Debbie and The Women’s Day Center
By Dede Johnston
It is an unusually hot day in September. I sit down with Debbie at one of the long tables in the basement of the Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew at 720 North Orange Street, which is Friendship House’s Women’s Day Center. The doors opened this Wednesday at 6:30 a.m., as they do every weekday, to homeless women for the early morning hospitality program that offers a place to shower, a rest room, beverages, and a sanctuary from the heat outside.
I have known Debbie for seven years and witnessed her most remarkable walk on the road back from homelessness to an independent and self-sufficient life. I asked her to share her story with me for my church family.
Debbie explains, “I was first incarcerated in 1997 for drugrelated offenses. I used to have a life, two jobs – but once I started getting high, it was all done. Until 2003, I was in and out of prison. When I was out, I would be on the streets at night and come here and sleep in the day. Pam and Genell would get me appointments with my doctors and my case manager. I didn’t make them. I have a wonderful family downstate, but I was too ashamed to call them. My mom would call Genell to check on me. She sent clothes and care packages for me to Friendship House. I have a wonderful family. For 12 years, I came here and took a shower. I struggled with addiction, but Pam and Genell never gave up on me. They got on me to stay clean and keep my appointments, and I love them to death. Now, I am living in Canby Park Apartments. I have been clean for four years. I have a car and my license back after 11 years, and I visit my family downstate three or four times a month. I drive by the old scene – I am not part of that now. Pam and Genell never gave up on me. I love them to death.”
When I asked Debbie what she would like people to know about the Women’s Day Center, she said, “Friendship House was a safe haven for me for 12 years. I struggled to get clean. Without the one-on-one help that Pam and Genell gave me, I don’t know where I would be. Now I am clean and I stay compliant. I make my appointments. I enjoy my grandson. Did you know he will be three in December? It is so good to be a part of my family again.”
I think often of Debbie’s story, of her journey and what she has faced and overcome. I know that her words have slipped into my heart as mysteriously as the Spirit of God slips into the hearts of all of us. I think how terribly important to the times her story is – a story that does not end with a sense of obstacles overcome unconditionally. Debbie’s story, like my own story and all of our stories, is one of overcoming – a process that, through God’s grace, is without end.