After nearly 17 years of struggling with homelessness, ShelterCare resident Matthew Smith and his family are excited to celebrate the holidays in their own home this year.
“We aren’t going anywhere anytime soon,” said Matthew. “We are finally home and here to stay.”
Matthew and his wife, Charity, first became homeless in 2000 after Matthew was fired for being late to work. At the time, they were living in an apartment in Tigard, Oregon with their 7-year-old son, Christian, and their newborn son, Mattias.
“I was working 14 hours a day, 7 days a week,” Matthew said. “One day I decided to sleep in, and everything changed.”
Throughout the next 16 years, Matthew and his family encountered more evictions, were homeless five different times, and stayed in numerous shelters from Washington to Oregon. During that time, their family also continued to grow. Their daughter, Petra, was born in 2002 and their youngest son, Zelig, was born in 2006.
Matthew, who has been drug-free for seven years, admits that his battle with addiction played a big role in the family’s longtime experience with homelessness.
Through their struggles, Matthew and Charity said they’ve learned that positivity, gratitude, and teamwork go a long way. These are also values they’ve taught their children, who they refer to as the “greatest kids on earth.”
Nearly two years ago, the family packed their bags and moved from Vancouver to Eugene for a fresh start. After living at the Eugene Mission for a while, the couple lived in their car with their youngest son, Zelig (11), while their teenaged children, Petra (15) and Mattias (17), stayed at Looking Glass’ Station 7 center for homeless youth.
Despite being separated at night, Matthew and Charity made sure their family kept normal sleeping, eating, entertainment, and school schedules. When Zelig, Petra and Mattias weren’t at school, the family spent time at First Place Family Center where they were able to shower, cook meals in the kitchen, do homework, and meet other families.
“We learned very quickly how fortunate we were compared to other homeless families,” said Charity. “Keeping that in mind helped us be more appreciative for what we had.”
While the family was connected to many great resources throughout their first year in Eugene, the stress from homelessness started taking its toll on Matthew’s physical health, and he began experiencing numerous seizures a day.
Following a seizure that Matthew had at First Place Family Center, the family was referred by the center to ShelterCare’s Housing, Health & Wellness (HHW) program in November 2016, which provides emergency shelter for families with children, and transitional housing for adults with psychiatric or medical conditions.
“He was having at least five seizures a day, and once we got into HHW, we were able to focus on finding out exactly what he needed to stop the seizures,” said Charity.
While the family temporarily stayed at HHW, they were encouraged to apply for ShelterCare’s new housing project, which helps chronically homeless families and individuals with a disability locate and acquire housing, get rid of debts to landlords, pay deposits for utility companies, application fees, and more.
After several months at HHW, and finding the best treatment for Matthew’s seizures, the family got a call from ShelterCare telling them they had been approved for the new housing project.
In June 2017, the family of five moved into their new three-bedroom home, and have enjoyed everything about it so far; including its spacious kitchen, which Charity calls “the best room in the house.”
“Every time I visit them they are cooking up a storm,” said the family’s case manager, Randall Apker, who visits them once a week.
“We are so appreciative of everything ShelterCare has done for us, but what we appreciate most is that ShelterCare isn’t interested in judging us like some other places have,” said Charity. “They understand that homelessness comes with mistakes and faults, and they work to help people fix them rather than dwell on them.”
This will be the first time in years that the family will be spending Thanksgiving in a place of their own. They will be celebrating the holiday by cooking and eating “a lot of good food” thanks to a large food box donated from South Eugene High School.