When Liz turned 16, her life became extremely chaotic. Her family was moving around a lot – which is stressful in and of itself, but then came the diagnosis of manic-depressive bipolar disorder. After that, there was the chaos of trying to find the right medication and then the right dosage on top of moving constantly. At the age of 18, she took her first drink of alcohol. “Alcohol became what I thought was what I needed. You know, my own self-medication. What I didn’t know was it was destroying me slowly in a disguised way,” says Liz.

This addiction is what took Liz down the path to homelessness. “I started seeing people fall out of my life and me pushing people away and just being alone.” Liz took to jumping trains to move around since her connections to friends and family had disintegrated.

Her first encounter with The Salvation Army was in New Orleans. She had been sexually assaulted and woke up in a Salvation Army shelter. “People there were talking to me. I vaguely remember it, but I felt so safe, and they gave me food and everything, but I still didn’t know what Salvation Army was.” She continued to encounter The Salvation Army on her travels, it consistently meant a warm meal, nice people, and conversation.

It was not until she made it to an encampment in Nashville that her interactions with The Salvation Army would turn into a life-changing experience. “I was out at the encampment and at that point I had full-blown alcoholism, you know, had begun the cirrhosis process and mental health [struggles] at that time were unnoticeable to me, but very apparent to everybody around me,” she says. This struggle continued to isolate her from even the other members of the homelessness community. Then came the day when she walked up to the top of the camp and there was The Salvation Army handing out not only hot meals but a lifeline of hope.

“You know you lose every sense of hope of what you know…you have no faith in yourself. No hope for your life. You know you’re so far from what you thought your life was going to be like as a kid, you know, growing up, you have those big dreams and I’m going to be this and do this. Then you’re looking at your life and you have a tent…or maybe not even that. But I remember going to the top of the camp where I was and there was Salvation Army handing out meals and it became like a weekly thing.” Liz soon formed a bond with one of The Salvation Army LIFNAV case managers. “She knew without me having to say what I needed from just talking to me. She gave me encouragement. She said she goes you’re not going to be out here forever.”

It can take time to find housing solutions, especially when there is a severe shortage of attainable housing in Nashville, but Liz’s case manager walked with her every step of the way. “You know you’ve lost everything and my health at that point…I didn’t even know it was that bad and I kept going to the hospital. When you go to the hospital as an alcoholic and an addict, and it’s stapled at the top of your profile, so they think you’re just drug seeking. So, you go back out [without a solution], you’re like, forget it. But who do you see? Your case manager from The Salvation Army who’s been following everything and just on top of everything and knows where you’re at and just keeps giving you the hope.”

Liz says, “It took an army to get me into a house after over 10 years being homeless. I remember it was around Christmas…best Christmas present ever! My case manager comes out and says pack your stuff and she took me to the rapid rehousing at the Roadway. I forgot what it was like to have a door to lock… a hotel room was like ahhh! I remember I took like 3 showers that night just to feel the water you know.”

But this was just the first step in the housing journey. “In August of 2021 I remember when my case manager called me and told me Liz, are you sitting down, and I go yeah? She goes, you’ve been approved for your Section 8 voucher, and I was so incredibly excited. But we still had to find an apartment that would accept me. Still, during all this time, who’s bringing me meals at the hotel room every week, and going to each room with to stop by and talk and say can we pray with you…The Salvation Army. You feel like OK; they see me as a person and just that small bit was just huge to me,” Liz says.

Then came the call from Liz’s case manager, “She said, ‘Are you ready? I’m coming to pick you up. You’re getting house today…you’re getting your forever home today’ and I lost it. It’s still not real to me.” Liz backed up her entire world in 3 Rubbermaid totes and loaded them on The Salvation Army truck. Then, along with her cat, took the final step in her journey home.

“First off, I’ve never ever signed a lease. I walk into the door of this apartment. My case manager was like why are you crying and over a medicine cabinet? I said not only did I get a place to lock my stuff up, a place to put food in the refrigerator that will keep…that will keep! You know? A place to just sit there every morning and think to myself you made it from bathing in the river to walking in there taking a shower. You overcame so much where you could have given up on this journey. I had so many times that I don’t even know how I had the strength to keep going, but my case manager kept me going.”

But what was the end of her journey to housing was not the end of her story. “The craziest thing about it? Even after moving in, every week my case manager called the check on me, and she said ‘You gotta promise me you will not isolate and I’m your friend’. In my mind, I was always like is she my friend or is she my case manager and she’s said ‘I’m your friend’ and for her to say that meant the world to me.”

Now that she’s been in her apartment a while, she admits there have been difficulties, but “I can smile, smile, smile now. I’m loved, I have strength. I have friends. I’m alive…I’m so thankful to be alive. That’s all there is to it. I have a family. I have friends through the Salvation Army who now have given me my family, my blood family back, but The Salvation army was my family when I had nobody. No hope and nobody believing in me. Then right there at the top of the hill…that meal truck? It was perfect. It was just God timing.”

Misty Ratcliff, Development and Communications Manager, The Salvation Army – www.salvationarmynashville.org

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