As a child, Jenika felt very alone and misunderstood. Her mother was a nurse and she worked all the time, 12-hour shifts, so Jenika and her sister would barely see her. They existed in the same house, but Jenika didn’t feel like they were a family. When they were together, her mother was very controlling and abusive. Sometimes Jenika felt like her mom didn’t really want kids and that she would be better off somewhere else.

By the time she got to high school, Jenika had a really bad relationship with her mom. She wanted to go to college for construction management, but her mother insisted that the only career she could pursue was nursing. Most of the women in their family were nurses, but Jenika knew this was not the path for her. No matter how hard she tried to explain her dreams to her mom, she was met with anger, and eventually her mom stopped wanting to support her. She refused to help Jenika get financial aid for college, so at that point, Jenika knew she was going to have to pursue her goals on her own.

Unfortunately, things weren’t any easier for Jenika when she left her mom’s house. She was still driven to pursue higher education, but since she had no one to help her with financial aid, she had to find other ways to earn money to pay for school. She sold marijuana while also participating in Job Corps to get a trade certificate. After that, she enrolled in online college, which she paid for by cashing forged checks. Everyone she knew did what they had to in order to get by, even if that meant doing things that were illegal. Getting an education was the goal, so she earned money however she could.

During this time, she lived first with her grandma and then with a boyfriend, but she considered herself homeless because she didn’t have a key to her own place. She had to rely on others for a roof over her head. Eventually, she got arrested and went to jail. She was in jail for six months, and when she got out, that’s when she went to a shelter for the first time.

Jenika loved the shelter and felt accepted by the people who ran it. She found purpose in doing building repairs and being a part of a community. She began the process of applying for housing and started to dream about school again. But her good fortune was short-lived.

Jenika continued to have problems with the law. She was arrested for shoplifting and went back to jail. The woman from the shelter bailed her out, but said she couldn’t come back to stay there. And her recent crime prevented her from getting the housing she applied for. She ended up on the street.

 After a year of sleeping on the streets, living in her car and in shelters, she was connected with some social services, and eventually got the call that there was an apartment for her at Deborah’s Place. Jenika finally felt a sense of relief.

“They made it so easy here to trust and made it so easy here to not be afraid… I’ve been looking for a place like this. It’s just the overwhelming feeling to know that it’s a place that’s made for me.”

Now, with a car, a job working for a local transportation company, and a stable place of her own to live, Jenika feels like she’s on track to achieve her goals.

“My goals weren’t different when I was homeless. It’s more or less I can see them actually come into life now that I’m stable.”

She loves writing and grows as many plants as she can in her apartment. She wants to build a tiny home for herself and a greenhouse to garden in. Her dream is to develop a property where people who are homeless can have a place to live, grow and contribute. Throughout her journey, Jenika never gave up and never let homelessness define her, and she wants to offer that same hope and opportunity to others.

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