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Finding the space—physically, emotionally, financially—to rebuild paves the way to brighter days

February 23, 2022

When asked to sum up her experience with housing before she connected with Way Finders, Jessica Diaz, a native of Springfield and mother of four, presses a hand to her forehead. She shakes her head at the memory: “It was just waitlist, after waitlist, after waitlist.” 

Back in 2016, Jessica and her family—her children range in age from nine to 20—had low-income housing. When success came her way, she felt ready for next steps.  

“I had a really good job. I was getting paid salary,” says Jessica. “After I was there a year, it felt like time to move on from low-income housing, and I did. But two years later, I lost my job.”  

Trying to return to low-income housing felt impossible. “They tell you six months. Then six months later they say, ‘Oh, it’s six years,’” says Jessica, of the long waitlist she faced. “It was like I’d moved two steps forward, then took ten steps back.” 

Unable to get her footing, Jessica’s world began to unravel.  

“After I lost my job, I lost my car,” Jessica says. “Then we lost our house, we were homeless. I was jumping from place to place for about nine months with four kids. I found myself living with a friend, in a two-bedroom apartment with her husband and her two kids. And me and my four kids.” 

In 2019, Jessica and her family moved into a Way Finders’ shelter. There, Jessica found the space—physically, emotionally, financially—to rebuild.  

“I had a roof over my head. My kids were safe, I was safe,” Jessica says. “I started looking and found a job that I loved, as a recovery specialist with Mental Health Association. And I also started working on my credit because I was like, ‘I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I’m here! I’m not going to have this happen to me ever again.’” 

Avoiding this—future homelessness—is a shared goal among Jessica’s new network of support. 

“The people that I have in place right now? I love, love them. Jessenia is an amazing woman, she really cares about me and my kids,” Jessica says, of Housing Case Manager Jessenia Velez. “She tells me that she sees I’m working hard, and that she’s going to try hard for me. She lets me know about openings for low-income housing and helps me fill out applications.” 

When Jessica voiced interest in homeownership, Program Specialist Gerson Nivar responded with a push. “I’d just had an eviction, I didn’t have a steady job for a little bit. I was so scared to even think about buying a home,” says Jessica. “And Gerson was like, ‘Go ahead, anybody can do it! Look at your credit reports, go from there.’ When I first talked to him, my credit was in the 400s. He gave me tips on how to fix it, and told me about 640.” (The score at which additional affordable mortgage products are offered.) 

Jessica, who takes great pride in doing things on her own, started calling companies, then paying them little by little. Today, her score is at 665. 

Gerson also connected Jessica with Employment Specialist Madeline Martinez, who provides one-on-one career counseling through Way Finders’ Employment Support Services. The Secure Jobs Initiative aims to successfully connect participants with a career pathway, in pursuit of greater economic mobility, and ease any barriers to employment that people may face. 

“Madeline referred me to the First-time Homebuyer Program, which I did, because she knows I want to own a home,” Jessica says. “And I started a new full-time job in October, I’m a recovery counselor with Behavioral Health Network. I got offered more money—apparently I’m doing really good in my field!”  

“Whenever I call to check with Jessica, she always says she’s doing fabulous,” Madeline says. “But the other day I called to say, ‘Hey, we can give you gas cards.’ And she was like, ‘You’re a lifesaver, I’ve been so stressed.’” 

Asking for help isn’t easy for Jessica, though it’s one of the pieces of advice she’d give her younger self, if she could. That and “Go to school—and build your village of support.” 

When asked about her five-year plan, Jessica’s face lights up. “Sky’s the limit! I really want to pursue a degree in my field. I want to help women like me, who’ve ended up homeless and feel like no one understands the stigma. And I want to own my own house. I see myself having my bachelor’s degree, in my house that I bought, all thanks to Way Finders.”