In April, ‘Maria’ arrived at FRESH Start Emergency Shelter & Resource Center crying in pain because she felt hopeless.
By July, she is leaving the shelter crying tears of joy because God had answered her prayers for a home.
“You have to have that faith,” she said. ‘You have to humble yourself and stop being mad. You have to have a goal. I never thought I’d have that support.”
What does LCCM's emergency shelter look like on the other side of COVID-19?
Ten years ago, ‘Maria’ said she had everything – well paying jobs, a house, a car and nice material things, but something felt wrong.
“I’d get so angry with the world,” she said. “I was getting sick, and I didn’t know it.”
‘Maria’ was diagnosed a short time later with multiple sclerosis.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an unpredictable disease of the central nervous system that disrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
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Symptoms can include tremors, difficulty walking, mood swings, uncomfortable tingling and burning, difficulty speaking, vision problems, balance issues, fatigue, urinary issues, and cognitive issues.
‘Maria’ experienced many of these symptoms, and eventually had to stop working and had to rely on Social Security disability benefits.
But as her physical health deteriorated, she felt her spiritual health was, too.
“Here, I’m realizing I’m not going to church. I’m not praying, I’m not wrestling with God anymore,” she said. “I was just giving up.”
She had moved in with relatives over the years.
Most recently, she could no longer stay with a relative, which left her with little options.
She called the Lebanon County Assistance Office and they gave her three phone numbers. One of those phone numbers was for FRESH Start. When she called, she spoke to Amanda, LCCM’s shelter support staff member.
“I said ‘I’m disabled, I don’t have anywhere to go and I need help.’” she said.
When she arrived at LCCM’s FRESH start, she was thankful for shelter but says she asked God why this was happening.
“I worked so hard in my life, why am I here?” she said. “I said God, please, I need positive people and that push.”
Fresh Start staff encouraged ‘Maria,’ as she applied for apartments and offered comfort to her in her time of need. This resulted in some much-needed rest.
“I slept like I haven’t in months. I’m being fed, and I’m doing what I’m supposed to do. I’m following the rules,” she said.
Still, ‘Maria’ struggled to find a home. Due to the shortage of affordable housing units in Lebanon County, it was difficult to find an apartment.
“I said, ‘but God, what else do you want? I’m not questioning it, but just give me that light, give me that hope.”
She kept turning to Psalm 17 for comfort.
“Protect me, guide me and take me in your wings,” she prayed. “Light that path.”
She said every time she got defeated, LCCM staff encouraged her and cheered her on, reminding her to have faith.
She had sent a text to her friends up and down the East Coast who prayed hard for her as well.
Then, in July, her prayers were answered.
“They said, ‘congratulations, we’re giving you the apartment,” she said. “I can’t stop crying because I’m so overwhelmed with joy.”
Maria credits God, prayer and LCCM staff for helping her, and encourages anyone struggling with homelessness to reach out.
“I had to go through this because I’m just a little grain, you know. I’m not the only one,” she said. “I would encourage anybody who has been abused, who stopped using drugs, who are needy and have their kids to get themselves together and come here because not only are you going to get people who are spiritual and have that bond with God and only have kind words, but you can come here and get yourself together. This is where it’s at.
I said to God, I need a fresh start,” she said. “And look, I’m here.”
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