“My furniture is kind of broken but, so far, I have a roof over my head,” says Jen, seven months after moving out of the Hospitality House homeless shelter and into her own apartment. “It definitely feels good to have something to call home again.”

Jen cleans rooms and works the 6 a.m. breakfast shift at the Camden Riverhouse hotel. Her teenage son lives with her, and her younger two are over often pending her efforts for full custody. She just interviewed for a second housekeeping job to be able to cover lawyer fees, pay off a $700 fine for driving without an inspection sticker (“I just had to go to work”), and because “it costs a fortune to feed a teenager.”

Remembering back to when she knocked on the door of the homeless shelter, she says, “I was in a really bad place. I had been bouncing around for a couple of years and I didn’t know how to get help or who to ask.” Once she was settled in one of the seven bedrooms, it took a few months to get a low-income housing voucher, and a few months more to find an apartment. Amy Meserole, Jen’s caseworker, says that “with housing come more struggles,” and, according to Jen, Amy “still helps a lot.”

“If I don’t know what to do, she points me in the right direction. She was able to connect me with [Knox Interfaith Teen Safe Havens], and they helped with the back rent. She brings me food when we don’t have any and phone cards so I can use my money to pay bills. Sometimes I feel like maybe I’ve asked for too much, but if she doesn’t hear from me after a couple of weeks she will text me. [The shelter staff] see that people need help so they don’t become homeless again.”

Another lingering benefit of her time there is a circle of friends, all now in their own apartments, who help each other out with child care. 

Jen stopped the college classes she was attending during her shelter stay in order to work more hours, but hopes to return and dreams of running her own non-profit group helping poor and sick children.

Her favorite things around her now include a framed poster given to her by a shelter friend about a home and friends being a blessing, and a firefly clock that Darleen, a staff member, surprised her with after a birthday outing. Also, the serenity prayer on a pendant that reminds her when she is overwhelmed, she says, that: “Life is so much better now, even though it’s hard.”

Jen is one of 148 clients of the Knox County Homeless Coalition who are living on their own with help from the aftercare program.  The coalition, since reopening under new management in early 2014, has helped 724 formerly homeless people in our community move into their own place. The coalition has a current caseload of 315. There is room for only 23 at the shelter on Old County Road. To learn more or donate much-needed funds, call 593-8151 or email info@homehelphope.org.