Tamara is independent, artistic, and caring. She values friendships and connection above anything else and spends much of her time as a confidant, supporting others through their triumphs and troubles. “Many people on the streets don’t have someone they can trust, so I became that person for a lot of people,” Tamara says. “They know I always have an ear if they need one.”
Tamara is one of 22 individuals who have already moved into “The Commons on MLK,” a new 51-unit apartment community where ShelterCare and Homes for Good provide 24/7 on-site support services to individuals who were formerly homeless. Those who reside at The Commons on MLK are community members who have faced many challenges in their lives – often stemming from childhood trauma – and have had the greatest difficulty maintaining housing due to those barriers.
This brand-new building is modern, open-spaced, and trauma-informed; meaning it was built with the resident experience in mind. Wide hallways reduce the feeling of overcrowding, and help residents with disabilities move with ease; each level is painted a different calming color so residents can recall floors by colors rather than numbers; large windows create a sense of tranquility by illuminating natural light and views of nature; and the floorplan was laid out in such a way that promotes openness and familiarity between residents and staff.
Tamara’s apartment at The Commons on MLK is adorned with whimsical butterfly decals from Hiron’s, vibrant mandalas that she colored herself, house plants, and – as she puts it – “more shoes than I’ve ever had in my life.” Her space is vibrant, yet serene; and speaks volumes about the journey she has endured.
Tamara first became homeless when she was 13-years-old after fleeing an abusive household. She hopped into a semi-truck that was headed north, and Eugene has been her homebase ever since. “I couldn’t take the abuse anymore, so I took off,” she says. “I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time.”
Tamara spent the majority of her younger years hanging around truck stops, and hitching rides from truck drivers. “I felt safe at truck stops,” she says. “Truck drivers always provided me with a warm meal, let me use their shower tickets, and allowed me to sleep in the bed while they drove.”
Over the last 10 years, Tamara lived in a vehicle with her partner Marlo, who passed away last summer. “He was my soulmate, and we took good care of each other,” she says. Together, Tamara and Marlo worked on their sobriety, and today Tamara is five-years clean. “It was more difficult for him, so I knew I had to stay strong for both of us.”
Tamara and Marlo traveled and lived all around Eugene, always searching for new places to park and rest. “It didn’t matter where we were, or how secluded the area was, we always had to move on after a few days,” says Tamara. This was before St. Vincent de Paul launched its Overnight Parking Program, which provides legal vehicle camping, free garbage disposal, and portable restrooms to homeless individuals over 18. “We’re pretty sure they started that program because of us,” Tamara half-jokingly said.
Over the years the camping and trespassing tickets piled up, building more and more barriers that interfered with Tamara and Marlo’s housing stability. “We went through every resource in town, signed up for every list we could, but we never got into housing.”
Subsequently, the longer Tamara and Marlo lived on the streets, the more vulnerable they became. Marlo became sick, and Tamara used a walker for five years after being struck by a car. Due to their increasing vulnerability levels, they eventually got into transitional housing, but Marlo passed away shortly after. “All he wanted was to see me walk on my own again, but I know he’s up there watching me now.”
Tamara says Marlo was incredibly funny – loved his rollerblades – and was always living life to the fullest. “He made every place we stayed more comfortable,” she says. “When we camped outside he would always find furniture, tables, and decorative items to make it feel more like home.” He was her best friend, her greatest support system and, as she says: “the love of my life.”
Tamara believes her friendships, faith, and creativity are what have kept her strong throughout the years. She continues to stay in close contact with Marlo’s mother, Danielle, and enjoys spending time with her best friend Heidi; whom she calls her sister. “Heidi is also to blame for my huge shoe collection,” Tamara says.
Tamara is enjoying getting to know her neighbors at The Commons on MLK, and has already invited people over for dinner. “It’s bizarre adjusting to life indoors after so many years on the streets,” Tamara says, “I always tell myself not to get too comfortable living inside – because you never know what can happen – but when I think about all the cooking and cleaning my mom taught me, it’s easier to get in the mode.”
Tamara is enthusiastic about activity groups at The Commons on MLK, which haven’t yet begun due to COVID, and is hopeful for groups around painting, games, and exercise. “I may have to lead a group myself,” she says. In her free time, she enjoys drawing, coloring, listening to music, playing guitar, and journaling; which is something she has done since childhood.
“Journaling is how I have channeled my feelings throughout my life, and it has taught me a lot about myself,” says Tamara. “It’s hard to understand other people if you don’t understand yourself.” Someday Tamara plans to write a book about her life experiences, in hopes that it can help inspire others.
Today our unhoused community needs you more than ever. When you support ShelterCare, you are providing individuals like Tamara with the housing and support they need to permanently overcome homelessness. Will you consider helping someone today? Your donation can not only give someone a home to live in, but even more crucially, it can provide them with tools for stability, independence, and growth. These life-changing tools include behavioral health services, case management, peer support, skills training, housing specialists, a sense of community, friendships, and so much more.
Thank you for taking time to read Tamara’s inspiring story, and for your continued support of our mission. We appreciate you so much!