‘Michelle’ is not what you would expect. When she came to the Center she stood out and did not look comfortable at all. However, she didn’t walk with the stature of a person who had been on the lower side of a shoe most of their lives. She was well dressed, hair styled, put together.

She asks an employee where to go, makes her way to the second floor and takes a number from the volunteer at the Responsive Services desk. When her number is called the social worker has a moment of surprise, then leads her into a cubicle and asks her what we can do to help her.

Michelle is part of a growing group of homeless people in our country. She is educated, married, has family and children; and up until last summer, a home.  Michelle’s husband lost his job in March of 2010, her part time work didn’t make enough. When a new job wasn’t to be found, her husband began working wherever he could to try and make ends meet. They lost their home to foreclosure this past August.  Meanwhile, Michelle had discovered that she was pregnant again, and they began to anticipate the third child in the family.

Reports show that the number of homeless families has risen from 4 percent to 9 percent in the past 12 months. But the reality of that number is much higher. Homeless families are finding themselves living with relatives, and friends. Michelle and her family moved in with her husband’s parents, and enrolled the two older children in school.  Instances of families “doubling up” between 2008 and 2010 has risen nearly 12 percent.

In speaking with our Social Worker, Michelle learned how to enroll in SNAP benefits (food stamps) and received groceries from our own food pantry. The Center was able to supple three days of food, three meals a day, for everyone living in the home.  These are the beginning steps that Michelle and her family are taking in order to try to rebuild sustainable lives.

While she states that she never thought she would be using food stamps, or coming to a center like The Franciscan Center, she is happy that she cares enough about her kids to do whatever it takes.

Without the support of her extended family Michelle says that she and her husband may have had to look at shelters. An option she feels blessed not to have to take. Historically shelter’s clients consist of victims of domestic violence, people with drug addiction and mental illness. Those remain the leading causes, but joblessness is now becoming all too common.

It is uncertain how many people live within one paycheck of homelessness, but the number is considered to be high. With just one life change many of us could find ourselves in the same situation as Michelle and her family. The difference is that more and more people who come to the Center haven’t the safety net of supportive families and friends.

It is within the ‘One-Stop-Shops’ of places like The Franciscan Center that individuals and families can find out about city and national programs to help them work toward self-sustainable living, free of the dangers and stress of being homeless and the risk of becoming homeless.

*Names have been changed to protect identities.