Christine Rodriguez, 31, sits in an overstuffed chair at the back of the community center of the First Congregational Church in Eugene, Ore. With her shoulder-length brown hair, snapping brown eyes, blue jeans and dark gray top, she is indistinguishable from the volunteers who are preparing a chicken dinner in the kitchen at the front of the room.
Christine, her four children, ages 13, 10, 3 and 2, and her partner of 12 years are here as part of the Interfaith Night Shelter, a consortium of more than 30 faith communities offering night shelter, food, recreational activities and comfort to as many as 10 families per night throughout the school year.
Her youngest daughter, 3, tugs at her hand, wanting her to go find a place at the four round tables being set for dinner. Christine hands the little girl to her father and tells their story.
Seeking a better life
She grew up in East Los Angeles, as did her partner, Jimmy, who works construction. Tired of the gang influences and wanting a better life for their children, when Jimmy was laid off a month ago, they moved to Oregon. While he tried to get into the union in order to be hired, they found themselves temporarily homeless.
After one night at the rescue mission, where the family was separated, they contacted St. Vincent de Paul’s First Place Family Center, an outreach to families with children who are in transition because of homelessness, job loss, health issues or other critical problems.
For the past several weeks, they have spent the nights in various churches, going to First Place headquarters in the morning to shower and eat. The older children then attend school, and while Jimmy continues to look for work, Christine and the younger children can stay at First Place.
Despite the obvious struggle of trying to raise children under such circumstances, Christine is upbeat. “The hardest thing was the unknown,” she says. “Once we stopped being scared, things started opening.” They became eligible for a $400 donation deposit on an apartment, which will be available this month, unemployment benefits kicked in and the family was able to be together each night at the Night Shelter.
Living with hope
“Homeless is a state of mind,” she tells OSV. “If you feel there is no hope, you just drown in your own sorrow. Once you realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel, you realize you are going through something that helps you appreciate your life.”
She adds, “We are teaching our kids that it’s not about what we don’t have, but what we do have.
“One thing I’ve learned,” she adds, “is to distinguish between what you want and what you need. Just because you want it, doesn’t mean you need it.”
Christine’s son runs up to her, insisting that she come to a table. She picks him up and balances him on one hip as she continues.
“I think that this time together has rekindled our family’s love,” she says. “My oldest daughter is opening up with compassion toward others.”
She settles the little boy and concludes with a smile, “Sometimes you need to learn lessons to get where you need to be in life.”
Woodeene Koenig-Bricker writes from Oregon. For more information on First Place and the Egan Warming Center run by St. Vincent de Paul of Eugene, Ore, please go to www.svdp.us.