WHEN CHOOSING LESS REALLY IS MORE
“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them.” Denis Waitley
What circumstances in life lead someone to become homeless? There is no simple answer and there are a multitude of reasons: loss of a job or inability to work, financial crisis, fire or flood and even war. But we rarely consider that someone may make the conscious choice to be homeless.
When you first walk in to the Canyon County CATCH office, you are greeted by a warm, joyful smile. Heather Ehrbar (41) has been the Administrative Assistant and Donations Coordinator since March of 2011. It is work that she loves and is passionate about; to be able to help families find homes. It is also something she can deeply relate to because just a year before Heather and her two daughters had been homeless before receiving CATCH’s invaluable assistance.
Moving into the unknown can be terrifying—even if what you have been living with has been volatile and dangerous. Heather’s marriage of 15 years had been violent and the situation wasn’t improving.
“Abuse had been of a part of my entire life,” Heather’s voice holds no remorse or resentment. She speaks from a place of accepting how things had been. Although violence had been a common theme in her life, something shifted in Heather—something that said it was no longer okay to “sweep it under the rug or keep the abuse behind locked doors.” In the summer of 2010, Heather found the courage to move her daughters, Emily (14) and Hannah (9) and herself out of their home and in with Heather’s sister.
Although the family was now relatively safe the living situation proved difficult. “My sister and I had a huge fight…and [we] ended up leaving. [It] pushed me to go to a shelter-which was exactly where I needed to be.” Her demeanor portrays that she is not a woman to be pitied. In fact the gentle smile on her face reveals how deeply she believes it was the right move. Through inquiry for help, Heather had learned about the CATCH program, but to enroll, she had to be in homeless shelter.
To change her life Heather needed to be homeless… at least for a while… to begin rebuilding her life. This would be no little process-she needed a divorce, protection for herself and her girls, food, shelter and a job. In July, Heather and her girls moved to Hope’s Door homeless shelter. With their help, she was able to apply to CATCH, file for divorce and get restraining orders for protection. What the three soon found was that the shelters were not a fearful place. “In my mind a shelter was a great big horrible place. I had always envisioned it as a horrible spot to be and didn’t want to put my kids through that. But I was amazed at how helpful everyone was.”
The three stayed at Hope’s Door was less than a week before learning through court hearings that Valley Crisis was more suited to women with domestic violence issues.
“It was a better fit, with more protection. And they had air-conditioning,” Heather laughs.
Again, Heather was amazed by the help available. “The situation with the shelter was completely different than what I expected. Even just from a safety aspect. There are rules and regulations. There is structure-some that nobody likes, like curfews— but you understood why it needed to be that way.”
Shortly after moving into Valley Crisis, Heather was accepted into the CATCH program. She would be able to move into a sponsored apartment and receive help with rent and basic living needs for the next 6 months. The program would help her actively look for work.
Because protection was a primary concern for Heather, she was extremely cautious of where their future home would be. “I was incredibly picky about where I was going to live. I checked out every little aspect: of the safety, the neighborhoods, gang activities, if it was near the girls’ schools…all of it. It took about 6 weeks before we were out of the shelter.” Heather and her daughters moved into an apartment that had been donated by Tomlinson and Associates. Taking time to be thorough paid off though and Heather and her daughters still live in the same apartment today.
Going through such dramatic life shifts in so short a time is difficult for anyone and can be especially so for children. “They did really well, kids are resilient,” Heather’s eye dash over to the pictures of her smiling girls. “Emily, the eldest, knew what was going on—she’s very intuitive. But she didn’t want too many people to know-but she did share with a few and she was able to stay with a friend for a while.” Hannah, (affectionately called ‘little nerd’ because she get’s straight A’s) stayed close to Heather until school started again.
Keeping the girls safe, healthy and in school was a priority for Heather. Fortunately, both of the schools were well aware of the restraining orders and security issues. “They were really helpful…I felt really good about the kids being at school because I had such good communication with the staff.”
Step by step things were getting better. The girls were back in school, they were adjusting to their new life—and they were safe. CATCH was providing not just resources to get the family get back on their feet, but also emotional support to endure change and move forward. “They are very professional, but it’s not just case management, it was personal…they are like family.”
While in the CATCH program, Heather was able to find temporary work with Blue Cross. Money coming in allowed her to save $1,000 which was matched through community banks. But in February of 2011, she had to have surgery that kept her from for work or searching for a permanent job for three weeks.
Incredibly, a call came.
“It was a week and half after my surgery that Christy [Thomas] and Katie [Keeney-Smithson] from CATCH called and said, ‘we have this job opening and we want you to apply…’ My jaw dropped to the floor. Everything that I’ve ever done in my life came to the front. My passion has always been to help other people—I’ve just never quite plugged into it.”
Heather described her interview as ‘amazingly awesome’. She was hired later that day and admits she’s been ‘doing her happy dance’ ever since. “It sounds weird but to be able to be homeless for a while— to go through what I’ve gone through so that I could be here and now is awesome and powerful.”
Now Heather gets to be a part of the organization that provided so much encouragement and support-all of which she is grateful for. When asked where she wants to go or what she wants to do, she didn’t hesitate. “I have a huge list…the possibilities are limitless. I am so glad to be right where I am. Because of my experience and my passion this is where I am going to do the most for myself and others in this life. I will be in this position until I retire.” Heather wants to get involved even more: with other shelters and support groups; she wants to empower other women and girls to help them understand that they do have choices-even if those choices are difficult to make.
“Looking back I cannot emphasize how many resources there are available. You can’t be afraid to reach out for help. You can survive without the frills-simplify and start over again. It’s truly empowering.”
Founded in August of 2009, CATCH of Canyon County has worked with the community to help more than 45 families like Heather’s move from shelters into their own homes. This invaluable service is a foundational part of building stronger communities by bridging available resources to help those in need. More and more local businesses, communities of faith, and sponsors are helping CATCH grow, but the need is still great and many families are on the waiting list. To learn more about CATCH or find out how you can help call (208) 455-0444 or visit us online at www.catchprogram.org.
Story lovingly contributed by freelance writer, April Crowell.