As 2020 came to a close, there was a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases across the country and at home here in San Diego. Likewise, there has been an increase in COVID-19 cases among people experiencing homelessness. Thankfully, Father Joe’s Villages is working on the frontlines to help as many individuals as possible move off the streets and into permanent homes of their own. In 2020, Father Joe’s Villages helped over 1,000 individuals move into permanent housing, ending their homelessness for good.

One of those individuals was Cheryl. Throughout her life, Cheryl turned to drug use to cope with memories of her traumatic childhood. Sadly, Cheryl’s substance use disorder began to control her life to the point where her marriage deteriorated and she was unable to work, leaving her homeless and alienated from her family, including her children. Devastated from the loss of her children, Cheryl became trapped in a debilitating cycle of depression and addiction. “Living on the streets wears you down,” she said. “When you’re living on the street, you don’t have a door to protect you from the outside.”

Soon, due to the severity of her drug use, Cheryl began hearing the voices of her children calling out to her and, in her haze, would worry that they were kidnapped and in harm. It was not until Cheryl’s daughter located and spoke to her that Cheryl realized the voices were not real. She realized that her daughter had grown up, but the voices in her head never did. This was when Cheryl finally reached out for help.

Cheryl moved into Father Joe’s Villages’ emergency shelter in the Paul Mirabile Center. Now, with a stable roof over her head, Cheryl was able to focus on not only surviving, but thriving. She joined a substance use disorder treatment program and sought support for her mental health issues, which eventually helped her gain sobriety. Cheryl also received support from Father Joe’s Villages’ Employment and Education Services, joining their vocational training programs in Warehouse Management and Culinary Arts.

Then, Cheryl gained the opportunity to move into supportive housing at Father Joe’s Villages’ newest housing community, Benson Place. Benson Place opened in August of 2020 to provide 82 dignified studio apartments and comprehensive supportive services, including those with significant challenges such as mental illness and disabilities.

Now, after over 10 years of suffering on the streets of San Diego, Cheryl had a home of her own. “When I opened the door to my home, it was surreal. I have never had my own place,” She said in amazement. “I never had a running bathroom, or a place to keep my food cold or the safety of a locked door.”

With a pandemic endangering the lives of vulnerable neighbors in need, the security and safety of housing was the ultimate blessing. “This is something many people wish that they had and never thought they could have. I am blessed.”

As eviction moratoriums come to an end and the unemployment and economic effects of COVID-19 bring at-risk individuals and families to the brink of homelessness, Father Joe’s Villages efforts to help neighbors in need end their homelessness are more critical than ever before. A donation of cash, cars or household goods can make all the difference in Father Joe’s Villages’ mission to prevent and end homelessness, one life at a time. Visit www.neighbor.org to learn more.