At 19, Shannon was pregnant, married, drinking heavily and using drugs.
Now the mother of three boys, ages 27, 25 and 10, she is clean, sober, and working full time at Joy Junction, a faith-based organization serving the homeless in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“For 21 years it was the same cycle of always going back to my husband,” she says. “He would try to get clean and sober, but things kept getting worse.”
They were evicted from one apartment after another. Each time, they forfeited furniture and other belongings. “There was one stretch, she recalls, when we lived in a motel for 18 months.”
Twelve years ago, her husband again in jail on drug charges, Shannon and her then two boys wound up sleeping in their car, parked in a friend’s driveway. “I was a functioning heroin addict,” she says. “Though I’d lost my job as a medical records clerk, I had been able keep working as a waitress, at least until the car broke down. That’s when it all became unbearable. We slept in that pile of junk for a month.”
When friends told Shannon about Joy Junction, she moved with her boys into Joy its emergency shelter for families. “I told my boys, ‘This is just for a while,” she says. “But God had a better plan.”
Soon they moved into Joy Junction’s long-term housing, staying for four years. Soon entered a nine-month recovery program that teaches life skills like effective decision-making, budgeting, and workplace etiquette. “I got off the booze and heroin because I wanted a better life for us all, and later I got off methadone because I didn’t want drags my grandchildren to the meth clinic.”
At Joy Junction she reconnected with her faith, developed self-confidence and self-esteem. She got a job in the shelter’s kitchen, which prepare several hundred meals a day.
When hannon’s husband got out of jail and joined his family at Joy Junction, she became pregnant with their third son. “Sadly he soon went back to drinking and using. I finally realized I can’t be with him,” she says.
After the baby was old enough for day care, Shannon went back to work, first in the front office, and then again in the kitchen. She now oversees Joy Junction’s warehouse, full of donations of food and clothing.
Shannon says the biggest lesson she’s learned from Joy Junction is to exhibit understanding and compassion.
Now 27, Shannon’s oldest son has a job and an apartment.
“My second boy,” Shannon says, is 25, married with my grandchildren, a boy, five, and a girl, three. He and his wife both have jobs. And like my oldest boys, my ten-year-old and I have our own apartment, too.”
Note: This narrative is one of thirty such stories to be included in a book titled, “Homeless in a Land of Plenty.” I have been working on the project since August, 2016. By the end of June, I will have completed visiting some 50 cities from Portland, Maine to Seattle, to San Diego, to Orlando.