From a very young age, I became deeply committed to helping others. My story is not a heartfelt one but is important to why I feel the drive and commitment to giving back to my community. My mother was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when I was two years old, she was barely entering her twenties. Unfortunately, she did not have a good support system nor did she always get the help she needed or deserved. She quickly went down a path involving drugs and alcohol, which led to a very unstable life for us all. I can remember many instances of being homeless, spending nights in shelters, sleeping in a vehicle, and the feeling of hunger. It made for a rough childhood and I was forced to grow up quickly. I had to step up to care for my younger siblings and at times, my mother herself. We moved from city to city and never really had a stable foundation.
Unfortunately, my brothers and I were eventually taken from her. We were separated and placed into foster homes when I was eleven years old, my brothers being four and eight. We were never to be placed in her care again. My mother continued to be in and out of state hospitals and correction facilities. None of them truly ever helped her and maybe never heard her cries for help. She lost her battle with mental illness and addiction shortly after I turned nineteen. It forever changed our lives. Although it was a hard way to grow up, my childhood shaped me into the person I am today. I have strived to take my hardship and shape it into something beautiful.
Every one of us is vulnerable at any given point in time because of our individual life circumstances. Everyone has a story that has shaped who they are today. My life experiences have not crippled me, although it has encouraged my connection to public welfare and inspired me to serve others. I have always felt whole when I have a hand in a positive change for those who are struggling, marginalized, and overlooked by most of our society.
I have witnessed and experienced the struggles of mental illness, addiction, and a lack of a system that truly can help people. Our nation seems to not take addiction or mental health issues seriously enough to make real changes to the systems in place. Many people are influenced by the negative stigma and preconceptions associated with mental illness and addiction. Those with mental illnesses are all too commonly subjected to negative stigmas and brushed aside as if they do not matter. I strive to be a part of something that changes that and why I have found myself working for ShelterCare.
ShelterCare is one of the largest advocates in Lane County for the community that struggles with mental illness, homelessness, and who are medically fragile. ShelterCare is an agency that focuses its efforts on serving individuals and families, who are chronically homeless or in danger of becoming homeless and wanting a safe and stable place to call home in our community. We focus our efforts on creating a stable foundation by focusing on providing safe and secure housing so that other basic life needs can fall into place. ShelterCare has many different housing programs that seem to fit the differences in the needs of the community we serve. Our services range from short-term housing for individuals and families to a medical recuperation shelter, permanent housing solutions, and behavioral health support. It is a large umbrella of services that can help at any phase of the homelessness pandemic in our community and keeps supported services going even after being housed, to promote successful transitions.
Our participants range from all walks of life with one horrible thing in common, homelessness. Every one of us deserves a fighting chance. If you are able, please reach out and help a person in need. One small gesture can change a person’s world. Please consider donating to ShelterCare and making a difference today.
Jessica Shafer (she/her)
Permanent Supported Housing