Homelessness to Hope - A Mother's Journey to Sustainability
Since 2004, Family Promise of Summit County has helped families experiencing homelessness achieve sustainable independence. We recently caught up with a former guest and board member, Deven Bernadette, and are thrilled to share her story of continued success.
Deven was born and raised in the Chicagoland area. She is the middle child of three girls and lived with her mother in a single-family home in a middle-class, suburban area. “We were statistically poor living in that neighborhood, but we had access to good education, which was very important to my mother,” notes Deven. “Fortunately, I was naturally book-smart, and I excelled in school. My mother put me in a great position and followed recommendations for me to be enrolled in programs for gifted children. For that, I am very grateful.”
Deven’s father was in and out of the home throughout her childhood but rarely present during her middle and high school years. Her mother was there, and she did her absolute best for her children. However, Deven raised herself for most of her childhood and teen years. She did not have the support at home needed to thrive and excel in any way, and there were a lot of things in her home and childhood that were traumatic. Those things were barriers in a lot of ways that followed her far beyond childhood.
Deven graduated high school, but says, “College was never a priority to me. No one emphasized the long-term benefits of it, and no one gave me a hard time about not completing higher education.” Deven worked a job during high school and has always worked since. She became a mother shortly before her 20th birthday. “I've been a mother my entire adult life. Looking back, I realize the only priority I had as an adult was my daughter. It was important to me to be there every day and for every event of her life. It was important to me to support her in excelling at whatever she wanted to do because I never had that kind of support growing up,” she recalls. “But it was a strange imbalance. In my mind and in my actions, I strove to show up every single day for my daughter, but I did not have that same passion about myself. I had no sense of purpose or self-importance for my own life. I did not see a future for myself, so I made poor personal decisions. Some of those affected my daughter, including what led to us becoming homeless.”
Love Of A Mother
In 2012, Deven, a single mother of a 13-year-old daughter, was working more than 50 hours per week and had been making a good salary for several years. However, Deven lived at the limit of her means, not knowing better. “It was very unwise,” she says. Her daughter was diagnosed with suicidal depression. Deven’s daughter was home alone six days per week while she worked. She was home alone after school and for a full overtime work shift most Saturdays. Deven tried working fewer hours and could not afford her lifestyle. She found herself with an impossible decision to make, quit her job to ensure her daughter’s mental health or continue working and leave her daughter alone for long periods. Deven made the difficult decision to leave her job.
Prioritizing Her Daughter
With no immediate family nearby or even as a distant support system, Deven decided to pursue self-employment as a writer and be present for her daughter in her critical time of need. She exhausted her savings within 9 months. Deven and her daughter moved to Akron and lived with a relative to create additional supports. Her daughter received weekly therapy sessions and was very active in school activities which required a lot of her time. Deven’s relative was no longer willing to offer support to her and her daughter, and they found themselves with a two-day notice to move out of her relative’s home.
The night in October 2012 that Deven learned she had to move within two days, she spoke with her daughter. Deven had spoken with her previous full-time employer earlier that day, and they were eager to offer her a position if she was to return. She asked her daughter if she wanted to leave her high school and return to Illinois or stay in Akron and go into a shelter. Deven’s daughter said she would rather go into a shelter if it meant she could stay in her Musical Theater program in Akron. “She preferred the shelter option, and that was how my decision was made,” said Deven. “It would have been a struggle to relocate again and there was no immediate stability anywhere, so the shelter made as much sense as anything else.”
Finding Hope in Family Promise
Deven was unfamiliar with Akron and had no idea where to turn for resources and shelter. She called every local shelter listed in the Yellow Pages, including Family Promise. Family Promise Case Manager, Erica Ward Cherry, was the first to return her call. The only other call back she received was more than a week later. The intake process was easy. Deven brought all the documents Erica told her to bring when they spoke, because her need was urgent. She was screened and given permission to enter the program.
“Erica, Pauline, and Pamela Betty (retired) showed us the utmost respect and treated us with dignity, not pity,” said Deven. “It was a great experience.”
Deven’s Internal Struggle
Deven did not want to be homeless. As a mother, she felt like a failure in those first moments of moving into the shelter with all the belongings she could carry in two large black trash bags. She was disappointed in every decision she made that could have led her and her daughter there and every decision she did not make that could have prevented it. Her thoughts raced as she called the shelters looking for a place and even as she moved in. Deven turned to prayer the first night she and her daughter slept in the shelter. “I have great faith in God, and I decided to trust that it would all work out. I decided not to hold on to any feelings or thoughts that weren't helpful. I decided to be grateful for having a place of shelter for my daughter and myself. I held on tight to those choices throughout the program,” said Deven.
