LIFTED a story of resilience

I met the Reneaus in October while volunteering at a homeless shelter in Spokane called Open Doors Emergency Shelter, a family shelter run by Family Promise. I took to them because they were both easy to talk to and were very open about their experience. They understood that poverty and homelessness is often a phase of life for people, and thus there was no shame in where they were at in life. However, they were aware of the journey they were in and that it would be rough. It was very obvious though, they were headed in that direction together, which is part of why I think their story will be one of success.

Lower left: A set of birds they adopted while living in a hotel in Spokane. Lower right: They packed all their belongings into storage totes.

The Reneaus came from Albuquerque, New Mexico looking to start a new life. With two young children, they felt unsafe in Albuquerque so when the opportunity came to start over, they chose to move their roots to Spokane, WA.

Jeffrey was able to get work immediately but funds ran out before they were able to find housing. Within a month of arriving in Spokane, they found themselves in a shelter. The early morning check-ins made it difficult for Jeffrey to keep his job but he plans to return to his job in January. To make money, they were able to work for Door Dash.

Jeffrey and Michele are animal lovers and had to give up their animals when they left Albuquerque. When they arrived in Spokane, a fellow Hotel guest had two birds she was giving away. The Reneaus adopted them.

By the time I started photographing the Reneaus, they had moved out of Open Doors Emergency Family Shelter and into one of their sister programs, Bridges. Bridges, formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality, works with a different church every week to house an average of 3 families in the evenings. They are able to sleep at the churches at night and return to Family Promise during the day.

Jeffrey tells me he had a violent past. But as he got older he realized that wasn't the life he wanted. He left drugs and gangs behind. When he met Michele he was ready to start a clean life.

For the most part, Jeffrey is a quiet guy. While playing with his sons, he tells me in a calm voice he used to be a violet person. As he reminds his little baby to be careful near the stairs, I asked him what that meant to be violent. He confides he used to be in gangs and sold drugs.

Top: Michele holds a note; CPS called about a report she was abusive in the middle of the night at the shelter. CPS interviews her and Jeffrey and dismisses the report. They end up giving the Reneaus clothing vouchers for the children. Bottom: Jeffrey plays with his toddler at Family Promise.
Their room at a participating church for the Bridges program.

The Reneaus were able to spend a week at Bridges. While at Open Doors and Bridges, the Reneaus applied for various housing programs. They were homeless and living in a shelter for over three months before being accepted for an apartment co-signed by Catholic Charities.

Above: The family gathers in prayer before the evening meal at Bridges. Every meal is made by various volunteers. Middle row: The family eats with the volunteers; residents and volunteers share stories of homelessness. Families gather in one of the community rooms to relax together and watch television. Bottom row: The Reneaus take the boys to their room where they unwind. Their oldest has trouble winding down as Jeffrey tries to help him relax. Michele administers medicine to their baby for a fever.

Michele is a young mom but she knows who she wants to be. She was forced out of her home by her father and stepmom when she was 18 and didn't finish high school. She had to quit school to work and support herself. She knows she wants to go back to school. Despite a tumultuous upbringing, she keeps a calm demeanor and remains focused on what she wants for her family.

It's December and temperatures drop to the twenties outside. Jeffrey and his son gather around the heater while Michele helps the baby sleep.
Bridges is a program formerly known as Interfaith Hospitality. They work in concert with multiple churches in the area to help house homeless families.

The Reneaus finally confirm an apartment in December and move in just weeks before Christmas. With funds from Temporary Assistance For Needy Famlies (TANF) they are able to buy some supplies for the house. A regular donor to Family Promise donates a mattress and sheets for the Reneau's oldest son. A few weeks later, they are given a queen mattress for themselves.

Top: Michele and son Jeffrey walking to their new apartment. Fourth row: Jeffrey carries in a donated mattress. It has been well-loved but still has many more years of use left.

Jeffrey plans to return to his construction job and Michele hopes to go back to school. Jeffrey hopes to return to school for Psychology someday.

Created By
Margaret Albaugh


All photographs copyright Margaret Albaugh

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