Jennifer seems comfortable talking about it, but her words reveal the near-defeat still freshly masked behind her smile.
“There was a point while I was living in my car,” she admits, “I gave up. I was tired of getting denied for housing. I was trying just to get off the streets and not be in my car, but nope — denied, denied, denied.”
Battling addiction, Jennifer was burdened with a felony more than a decade old on her record, and a complete lack of rental history. She applied for multiple apartments in Eugene and Roseburg. Denied, again and again.
“I got discouraged and just stopped applying,” she says. “Why try if I’m going to get denied everywhere I go?”
A new reason to try arrived unexpectedly, after 10 years of Jennifer living in a car. The pregnancy was both unplanned and a genuine surprise, medically speaking. Jennifer was able to stay with her mother in Eugene for a time to get her out of her car, but it was a short-term solution; for one, even her mom’s mobile-home park wouldn’t approve her as a long-term resident.
“I knew I needed to get on waitlists so I could get into a place for me and my baby,” she says. “I just kept getting on every waitlist there was, and I thought, even if it’s a year and a half from now, at least it’s a year and a half from now.”
Her waitlist applications included the fortuitous one submitted this past spring for Iris Place, St. Vincent de Paul’s newest affordable-housing property, while it was still under construction on River Road.
“St. Vinnie’s is a lifesaver,” Jennifer says, after SVdP’s affordable-housing program gave her the second chance she never found anywhere else. “It finally worked out to my benefit. You’ve gotta’ keep trying; don’t give up.”
A turn for the better
Less than two years after learning she was pregnant, Jennifer stands on the stoop of her own 2-bedroom apartment at Iris Place. She moved in just after Thanksgiving with the little brown-eyed boy in her arms, and has never had more to be thankful for in her life.
“That’s my Fate right there,” Jennifer says, her unmistakable mother’s gaze fixed dotingly on her 13-month-old son. “Everybody’s like, why’d you name him that? And I say, because I couldn’t name him Meant To Be!”
Without Fate, Jennifer would face different fortunes today.
“I would have still been staying in my car and running around,” she admits. “He’s also the biggest part of my sobriety. I have to do it for me, too, but he’s the main person I’m doing it for.”
Jennifer says she has stayed sober for almost nine months. She’s in treatment now through FAIR (Families Actively Improving Relationships) after previously working with Willamette Family, Inc.
This holiday season, Jennifer finds herself filled with gratitude for the help she’s received from those organizations and others on her path to stability, including SVdP, Early Childhood CARES, Relief Nursery, ShelterCare, Homes for Good, and the Oregon Department of Human Services.
Treatment, therapy, and classes on parenting and domestic violence occupy her time, as does single-parenting a toddler.
“It is a handful, and he’s getting into everything,” she says with a laugh. “But it’s nice because everything here is brand-new so I can child-proof everything. And there’s not stuff all over the floor, so I can just put him down and let him go.”
Fate is starting to feel the freedom that comes with a toddler’s first tastes of mobility, just as mom is savoring the stability that comes from having a fixed, long-term space to call home.
“I’ve never had a place of my own, ever. This is my first time,” Jennifer says. “I love it. It’s brand-new — how could I not?!”
Learning to live without worry
More than just a nice new apartment with fixed monthly rent of $610, Jennifer has found a new lease on life at Iris Place.
“It’s a little different life than it used to be … A lot better,” she adds after a pause. “I have my own place to lay my head every night, and I get to bring my baby home somewhere.
“And I don’t have to worry about getting in arguments with my mom’s boyfriend; I don’t have to worry about sleeping in my car; I get to wake up and don’t have to go look for a restroom or port-a-potty somewhere; I always have a fridge to get some milk or something cold to drink out of, and water to wash my hands. I have a place to shower whenever I want — well, when my baby will let me!”
She also doesn’t worry about making rent, though her Supplemental Security Income (SSI) doesn’t afford much cushion.
Eventually, she might start work as an Uber driver, and possibly return to college to study computers or enter a welding program. In her previously nomadic car-based life, she roamed from Eugene to Roseburg to Klamath Falls and back, and took general community college coursework wherever she went.
For now, Jennifer says she’s just happy to have a place to live. She knows how lucky she is to have secured a brand-new apartment for a fraction of the going market rental rate, and she wants to keep the necessary focus on her son and her recovery.
All the while, she’ll build a successful rental history so she can be better prepared for what life — and Fate — have in store.
Every unit of affordable housing makes a story like Jennifer’s possible. Your financial donation can help SVdP’s affordable-housing program continue to build new opportunities for low-income individuals and families.