Deven and her daughter privately prayed and had a short Bible study every evening they were in the shelter. “We studied the book of James. That focus made a world of difference for us,” said Deven. “Every morning I woke up, as soon as I opened my eyes, I said, ‘God, I trust you.’ Then, I went through those days with that mindset.”
The Family Promise Program
Being part of the Family Promise program required Deven to secure stable employment and actively search for housing. She did both during her daytime hours. In the evenings over dinner, she talked a lot with the volunteers who prepared her meals and sat and ate dinner with her and her daughter. Deven and her daughter spent time together nightly. At bedtime, she wrote and worked on her books, editing until she fell asleep. Every Tuesday morning at 5 a.m., each shelter host would allow her to use a private space to participate in a personal prayer group via phone. “The kindness, consideration, and supportiveness of the volunteers went far beyond providing shelter,” notes Deven.
Erica checked in regularly regarding work, financial planning, and the housing search and also to see how Deven and her daughter were doing mentally and emotionally while coping with homelessness. “Erica (Pamela and Pauline as well) was committed to seeing my daughter and me complete the program successfully, which meant exiting into sustainable housing.” Deven was able to secure a job right away, so that was handled. Because of that, Erica offered many resources to help with the housing search. She referred Deven to social services so as much of her income as possible could be dedicated to securing housing. Deven did not have any government assistance at the time, so Erica recommended it and helped with applying for food assistance and Medicaid. Erica also directed Deven to the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority (AMHA) for housing, which is where she and her daughter secured housing.
“It was a pleasure working with Deven and her daughter, Destiny. Says Family Promise Case Manager, Erica Ward Cherry. “Deven worked diligently to regain stability while also being a supportive mother to her daughter. The entire Family Promise network enjoyed getting to know the family and it has been a pleasure to watch Deven's continual growth. We are so proud of her for following her dreams of becoming an author and will continue to support her in her future endeavors.”
True Face of Homelessness
Families experiencing homelessness make up one-third of all individuals experiencing homelessness in the United States. Deven continues to be shocked by the number of people who express they "can't believe" she was once homeless, mainly because she and her daughter do not fit the stereotypical mold many expect. “People feel like I should be excluded from the possibility of not having a home of my own. When I tell people I used to be homeless, they act like it couldn't happen to anyone. Under the right circumstances, it can happen to nearly anyone. And the true statistic is that most homeless people are functional, capable, but fallen on hard times. Many are families with children, just like mine,” said Deven.
Graduating from Family Promise
Deven and her daughter exited the Family Promise program on December 27, 2012, after spending two months in the shelter, and settled into being in their own home again. Family Promise helped tremendously with the transition. Family Promise provided a transition kit with the necessities needed when moving in, including air mattresses to sleep on and cleaning supplies. Deven’s daughter maintained her schooling, extracurricular activities, and therapy while Deven continued working and writing. She joined Family Promise as a regular volunteer and eventually a board member. She joined several other agencies as a volunteer, all influenced by the graciousness of those who served her while at Family Promise. “All these things helped me move forward toward feeling like a productive person again. My faith in God is my greatest support,” said Deven.
Public housing served her family very well and allowed her to make less money and give her daughter the support she needed to thrive in school and her extracurricular programs. Her daughter, Destiny, is now a college graduate, completely self-sufficient, making and saving money, and living in downtown Chicago. She works full-time and is pursuing success in her passion of Musical Theatre. Deven and her daughter remain very close. Deven found a church home which has been a great support system in many ways. She also says, “I have a few loyal and close friends who are extremely supportive in ways that go far beyond money. They offer acceptance and unconditional love and reciprocate friendship without fail. I have family that loves me. All these things make life good.”
A Road of Sustainable Independence
Deven published one of her books in July 2022 and has two more scheduled to be released before the end of the year. Learn more at https://www.WonderfullyMadeSeries.com/. Her priority right now is to see those books become as effective as they can become. They have a message of God's unconditional love that she believes will change a lot of lives for better. They are written for anyone who has ever struggled with their sense of purpose, identity, and esteem as she did for her entire childhood, teen, and early adult years. The first published book, Children are Wonderfully Made, is a book of truthful affirmations that she hopes ends up in the hands of every child. “It is a huge undertaking that is requiring all of me at the moment. I just planned and hosted a large, live reading event of the book in downtown Akron. I am pursuing plans to host as many reading events for children as possible in the immediate future,” said Deven. Beyond that, she will continue to write as long as she can hold a pen. “I will let God use my life to make a difference in good ways wherever and however He sees fit. I don't fully know what that means, but I know it involves loving the people around me and being good to them. I know it involves sharing the things that have made my life better with others, and I will do that,” said Deven.