The first thing one notices about Jennifer is her youthful exuberance, which is just one aspect of her unbreakable spirit. Although Jennifer is 36, doctors have told her that she has the mental capacity of a 10 or 11 year old. She has also been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder, OCD and PTSD. Before she moved to Brown Street, Jennifer lived in another supportive housing development that was also run by Community Support Network. When she first moved into supportive housing, she was 500lbs, had major hygiene issues and had a very unhealthy relationship with her parents. Jennifer has now been living in a supportive environment for about 7 years. Since she has lived in supportive housing, she has greatly improved in all areas of her life: she has lost over 200lbs, is much more hygienic and is able to see her family without conflict. Jennifer and the staff at Brown Street joke that she is “Junior staff [that gets] paid in hot cocoa and newspapers.” Jennifer helps with the menu planning and grocery shopping at Brown Street Having these responsibilities is the highlight of her week, and one of the reasons she is able to stay motivated. When asked what she enjoys about living at Brown Street, she responds, “Doing chores and going grocery shopping.” She is enamored by the staff there and refers to them often. She says that the staff keeps her motivated to continue improving her quality of life. She loves the fact that, “Everything is provided for you,” at Brown St and claims that she will “never move.” If you ever meet Jennifer, you are lucky. Even with the difficult hand that she has been dealt, she is an eternal optimist and a joy to be around.
Theresa certainly is someone to look up to. She is woman with an unparallel strength of character. She claims that “Without Community Support Network, I’d be nothing,” but anyone that meets her would hardly believe that. Although I’m sure she has received critical support from CSN, she is working with the powerful raw material of herself, and her unbreakable spirit. She entered Brown Street directly from incarceration, and has not looked back. She has been sober for 7 years and says “I’m glad I’m a good example for my children. I want to be a role model, not a drunken alcoholic.” And she has certainly succeeded. No doubt she is an inspiration to her 4 children, 5 grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren. Every day Theresa says the rosary and meditates for at least an hour. She says that her housemates are always supportive of her recovery process and refers to Brown Street as a “family” numerous times in our interview. About Brown Street, she says, “It’s a structured house but I need that to keep up my program in the community. Its family.” What stayed with me days after our interview was Theresa’s urge to continue learning, “If I can just learn one new thing a day, my day is complete.” By her calm, healthy demeanor, it is obvious that she has learned a lot, as she takes her life day by day. What is home to Theresa? “Home to me is, not the things you have but the love and the joy I feel from the staff. I can go to them, like a mother. They have experience in that and it makes me feel that they really care, and that’s what home is about, caring.” It is a beautiful thing to see a tenant so dedicated to helping foster and create a caring environment in her house.
The first thing you might notice about Barbie, is that she is wearing her hand crafted, “Barbie Buttoned All Around,” a knit headband with a large button on the side. She sells her Barbie Buttoned All Arounds at a local business and is hoping to expand to other venues soon. It is difficult to get a moment where Barbie is still. She is heavily involved in the poetry community in Guerneville, she runs a poetry group at the Empowerment Center on Wednesdays, and has other various writing groups she attends and/or runs. She also has a busy social schedule, and when she isn’t on the move, she is knitting. It is no wonder she is so in demand. With a light spirit and smile as broad as they come, Barbie is a joy to be around. She was born in Indiana, raised in Michigan and has lived in California for 29 years. Barbie was living across the street, at a property that CHSC purchased (which will soon be Mill St. Supportive Housing), when CHSC and Burbank Housing began construction on Fife Creek. Moving to Fife Creek Commons was part of her relocation plan. Barbie could not be happier with the transition. She says “I love my apartment. It is new. I’m the first person that has ever lived here. I love it.” She also has a strong connection to Guerneville, where she has lived for 6 years, “It’s a mysterious, wonderful place to be. The energy is so great here and I feel like I belong.” When asked what keeps her inspired, and moving forward in life, she says, “My love for life inspires me. I love life. I always have been a happy person, I see the good side in people; I see the positive. I just love life, and that’s what keeps me going.” And that is apparent, in her presence. So, what is home to Barbie? “Its where I belong, its my safe haven.” And she has certainly found it.
Laura is speaking about Sonoma County in the quote above, which she also refers to as “God’s shoulder.” She has lived in Santa Rosa for most of her life and considers Sonoma County to be the most beautiful place in the world. At 52, Laura has had two hip replacements, she also has arthritis and degenerative disc disease. Typically, she can not stand for more than ten minutes at a time. Although she is almost always in a great deal of pain and discomfort, she almost never lets it darken her sunny disposition. Although she was homeless for years, she says she never wanted to ask anyone for anything. Laura has been on her own since the age of thirteen, when she had her first place. She says, “I’m used to having to do for myself, and accomplishing it for the most part.” Laura values her independence over almost everything in life. She finds Stony Point Commons to suit her level of independence quite perfectly, “Most of the time you’re just able to do whatever you need to do to live… which is really cool, it gives you your self-sufficiency and pride back a little. Because it takes a big knock to end up in a situation where you need help in the first place.” She became homeless in her thirties for a few years and worked her way through the homeless shelters. She was eventually chosen by Community Support Network to live at North House in Cotati. She moved into Stony Point Commons when they opened in 2005. She can still marvel at the path that brought her to her current home, “Its been a climb all the way back up again to a place that I have now, with a nice porch, and a nice room… Feeling like I have a home again. This is a very nice place to live. Its very quiet and people, for the most part, behave like adults.” To Laura, home is, “A place where I can show my own character… A place where I get to have my things with me and show my character… let ‘er all hang out.” If you could only see Laura’s front porch, exploding with flowers, succulents, and sweet knick-knacks… You would see just how beautifully expressive her character is.
Tragedy in the form of a severe back injury brought Vincent off the beaten path and ultimately into permanent supportive housing. Vincent was a hardworking woodworker for decades before he shattered one of his vertebrae on the job. He was emotionally devastated by the fact that he was unable to work and tried to take his own life. Luckily, Vincent was eventually able to find happiness and fulfillment in permanent supportive housing at Stony Point Commons. He applies the same work ethic he showed before his injury to his job as groundskeeper of Stony Point Commons. He claims that he is not a gardener, and has no green thumb, but you would never believe him by the amount of greenery permeating the grounds at Stony Point. He has instituted a complex compost system, complete with aerating tubes to allow the compost pile to stay cool. The neighbors of Stony Point are organic gardeners and check in on Vincent’s handiwork regularly and always give their stamp of approval. The grounds of Stony Point are Vincent’s pride and joy. He refers to Stony Point as “Paradise,” and speaks of its beauty often, never taking full credit for all of the work that goes into the grounds, “It looks so wonderful, and its all done by the tenants.” When asked what he loves about Stony Point Commons, he says “Its so unique. What I’m proud of is [that] it’s a labor of love. Its been done by everyone here.” Vincent assures me that “Personality conflicts are rare,” at Stony Point Commons and chalks this fact up to the “Mutual respect,” that all of the tenants have for one another.