Jewel Richey is one of the Shelter’s many success stories. She’s also a Shelter employee.

She became homeless in California when her full-time job was reduced to part-time and her renter moved out. “At that point, I couldn’t afford the rent on my own. My landlord was trying to work with me, but I was getting further and further behind.”

A friend told her that job opportunities were better here and offered her a place to stay for six months. So Jewel shipped her belongs to North Carolina and followed.

Just two weeks before the six months ended, Jewel found a job, but with nowhere to live.

“I had about $800 left. I was between buying a car or going home,” she explains. Her adult children wanted her to return to California, but she declined.

“I told them I was going to buy a car, and if I had to sleep in my car, I would.

“So I found myself here, at the Shelter. They had one bed available, and they gave me the bed. I was a resident and working part-time (at a local store) when a position came open here for shift supervisor. They offered the position to me, so I lived here and worked here for eight months.”

As Jewel demonstrated her capabilities and willingness to work, she began doing case management and preparing meals. Very quickly, her role changed again and again, from shift supervisor to community operations manager, to volunteer services manager now.

Although she stayed at the Shelter for just two months solely as a resident before being employed there, but still living there, Jewel has a homeless history that she shares readily with residents.

“I’d been in this situation before. I lost my mother when I was 18, so a lot of the things I’ve learned throughout my life are trial and error. I had been homeless a couple of times, getting evicted because I didn’t know how to manage my money when I was young. I didn’t have any direction.

“So I learned (about being homeless) through living in motels, staying with people with my three children when they were young.

“Then I became homeless as an adult on a different level. Never, ever before in my life had I had to live in a shelter, but I was so grateful for the shelter being here.”

Like many residents, Jewel didn’t know what to expect.

“I was nervous when I came. My mental image of a shelter was what I’d seen on TV and in California – alcoholics, drug addicts, people just hanging around. I was really scared being out here with nobody. I had absolutely nobody.”

She quickly learned that the Union County shelter was not what she expected. “It was a great experience going through as a resident because this place is awesome. It’s like family here.”

She moved out the Shelter two years ago, initially with assistance from Community Link, an agency that helps eligible people with rent for up to 18 months.

“I’ve been in my place for over two years and totally on my own for almost a year,” she says proudly.

“I totally am not embarrassed (by once being homeless.) I love sharing my story; I want people to know my story. Even though I’m sitting here as an employee, I really know where they’ve been. A lot of times, you can’t reach anybody unless you’ve actually walked in those shoes. And I have.”

I tell people all the time ‘the face of homeless is no longer the drug addict, the alcoholic. It’s corporate America, it’s the CEOs. A lot of companies are cutting at the top first, the highest salaries. You find people who have been working all their lives. They had two incomes, now they’re down to one and they find themselves in this situation.

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