JOYFUL TRANSITIONS: “We grew up in environments where the odds were stacked against us.”
No, not refugees from the Middle East but a Santa Barbara couple who battled their way through life’s struggles, finally coming out ahead. Now they and their two sons are looking forward to a happy Christmas in affordable housing.
But it’s been a rough road. Susie and Kirk (who wished to be identified by only first names for this story) graduated from high school with high hopes. After meeting in 2007, their relationship “was as rocky as our housing and employment situations,” they told staffers at Transition House family shelter.
“We always had low-paying jobs and were never able to get ahead.” But they persevered. Their first son, Braydyn, was born in 2008 and Bourdon in 2010. “Then tragedy struck our family. Our beautiful baby, Bourdon, passed away from illness when he was 6 months old. Our grief was overwhelming, yet we tried to keep things together for Braydyn.
“Even so, our relationship as a couple suffered, our income suffered, and we lost the apartment we had been renting for several years. We stayed in different places — sometimes together and sometimes apart.
“We found housing for a while and had another son, Joey, but the trauma of all we had lived through finally became insurmountable. We each ended up in different shelters but never made much progress.”
Then their luck changed. “In 2013 we entered Transition House.” More than just a roof over the heads of homeless families and meals, Transition House is dedicated to the solution to family homelessness in the Santa Barbara community.
This time, Susie and Kirk said, “We were determined to stay together. We knew we needed a lot of help, and we were ready to accept it. The staff was so supportive — they gave us a reason to keep going. They were passionate about our situation and believed we could make our lives better. It motivated both of us. Soon we realized the benefits of being there. Everyone was just like us. It wasn’t that they deserved to be homeless — they were there just because they were poor.
“We went through all three stages of Transition House’s program: the shelter, the Firehouse, and finally the HOMES program. The program gave Kirk the time and opportunity to study for his commercial driver’s license.” Susie was able to work full-time. “Transition House provided infant care for our younger son, Joey, and helped our older boy, Braydyn, with his school work.
“In spite of the hard times we’d been through, we built great relationships with people at Transition House — both with other clients and with the staff and volunteers. Recently, we achieved the best goal of all — we were one of several homeless families chosen to move into a new affordable, permanent housing unit in Carpinteria. We love our place.”
Said Susie: “I was overwhelmed when we moved to the shelter. Seeing other people each night at dinner just depressed me. But I soon realized that the shelter was the most comfortable place I had ever stayed, and people there were just like me.
“Not only did I want to work full-time; I wanted a career. I wanted my family to be stable, my relationship with Kirk to be strong, and my sons to be safe.
“We both think that Transition House has an amazing program. In fact, we think there should be a Transition House in every city in the United States. We are grateful to everyone in Santa Barbara who supports what Transition House has done for our family. We are so glad we could share our story here and give back so other families can also get help.”
Transition House calls itself a place where “[c]apable and motivated families with children are offered life tools and respectful, non-sectarian residential services designed to alleviate poverty and restore self-sufficiency and dignity.” You can send tax-deductible donations to Transition House, 425 East Cota Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101.
WOMEN IN JEOPARDY! At Santa Barbara’s Ensemble Theatre Company, you never know what to expect: Dostoyevsky, Noël Coward, or the latest New York Broadway hit. So when I headed for Ensemble’s new production, Women in Jeopardy!, I knew it was a comedy, often dubbed “Thelma and Louise meets The First Wives Club.” Dostoyevsky, it’s not. Fun, it definitely is. Sophie Ullett steals the show as the wacky teen. (It shows through Dec. 20.)