She’s cautious and frightened, not willing to reveal her name. She’s a victim of domestic abuse who fled her home hundreds of miles away with her two young children, determined to save them — and herself.
With a warm dinner set on the table before them, the young mother and her 3-year-old bowed their heads and clasped their hands in prayer, giving thanks, while her infant smiled and cooed from a high chair.
A few feet away sat Tamara Bittner who has ping-ponged between renting a room from her ex-husband and crashing on a neighbor’s couch at night for the past five years. She’s unemployed and is hoping to land a waitressing job so she can get her own place.
Next to her was Carol Carney who used to live with her daughter, she said, though it wasn’t a good situation so she moved out. Her next “home” was at a friend’s house, but in July she suffered a stroke — and after she was released from the hospital it was time to find somewhere else to go to. She’s a former dog groomer, and said she just can’t do that work anymore. At 61, she’s ready to retire and is pursuing Social Security benefits.
Elsewhere in the makeshift dining room were a dozen or so men of varying ages, seated around a couple tables to enjoy the meal. And there were chairs filled by another mom and her young son, and more women — including one in the later stages of pregnancy.
Each has their own story, their own troubles and dreams. Yet for now, at least, they share a common challenge: Homelessness.
“I never expected to be in this situation,” said Carney. Undoubtedly, she speaks for many — if not all — gathered for the evening meal last Tuesday at North Congregational Church in Farmington Hills. Most were to stay overnight throughout the week, and be fed breakfast and dinner as clients of the non-profit South Oakland Shelter rotating shelter system, which added North Congregational to its list of partners this year.
It’s much-appreciated help, Bittner said. “Without it, I’d just keep walking over to my neighbor’s house every night, and that’s hard,” she said. Instead, she’s moving toward finding employment and her own home, with the help of SOS’s services — which include emergency and transitional shelter, workshops and more.
“I gotta get a job before I can get my own place,” she said.
‘Every little bit helps’
For years, Mary Sheltrown has counted herself among the thousands of metro Detroit SOS volunteers, typically lending a hand with the food prep, serving and clean-up when the rotating sheltering system comes to Our Lady of Sorrows Parish in Farmington.