“Finding My Reflection after Homelessness”

 Jen is the founder and director of the non-profit, Supplies for Life. Jen also has a 10-year-old daughter who she proudly regained sole custody of back in July of 2021. Additionally, she is a certified recovery peer advocate, a Narcan trainer, and she works face-to-face with those who are in active addiction. Moreover, Jen assists individuals who have just been released from prison, and she is a Sole Recovery Coach for a local county jail. She is also a confidant and an advocate to those who are homeless.


Jen tells us about her own journey with homelessness, drug addiction recovery , and self-image (trigger advisory).


"When I was homeless, pivotal moments happened in my life that I’ll never forget. My experiences with homelessness have significantly framed my identity, my life, the trajectory of my career, and the way that I treat people.


"Before I was even incarcerated or homeless, I was actively using methamphetamine and selling it. Eventually, I was arrested, and they moved to indict me on two-sealed sales. On top of being sentenced to prison for 3 years, I was also sentenced to 2 years of supervision post-release. I did a year and a half in a regular prison, and that is when I detoxed. Then, I did 6 months in a military boot camp prison called Lakeview Shock. They shaved my head to a quarter of an inch every 2 weeks, and military bearings (conduct) were required at all times.”


“Once I was released from this prison program, I was considered homeless, and for a very long time, Adult Protective Services would not let me contact my husband.”


They told me, “You’re on parole. You can’t just go where you want and find a place to live. We’re putting you in a shelter.”


“Compared to an inner-city shelter, the shelter chosen for me was a better and worse environment. It only held up to 6 women which is what made it better. The shelter had 2 beds and a living room, 2 beds in a bedroom, and then 2 beds in another bedroom. We all shared a bathroom and a kitchen. They provided me with no sheets, no pillows, no towels, or toilet paper. The only reason I had toilet paper was because of my mother-in-law. When she picked me up from the bus station to bring me to the shelter, she had a pack of travel tissues that she gave me. So, thankfully, I was able to use the bathroom upon getting there.”


“48 hours after I arrived at the shelter, I got a job at a pizzeria washing dishes. When I got my first paycheck, I was like - “I’m gonna buy a box of hair dye. I feel like crap. I have no hair, and I’m in the real world. I bought some hair dye, and I dyed my hair a cranberry color. I bought some pomade so I could slick my hair back. My hair was growing in so it was sticking out everywhere, and it was all over the place. I bought those things so I could feel a little more human and normal again.”


“I hoped for semi-normalcy again.”


“But soon after, a lady moved in that was actively using meth, and there was a time that I couldn’t come home from work because she was using meth in the stairwell. She needed help, and I think using meth just exacerbated her struggles. Like - one night, I came home from the pizzeria, and she had taken all of the silverware in the house and put it in the dryer. I went to go shower, and there were food particles in the bathtub because she had been washing pots and pans in there.”


“Although things like this happen at the shelter, I still felt blessed because I held onto moments of kindness. When I first arrived, the woman who did my intake treated me like a human being, and it was amazing. I didn’t have shoes, and she went into her office, took her personal shoes, and gave them to me. I am extremely grateful to her, and we still talk to this day.”





“I remember how her kindness felt like a miracle. It felt like she had given me something invaluable because my needs were very basic as a homeless person. When you’re homeless, things like water and feminine hygiene products (so you don’t have to bleed all over yourself) are basic needs. Mouthwash and deodorant are good, and lip balm is a luxury that is a necessity, especially if you live in the elements. Because you’re going without food and water too, your lips feel like burning leather sometimes. They feel like they’re on fire, and they’re hard. Wipes are a necessity, especially if you don’t have access to water. You can use them for your face, your feet, your armpits, and you’re vagina. If you’re trying to get housed or get into a program, it’s hard to make progress when you smell because you haven’t showered in a week. So, can you imagine if you’re on your period?”


“Two days after I came home from incarceration, I got my period. I didn’t have enough toilet paper, and I had no pads.”


“I had nothing.”


“This was a problem because I had to report every morning and check in with APS. Their job was to stay updated on my whereabouts, my job search, my plans for the day, and whether I needed to be drug tested. But, when I got my period, I couldn’t come to the meetings.”


They asked me, “Why didn’t you come?”


I was just like - “Because I couldn’t, and I still can’t.”


“I was embarrassed to say it, but all I had were one pair of panties and one pair of pants that always needed to be washed. I didn’t have anything else to wear, and most of the time, I just wore the only towel I had. So, yea... I couldn’t come.”


“Fortunately, my mother-in-law got me a prepaid phone, and if it wasn’t for someone who worked at the recovery center, I would have gotten in trouble for missing my meetings. I messaged a lady at the recovery center, and she came to the shelter with a white paper bag.”


She looked at me and said, “This is for you.”


“I looked inside, and there was a Bath and Body Works Lotion. There was a razor so I could shave. There were panty liners, pads, tampons, and a pair of fuzzy socks. I couldn’t believe it.”


“She’s a person that I will never forget my whole entire life. She truly showed me that if you treat someone like a human being, they’re going to act like one. If you treat someone with meanness, you get meanness back. If you treat someone like a human being, you get a human being back. You always reap what you sew. I will always live my life by this principle, and moments like this really framed my future.”




“Because she bought me new panties, pads, and tampons, I was able to see my daughter for the first time after being gone for 2 years. I hadn’t seen my daughter in 15 months, and for me, it was very important that I was clean upon seeing her. When I first saw her, my head was shaved, and she just looked at me. She didn’t really know who I was, and we basically had no relationship.”


“I stayed at the shelter for 2 months, and once I got an apartment, there was a recovery center beneath the apartments I was living in. They told me to do a resume and cover letter. I got some help with the cover letter, submitted it, and they gave me an interview two days later. I got the job, and my first thought was - “I can’t wait to tell my daughter that I got a real job. She’s going to be so proud of me.”


“This was literally the day that my life started, and for the first time, I saw something happen right.”


“Everything had been so heavy. Everything had been a fight. I had been away from society for years, and I was released into homelessness with no one and nothing. There were all of these things that I needed to do for survival, and yet, I was still overwhelmed by fresh air.”


“It was very difficult to climb back up and to fight the onslaught of stigma and judgment. I learned that people have a lot of bad misconceptions about homeless people. They think they’re dirty or stupid, but in reality, it’s not that simple. While we all have our own lives and our own choices, everyone has a story.”