(Editor’s note: Susan’s name has been changed to protect her identity.)

Susan is anything but a “street bum.”

An army wife for 14 years, Susan worked erratically in the early years of her marriage. Not just overseas for deployments, the family of six also moved repeatedly within the United States for her husband’s career.

And then the downward spiral began.

Her husband wanted a divorce. She lost her job. The house burned down. She became depressed and vulnerable.

After “chatting” online with a man for several months, she went with him to his home in another state, where life quickly became one of domestic violence.

“I had to escape that very dangerous situation,” she explains. “I was very vulnerable due to a chain of events that were devastating.” It was the loss of her home that was the final blow. “It’s the loss of all your memories – 40 years of your life gone in a

“I reached out to the wrong person who took advantage of it and hurt me more than I was already hurt.”

But Susan is not passive. She left the distant state on a bus and sought refuge in North Carolina. “I didn’t know where to go; I was running for my life. I had just a few dollars. I literally hit my finger on a map and hit Charlotte. The man said the bus left in 10 minutes. I said, ‘Hallelujah! Let’s get out of here’. “

In Charlotte, she was directed to Turning Point, a Union County non-profit organization for domestic violence victims, where she stayed for 33 days. Because she no longer was in a crisis, staff there referred her to the Shelter.

“I was scared, displaced, confused. I felt like I was out of breath, like life had drained out of me. I was exhausted; I just wanted to curl up and go to sleep, wake up and find it was a bad dream.

“This is what you read in the paper; this doesn’t happen to you.”

Although she has four adult children, she didn’t want to burden them by moving in or to place their families in danger from her abuser.

“I believe my kids deserve to have a shot in life with their spouses and families. I believe that I am still young enough and healthy enough do to this on my own. Being here gives me better opportunity to get the help that I need. I want to go back to my kids as a whole person.”

While not close to them physically, she talks to them regularly through video Skype. “They can see that I’m healthy and strong, and I can talk to the grandkids.

“I’ll probably go home this summer for a week, to see everybody. I want to be a whole person when I do that. When things get bad, you have to keep fighting, keep going on. I want to be a good role model for them.”

Her life at the Shelter has been an eye-opener. “This is more than I thought it would be. My perspective was like everyone else’s – skid row bums, drug addicts, people who are worthless and don’t want to do anything with their lives, don’t want to be responsible. It’s nothing like I thought it would be.”

Susan initially thought of herself as a failure. “But as I get stronger, I’m slowly coming out of that way of thinking. I’ve quit beating myself up.” But she still has to remind herself that she is a victim, that she was conned and that many intelligent people are victims of abuse and con artists.

When she first walked into the Shelter, “I saw all these people here and wondered if I could stay. ‘Will I be able to handle this?’ I asked myself. ‘Do I want to be around males?’ A lot of things were going through my mind while I was sitting there.

“I thought about going home – but there’s no home. I would have to start over there, too. I realized that something had to change in my life.

“I needed to step back, look at things as a whole. Where did things start to slip from my grasp? I needed to heal and make myself whole again.

“Doing it here by myself without outside influences and pressures, I thought, would be better for me.

“I truly believe God brought me here, kept me safe. I still have my mind and at heart I’m not angry, bitter or sad. I’m humbled by this transformation.

“The Shelter has been good for me. I’m safe, get hot meals and a room to sleep in. They have been very supportive of me.”

As one of the older residents, Susan sees some other residents and overnighters who are in a different time in life and mindset.

“Some complain, don’t want to eat the meals, and don’t want to do chores. I am just so grateful for this shelter because I could really be in a hot mess. This is heaven; this is absolute a piece of heaven. What they’re doing for us here is beyond duty.”

She calls the staff, some of who were homeless and residents at the shelter previously, friends, mentors, leaders and parental figures for some residents.

While living at the Shelter, Sharon, like other residents, is following a plan for self- sufficiency in a place of her own. She takes free classes at South Piedmont Community College, “hopefully paving the way to an actual degree path. I would like to get a degree in medical office administration. I believe that I would be very good at it; I’m a people person and the medical field is wide open.

“I understand the concept of starting at the bottom and working your way up, but at my age, who wants to work at minimum age? I think I’m smarter that. I want an office job; I just need a foot in the door so I can prove myself.”

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