I recently interviewed Celena Ferguson who used the Upstate Homeless Coalition of South Carolina to win her fight against homelessness. Below is the interview and Ms. Ferguson’s answers.
- How old were you when you became homeless? I was at the age of 24 when I became homeless without my own home. I lived with my friend. I say homeless because my name was not on the lease. I got a job at Greenville hospital system, this was in 1999.
- What was the one thing that put you into homelessness? I had a car accident within my 90 day probationary period at the hospital, and because I missed two days, at the end of my 90 days they decided not to keep me-even though I came to work on crutches, and I also had therapy sessions, but came to work before and after those sessions.
- Did you have children? How old were your children? Yes I had at that time, 3 children, my baby had just turned 1 yrs old and had to have hernia surgery prior to my getting employment at GHS. At that time my oldest was 8 and my middle was 6.
- What did you do when you became homeless? What did I do when I realized I had no more options? The thought of suicide came, then I thought well if I kill myself, who would take care of my children. Then, I thought well I will just kill us all, but that wouldn’t be fair to my children because I was messed up, What if they became famous and were destined to do great things for God. I was basically almost out of my mind, so many bad thoughts, so many tears, so many apologies to my children, and I asked myself what was I going to do? I had to do something my children depend on me to take care of them. No one could ever imagine how a real mother feels when she’s all out of answers but there are so many questions. My car was totaled in the car accident, so I didn’t have transportation to go look for a job, couldn’t take kids to a job interview. It just seems like the world crash upon my head.
- How long did it take you to contact the Upstate Homeless Coalition and how did you hear about the UHCSC? I didn’t want to take my children to a homeless shelter, because, like others I didn’t know what to expect. But, after two months of living in a hotel off my last two paychecks, the money was gone, I went to the downtown rescue mission in Spartanburg, SC. Which was the best thing I could’ve ever done. I was still apologizing to my children and they were like what for we got a big family now, they were happy. I didn’t have to worry about how they were going to eat. My middle child went to school and told her teacher that we lived in a big house with a cross on it, and we had a new big family, but me being ashamed told them never to tell anyone where we lived. But one day the shame left, and I was proud of the choice I made because it showed me life in a new way, all those people I bent over backwards for to help financially they all turned their backs on me, and not only me but my children when I needed them the most. I have forgiven them all, and realize that everything in life does happen for a reason, it brought me closer to God. I stayed at the shelter for almost a year, In that time, I got a job, and was saving my money, I got a car, and one of the ladies that came to do bible study with us, she told me about the Upstate Homeless Coalition, I called and in 1 week, Glenda contacted me back and gave me instructions of what I needed at the time of my appointment. At that time they had an office inside the Haven on Church Street across from Wofford College, and within about 1 month we were in our own place again. We packed our bags and with no furniture we went and slept on the floor and danced around and thanked God for how he had blessed us with our own place again.
- How did the UHC help you out? The upstate homeless coalition, puts you on a budget plan, they take you to Walmart to buy things you need for kitchen bathroom and bedroom. They furnish you with $100.00 of groceries when you move in. They helped with furniture. They paid utility, you were responsible for part of your rent based on pay, and your phone bill. The transitional program is awesome they even assisted with daycare if you didn’t qualify through your local DSS. It teaches you how to manage, and to pay old debts off so that you could obtain homeownership when leaving the program.
- What is the one thing that helped you get out of homelessness? The one thing that helped me come out of homelessness was my children. I can’t tell them that they could be anything or doing anything their hearts desired if I didn’t be an example of that, If I gave up they would give up. And giving up is not an options, not even now.
- What do you do now? I now work back at Greenville Hospital System, and have been in the medical field since then. I also do hair at a Barber Shop in Greer, I have a business license, under that license I create Gift Baskets. I am also working on a few other projects. I was doing Bible Studies at the Miracle Hills Homeless shelter for 3yrs until my work schedule changed and their times changed, I do a Bible Study at Ellen Hines Girls Home, and on-call for Anchor House transitional home for teens. I also work with the youth in my Church. And any chance I get I stop and witness to a homeless person whether male of female. I will never forget nor look down at anyone who is going through homelessness, because you don’t know their story, and never say that it will never be you.
- What are your children doing now? My children, my son attends Newberry College in pre law program, My middle daughter attends Eastside High she will be graduating next year, she wants to become a massage therapist, our plans are to open a state of the art salon and spa. My baby girl goes to Greenville Academy and she plans to become a Veterinarian.
- If you could give one piece of advice to people who are currently homeless, what would it be? My advice to someone who is homeless: Stop blaming others, take responsibility for all actions and decisions you’ve made whether good or bad. Look over your life and pull out all the positive and leave the negative behind. Don’t look for anyone to keep giving you hand-outs you’ve got to want it so bad that you will reach your goals the right way, and it will give you that drive to succeed, take the negative in you and that others throw at you and take a step higher on each negative thought, this is not your end this is your beginning to succeed in life. And if you don’t do it for you, do it for your children they deserve it. Our kids have had to see us sad, they’ve seen us cry so many tears, they’ve seen us work like dogs, make it for them, so that we all can have a better life. Not just to be rich and famous, but just to live and be happy, not to say we will never cry again, but we want be crying for the same reason.
- Any other words that you would like others to know? Everyone who is homeless has not been on drugs, or prison, or prostitution, this is the concept that a lot of people have. It is true when they say don’t judge a book by its cover. When I was homeless, I didn’t act like I was homeless, I didn’t dress like I was homeless, My motto is, “ To never look like what you are going through.” The only way people knew was when I told them and I was not ashamed anymore and I would tell people don’t pity my situation, they couldn’t understand why I could smile, if they only knew I had already cried enough.