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Joanna finds support at Home Again, feels safe and accepted

Joanna is looking forward to securing housing and pursuing a career as a nurse’s assistant.

Joanna is looking forward to securing housing and pursuing a career as a nurse’s assistant.

She encourages others to ‘never give up’

One day, when Joanna was 6, she and her older brother waited to be picked up from school by their mom. She never came. That’s how Joanna learned her mother had abandoned her, abruptly leaving the country with a man.

There are still moments from that day that stick out. “I remember my mom had a suitcase packed,” Joanna said. “It didn’t click ‘til years later, but I still remember that suitcase. It’s all I see when I think of her sometimes.”

Joanna and her two brothers (their younger brother, who was only 3 at the time, was left alone at home when their mother left), moved in with their grandmother who already had a full house. “There were maybe 14 or 15 people living in a two-bedroom apartment,” Joanna said.

Her father, a gang member who was semi-present in their lives, was dealing with his own problems. He was in and out of prison, and after being shot, developed agoraphobia – becoming too afraid to go outside after his trauma. Though Joanna and her brothers spent some time with their father inside of his place, it was unsafe and filled with drugs, alcohol, and gang members. Joanna was sexually abused by family members and all three siblings suffered physical abuse from their father.

Due to the abandonment, neglect, and abuse Joanna endured, she was filled with “hate, anger, and distrust” at a young age. “By middle school, I knew I had changed. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I trusted no one,” she said.

Joanna started hanging out with the wrong crowd, going out and using drugs. By 16, she had her first child. Joanna had two more children and all three were removed from her care (and adopted by their dad’s family). After losing her kids and having no support, Joanna was living on the streets, using drugs and alcohol, and felt hopeless.

“I wanted to give up (on living),” Joanna said. “I wanted to say, ‘That’s it, I’m done.’ I thought it was too late. I knew my kids were safe and I didn’t think I was ever going to be free from drinking, getting high.”

But once Joanna found out she was pregnant with her fourth child, she knew she needed change. She was tired of living on the streets or staying in hotels, and after trying different programs, finally landed at Home Again.

The Mission immediately felt different to Joanna, and she said she feels understood by staff, accepted, and safe. “This is it. This is the place. This is the place I want to be. I want to take advantage of being here. This is what I wanted out of life. I wanted change – I want to do good.”

Joanna is grateful to be sober, her three older kids visit her often, and she’s set healthy boundaries with her family. Her goals after graduation include going back to school, pursuing a career in the medical field as a CNA, and securing her own apartment. Joanna’s advice to others who are struggling is simple: “Never give up. Keep going. There’s always a light at the end of the road.”

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