July 14, 2023

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

A woman’s road to recovery leads to Catholic Charities

David Bethuram

Joanne had a “normal” life. She had worked in inventory control for 17 years when her company asked her to come in on her day off to fill in for a co-worker. That day, while she was riding in a company van, the driver had an epileptic seizure. The van rolled and Joanne lost consciousness. She woke up in the hospital, after being in an induced coma for weeks. Her doctor said, “Welcome to your new life.”

In addition to her broken body, Joanne had suffered a traumatic brain injury. She spent nearly three years recovering and trying to cope with her disabilities: she had to learn how to walk, talk and live again. She says, “I can remember things that happened 20 years ago, but not yesterday.” The brain injury affects her short-term memory, preventing her from holding steady employment.

Once her therapy was complete, her son who lived in Indiana invited her to live with him and help with the grandkids. However, when she and her son had a falling out, Joanne had to leave. With nowhere to go and no work, she became homeless in the middle of the winter in February 2019.

Joanne said it was a stressful experience. At first, it was difficult to even process the shift from a stable and secure lifestyle to one that was traumatic and isolating. She sat at the public library for hours, doing nothing—overwhelmed by what to do and how to start building a new life. “I was in a fog for the first month. I began going to a local church for meals and slowly built relationships with other people in the community.”

Soon, she became acquainted with a Catholic Charites’ volunteer who introduced her to some of the staff and services that Catholic Charites offers. A Catholic Charities’ case worker began to meet with Joanne, and she received help enrolling in Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and other services. Joanne says, “After about a year, I finally got it all figured out. I knew where I needed to go for specific services and began to share that information with others.”

Catholic Charities staff soon recognized Joanne’s potential and thought she would be an excellent candidate to assist people with housing needs.

Joanne’s Catholic Charities case worker suggested she begin volunteering at a local nonprofit that works with those facing homelessness. She trained as a peer navigator at a homeless day shelter, helping others who were struggling to find resources, where she received a small stipend. She was also hired to work limited hours. The additional income, combined with her modest monthly disability payment, has allowed her to think about getting an apartment with three other women. She says, “I don’t know anyone who can make it alone. Even folks who are not homeless seem to live with four or five other people to be able to afford a place to live.”

Joanne is excited to see what the future holds. She will continue working and volunteering because, she says, “it makes me feel more normal.” Joanne says she probably adjusted to being homeless better than others simply because she was in the process of beginning a new life as a result of the accident. She says, “Some days, it is just so hard to be homeless. People don’t understand that things happen that prevent you from getting out of that situation.”

Through her interactions with Catholic Charities, Joanne found a paying job, unexpected friendships and a community that she calls home.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. You can contact him at dbethuram@archindy.org.) †

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