On Monday, April 2, Heidi had exactly what she wanted for breakfast, and she fixed it herself. Unremarkable for most people but for the 71-year-old who was spending the first morning in a home of her own after four years in shelters, it was a miracle.
Originally from the Netherlands, Heidi came to the United States from Indonesia in the 1970s to study at Georgetown University. Things went well for decades. She took classes, worked as a translator and shared a house with friends. But an accident changed everything. She fell on the stairs while carrying laundry, and the serious break in her arm put her in the hospital – without insurance – for two weeks. The injury was to her right hand. There was no way she could work and she had no support system. She was destitute and homeless. She spent two nights sleeping in the hospital’s chapel before she learned of the Embry Rucker Homeless Shelter, “where they take care of people who have no home.”
Slender, frail, in her late 60s, plagued with congestive heart failure, vertigo and stress disorders, Heidi was frightened by the group setting at the start. “I was as afraid as anyone could be – I knew no one.” But her gentle ways, shy smile and talent for getting along soon won her friends. “I was happy to be safe,” Heidi recalled.
Safe she was but the shelter has rules on duration of stay. Time limits could be extended, but not indefinitely, and finding a home for Heidi was a challenge. There was no family to help. Heidi’s case worker, Melanie, wouldn’t give up. She tried to put together a plan that would work for Heidi. “I ran into dead end after dead end after dead end,” Melanie recalled, looking back on four years of home hunting for Heidi. “Then, thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were finally able to do great things.”
Heidi now shares a Reston Interfaith townhome with another client who works nights. The townhome is convenient to public transportation, the food pantry and shopping centers. It’s accessible, thanks to the contribution of a chair lift. Heidi’s share of the rent is paid by one of Reston Interfaith’s benefactors. Furnishings were donated by newlyweds who were combining households. “There was a lot of support for her transition,” Melanie noted.
“After four years of sharing a room with three, four or five people, I will miss the camaraderie, but I like to be alone,” Heidi said. “I will be quiet, by myself, and I will be able to concentrate. I’ll cook again and bake a little bit. I’ll garden and grow flowers. Melanie will still be part of my life – she’s a friend now. But everything else will change. I’m 71 and I’d like to do something with my life.”