off medications when I was homeless, which is hard with Schizophrenia and Bipolar Disorder,” she said. “But ShelterCare helped me figure out what medications I needed to feel normal again.”

Tammy has been housed and stable four years now, and says her coloring books are more enjoyable than ever. “Before, I mostly colored to escape scary situations, but today I color to keep myself focused, and express how I feel.”

Crayons, gel pens, and colored pencils are Tammy’s favorite mediums for coloring, and the colors she use reflect the way she feels. On her good days, she likes to use happy colors – like light blue, pink, and purple – and on her bad days, she uses dark colors like red, black, and dark blue. Currently, Tammy is coloring her way through an animal-themed coloring book.

Tammy says coloring has also helped her remain sober for several years. “When I feel the urge to use, I color and talk to my dog,” she said. “It’s not easy, but the urge always goes away.”

Last June, Tammy was elected as treasurer for ShelterCare’s Consumer Council, which is a client-led group that meets monthly to discuss important topics around homelessness and ShelterCare services, empower one another, and find ways to give back to their community.

Tammy says her ultimate dream would be to open a community center for homeless individuals, that focuses on building their confidence and self-worth. “I never thought I could overcome what I’ve been through, but the reason I did is because I had people who believed in me, and who reminded me I was worthy,” said Tammy. “I want to give that to others, because that is what helps them move forward.”

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