Where Shelly’s from, there’s no such thing as homelessness.
“I grew up in a small town, where everyone had family,” she said. “The concept of homelessness was foreign to me, because you just didn’t see it. There was always someone around who would help you and take you in if things got to that point. This is different.”
She was born into a family of farmers and ranchers who had worked the land of rural Wyoming for generations. Life in the elements proved harsh, but it’s the only one she knew. That inherited grit would later help Shelly endure through the long, cold nights of Colorado winter.
Shelly is in her fifties now, but has the suntan, bright eyes and springy movements of a woman half her age. A country girl at heart, she knows what it means to work hard and do what it takes to survive. But, somewhere along the way, that formula failed her.
After a particularly difficult divorce and the loss of her father, there was nothing left for Shelly in Wyoming or in her family’s adopted Pacific Northwest home. She had exhausted all options and it was time for a change, so she headed down to be near her only son in Colorado Springs.
“I thought it would be nice to be close to him, and I didn’t really have anywhere else to belong,” she said. “But it didn’t exactly work out. Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”
It was the obvious next step in Shelly’s journey of life and self-discovery — but it was one that came with its own pitfalls and tribulation. She found it difficult to find a steady job that would allow her to afford a place of her own, so in 2018 she came to the Mission for help. Since her arrival, Shelly has lived in the Women’s Shelter and served in the kitchen as a Work Engagement participant.
“I like to stay busy and be useful,” she said. “It’s in my blood to work and to survive — it’s all I know.”
Shelly spoke with us recently about her journey from home to homelessness and back again.
What was it like for you to become homeless and come to the Mission?
Along this sojourn I’ve been on, I’ve gotten quite sad and discouraged — there have been times that I’ve just given up. That’s easy to do when you end up in this situation. But the staff I’ve met are great people. They’re doing great things here and really trying to help. I’m glad this facility is here. It has helped so many people. I’m grateful for a place to stay, classes you can take, food to eat and all kinds of other stuff that’s here.
What are your goals for the future?
I want a job, a place to live and a vehicle. … I want to move forward with my life, but it’s hard when you get to this point. And the older I get, the harder it is to start over and get new job opportunities — rebuild. … I used to frame houses and do construction. But that’s when I was young and bulletproof. Then I was a paralegal. But at this point, I’m just looking for anything that involves working with people.
What’s something important you’ve learned about life and living?
I’ve learned how to be more compassionate. There were areas in my life that I was judgmental of certain people and situations. I’ve learned that you’ve really just got to let some things go and move on. … And if others judge me, that’s OK — it’s not my problem. All I can do is worry about myself and my own life, and let God take care of the rest. And remember that we’re all human.
What keeps you going?
I come from a strong family. We got grit. They never gave up, so I don’t give up — it’s not in my DNA to quit. Some days it’s hard, but I was raised to keep going.
Is your faith part of that?
Yes. I grew up in church and my kids went to church, but through this I’ve had a whole new experience of God. I’m His kid — I don’t have to worry. I just try to let him take care of it. … God knows everything, which means I don’t have to. We all need God’s grace, and I know He’ll never give up on me. I always come back and He’s always there for me. … ‘There but for the grace of God go I.’
How does your faith help you in daily life?
I sometimes try to really control things: control situations, other people, things in my life. I just have to remember to give it all to Him. Because he can take care of what I can’t. And He makes me aware of those things. I just have to participate in life and give Him glory.
What does the concept of freedom mean to you?
I have the freedom to make choices and to live how I wish. … But there’s also the freedom I feel in my core: freedom to release people from my judgment and not to carry other people’s burdens. I know I can take those things off my shoulders and give them to God.
* Shelly left the Mission shortly after our interview and has not yet returned. Please say a prayer for her safety and security.
Subscribe to our blog to learn more about Springs Rescue Mission and the people we serve — people who have seen tough times but are committed to breaking the cycles of homelessness, hunger and addiction in their lives. We see stories of hope and transformation lived out every day, and we’d love to share them with you.