“Every person I have interacted with is amazing. From the guy who runs the leaf blower to administration, it’s an empowering place to be.”  ~ Jena

March is the month we welcome spring, and a time of year we often associate with new beginnings. For many of our UMOM New Day Centers clients, coming to our family emergency shelter provides that opportunity: to overcome barriers that led to their homelessness experience and turn the page to a new life.

Jena was scrambling to find a place to live in December, after she and her two children had to leave the home they shared with Jena’s mother.

It’s getting increasingly difficult for families in Jena’s situation to find an affordable place to live and virtually impossible to do so on minimum wage. At UMOM, we operate 500 affordable housing units and are building and opening two new complexes in the next two years, but the number of people in our community who need a low-cost apartment far exceeds available units. The only solution to ending homelessness is building more housing that is financially accessible to people with lower incomes.

Meet Jena

While it wasn’t yet winter, the days and nights were getting colder, where Jena and her young boys were staying at an emergency shelter up north in Prescott.

Jena was nervous, as her allowed time in the shelter was running out. She and her sons, 7-year-old Micah and 5-year-old Nathanael, had no luck finding a place of their own. Not only was money tight, housing in northern Arizona was in short supply and far too expensive. Desperate, Jena drove the boys to Glendale – familiar because she grew up nearby – hoping to find a solution somewhere along the way.

Just a few weeks earlier, they had fled the home of Jena’s mother, with whom they lived for more than four years, no longer able to withstand her mother’s unpredictable and abusive behavior.

Jena didn’t want her boys to be more traumatized than they already were, so she asked her sister to take them into her small home until Jena could find a place for the whole family. As she searched, Jena lived in her car for five days, visiting the boys often and continuing to look for a place to go. During that time, she says the boys struggled emotionally from the experience.

“They were scared, worried, showing behavioral problems and having trouble sleeping,” she said. Her older son, Micah, is on the spectrum and was especially anxious.

Fortunately, space became available at UMOM’s emergency family shelter before too long.

“I found UMOM – or UMOM somehow found me,” Jena said.

Since the family arrived in December, Jena has been working with an employment specialist, who has helped her rewrite her resume and apply for jobs. She has worked as a caregiver in the past and while she wants to continue doing so now, she is interested in returning to school to explore other career opportunities in the future.

“I want to learn to work in cybersecurity; I love technology and computing, it’s fascinating,” she said.

Jena’s desire to not look back and to instead move forward is now becoming a reality. The family was recently approved for a unit in an affordable housing complex in the West Valley, in a neighborhood she knows well. Things felt bleak when they first arrived at UMOM in December, but now, she says, she feels optimistic and grateful for her experience at UMOM.

“Every person I have interacted with here has been amazing. From the guy who runs the leaf blower, to the people at the higher levels of administration – it’s a very respectful, empowering place to be.”