From Homeless to Hopeful in Houston: Family Place makes dreams come true for single mom and four daughters

By Chelsea Quackenbush
Buckner International
Photography by Lauren Hollon Sturdy

In an odd way, Wendi Hay had a feeling she would be homeless one day.

She didn’t know why or what would lead her there. She just had a feeling.

Fast forward several years later. Wendi and her four daughters – Kira, now 8, twins Ajsa and Angel, 6, and Shauna, 5 – were living in a homeless shelter in Florida. They remained homeless for four years.

The road with no end
Their story begins in Alabama, where Wendi lived with her daughters’ father. He was abusive and did drugs. He eventually pulled her into the lifestyle.

The situation got so bad that Wendi had to call 9-1-1 several nights in a row. One night, the officer advised Wendi to leave her boyfriend.

“The police officer said, ‘Ma’am, we can’t keep doing this,’” Wendi said. “And he said, ‘Why don’t you pack your stuff up and leave and just never come back?’ No one had ever said that to me. When you’re in a bad relationship, you don’t realize you have that choice.”

Wendi had four young girls and nowhere to go. She went to her brother’s in Florida but quickly realized his situation was similar to the one she fled. And then she realized it was exactly what her mom went through.

She became determined to break the generational curse. But first, she became homeless.

“That’s when I decided, when I realized, I really am going to become homeless and this is for real.”

After seven months in the homeless shelter, Wendi felt like God was pointing her to Houston. She rented a car and packed up pillows, blankets, books and the girls. She had about $400. She didn’t know what she would do once she got to Texas. She just knew she had to get there.

Finding hope
Wendi soon found Star of Hope, a Christian homeless ministry that gave her a place to stay and put her on the road to recovery. She stayed there for almost three years. When Buckner partnered with Star of Hope, Wendi was the first participant in the newly-established Family Place program.

Family Place is a self-sufficiency program that provides housing and supportive services for single-parent families while parents pursue their education full-time.

Wendi already was working toward an associate degree in business management at Houston Community College. She moved into an apartment with her girls and started case management and supportive counseling with Houston Family Place program coordinator Cari Downie.

“What I appreciate about Wendi is that she’s always striving to be better, to see how she can do things differently,” Downie said. “There’s no sense of entitlement or that anyone owes her anything. She just knows she needs help and she’s grateful for it.”

Houston Family Place started in July 2011 and will have eight families by mid-February. In its first six months, Downie has seen intangible success in families.

“Family Place provides many things for families in need but above all, what we’re providing is hope and a sense of relief. A lot of these families have lived in homelessness and there’s so much stress and uncertainty in those situations … If we can help them believe that they can achieve beyond what they ever thought they could and we can move them toward that, then that’s a huge success.”

Changing families
Wendi is in her fourth semester at HCC and plans to finish her degree this summer. She has a 4.0 GPA, an impressive feat considering her full course load, a job and four little girls with homework every night.

She found a program for low-income families that would allow her to get her bachelor’s degree from Rice University without going into debt. She hopes to apply when she finishes at HCC.

Not only has Wendi improved in her academic and vocational life, but her parenting skills have blossomed. Instead of reacting in anger, she has found ways to communicate effectively with her daughters, like holding family meetings and having prayer time.

“A lot of the family meetings are talking about my behavior and things that I’m trying to overcome,” she said. “I’ll explain to them that I still have things going on and it’s not you and I’m trying to control it. And I’m trying to communicate that to them where they don’t feel like it’s something wrong with them. I talk to them about it and I ask for forgiveness and we pray about it.

“I take what I experienced as a child and try to relate it to what they may be experiencing so they’ll be healthy as they grow up. I want to have a good relationship with them.”

Wendi’s homeless experience has let her minister to others in her community. In fact, in the few blocks she walks to get from school to work, there are several homeless shelters.

She stops to talk to people, to get to know their stories, to pray for them. She knows her homelessness happened for a reason. It’s been her calling, she said.

Changing the world
“There are not enough words to say how I feel about what everybody’s done for me,” Wendi said. “I guess the main thing I express to people who help me is this: You’ve got to understand that you’re not just helping me. You’re not just helping my children. You have helped to change the curses from my family; you have helped to be a part of transformation. The dynamics of giving are absolutely amazing. You start helping others and then it’s a ripple effect. You’re changing the world.”

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