Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Judy Hoff & Esther’s Place are helping to provide dignified support to thousands of battered women
A homeless and battered woman, in general, has to leave her heart to tolerate the abuse and mistreatment that began for her often in early childhood. History does repeat itself, and words do leave scars in the heart. A child sees, hears, and feels her value to life itself, and consequently, she believes and is programmed with that experience, whether it’s good or bad.
As a part of my series about “Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis” I had the pleasure of interviewing Judy Hoff. Judy is the founder of Life Changing Community Services located near Seattle, Washington. Judy’s community programs include Queen’s It’s a New Day, a special event for homeless women transitioning to self-sufficiency, Esther’s Place, a day center for homeless women and children, New Creation Housing, clean and sober housing for women, and Pastor of New Creation Church. Her background includes pastor, speaker, published author, chemical dependency counselor and biblical counselor. She has lifted thousands of battered women out of devastation and into empowerment and self-sufficiency.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to ‘get to know you’ a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your personal background, and how you grew up?
I grew up in a middle-class home with a homeless heart. Low self-esteem, no confidence, and inferiority to others lead me into a lifestyle of addictions. Out of addiction, I called out for help and God answered my cry. That was the beginning of a new lifestyle of loving myself and realizing I had a purpose. I have been serving in that purpose ever since as a chemical dependency counselor, pastor, author, volunteer and friend.
Is there a particular story or incident that inspired you to get involved in your work helping people who are homeless?
A true story comes to my mind about a homeless woman who I so desperately wanted to get into an apartment. With the help of others, we got furniture for the apartment: a bed and dresser for the bedroom, and a kitchen table. We bought towels, sheets, a vacuum, broom, and literally, all the items it takes to make a house a home. We were so excited and pleased with how all of us worked together for the good of this person. We had dinner for her the first night she was in her new apartment, and we rejoiced on her behalf. She seemed pleased but quiet. We checked in a few days later and noticed no food had been cooked, and the bed was without the sheets, pillow and blankets we had provided. We asked, “How are you sleeping here?” She said, “Good!” Then, we saw all the blankets in a nest on the floor. Little did we know that the nest was a pattern of comfort for her, and later, we learned the bed meant bad things to her because of her past experiences. We left dismayed, but we kept a close watch on our homeless, now placed in a home, friend. The next few days, we took turns stopping by. We thought a kitten might help her feel more love, so we got one and all the fun toys, food, etc. She liked it, she said. We stopped by once again with excitement to see her and her kitten. When we arrived, we noticed bottles of beer and wine, and the house looked torn-up. There was no kitten in sight. We were afraid to ask what had happened. We waited to hear but she said nothing about the kitten. The blankets were on the floor still, the bed was unmade with nothing on it, and she was drunk, crying, and very upset. Never in a million years would we have guessed that our loving intentions drove her to such high stress that she went back to drinking after being sober for over a year. We didn’t know the kitten’s needs were more than she could handle, so she had put the kitten outside, walked to the store, and returned to the homeless-heart pattern to find the comfort that was so familiar. The bed was a reminder of a childhood of sexual abuse and the home drove her to drink. You see, first things first! We learned that you have to heal the homeless heart, the brokenness from within, before a home is a place where the heart can dwell.
Homelessness has been a problem for a long time in the United States. But it seems that it has gotten a lot worse over the past five years, particularly in the large cities, such as Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, and San Francisco. Can you explain to our readers what brought us to this place? Where did this crisis come from?
In my opinion, homelessness is much more than a lack of shelter. Does homeless begin in the mind, or is it from being in an environment that results in loss of security? What came first, the chicken or the egg? The answer is both. For some, homelessness began in childhood and history repeated itself. For others, it resulted from poor choices that led to addiction and/or abuse, jail, street life, and a shelter. This cycle is common for most homeless people. The definition of “homelessness” is not solely about a physical home but also having an adequate experience of connectedness with family and/or community. Habitat, the United Nations Human Settlements Program says, “Homelessness is about a lack of connectedness. Belonging somewhere is about belonging with other people, such as family or local community.
For the benefit of our readers, can you describe the typical progression of how one starts as a healthy young person with a place to live, a job, an education, a family support system, a social support system, a community support system, to an individual who is sleeping on the ground at night? How does that progression occur?
Truly, homelessness begins in the heart. I refer to it as the homeless vacant heart with a hole because when life overwhelms us, we are left with our hearts empty and homeless. No matter what it looks like on the outside, on the inside it starts with a void of love and acceptance, and the lack of connectedness found when we are broken-hearted. Even the outwardly prosperous have places of void, holes in their hearts which then starts the downward cycle. The old saying “Home is where the heart is” states our home is first inside us. A homeless and battered woman, in general, has to leave her heart to tolerate the abuse and mistreatment that began for her often in early childhood. History does repeat itself, and words do leave scars in the heart. A child sees, hears, and feels her value to life itself, and consequently, she believes and is programmed with that experience, whether it’s good or bad.
A question that many people who are not familiar with the intricacies of this problem ask is, “Why don’t homeless people just move to a city that has cheaper housing?” How do you answer this question?
Homeless doesn’t begin with a house. It’s the inside out.
If someone passes a homeless person on the street, what is the best way to help them?
Just look at them. Acknowledge them as a person and give them resources to the nearest day center, mission or food services in the local area.
What is the best way to respond if a homeless person asks for money for rent or gas?
Buy a burger and sit with them while they eat.
Can you describe to our readers how your work is making an impact battling this crisis?
In Snohomish County, Washington, we work with the Sherriff’s Program to provide housing to women who have completed drug/alcohol rehabilitation. Once in housing we will help these women with counseling, resources to obtain GED, college, jobs and the support to reestablish family ties by helping them fill the hole in their heart with loving community. At Esther’s Place volunteers talk with homeless women letting them know they are valued, meet their physical needs, and give them the opportunity for recovery. Helping one person at a time changes generations and will reestablish a healthy community.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected the homeless crisis, and the homeless community? Also how has it affected your ability to help people?
Our landlord has closed the building; therefore the women cannot come into Esther’s Place and connect with others which meets their heart’s needs. The result is the ladies are really depressed and experiencing feelings of hopelessness. The best we can give them at this time is a sack lunch once a day during the week. The ladies in our community homes have lost the ability to pay rent and provide for themselves some basic needs. We are reaching out to the community to help us help them with funds for rent, Covid safety supplies, and basic needs.
Can you share something about your work that makes you most proud? Is there a particular story or incident that you found most uplifting?
Seeing the value of helping a woman give a hand up and finding herself, her good qualities, her college, her kids, and who she in Christ. When you are helping one person, you are not just helping one-you don’t know the generational effect on other’s people’s lives. Full circle of changed lives.
Without sharing real names, can you share a story with our readers about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your work?
A true story as written by a homeless woman we will call Esther.
Raised the middle child of an upper middle-class family, married at 20 and was a mother nine months later. I was introduced to cocaine and speed and divorced within 7 years. The next part of my life, I moved to Washington, had a good job for 11 years, a new child, and remarried. Once again, I started with crack and heroin and ended up jobless, divorced and homeless. These drugs would run my life for years. I found out about Esther’s Place and I was grateful to go every morning to get coffee and to sleep with both eyes shut. Through the ladies I found resources for housing, but would need to get clean and sober. This took me four times to treatment, each time I was welcomed at Esther’s. They showed me love and unending compassion until I loved myself. Finally, I was clean and got a home at New Creation Communities. I have been 20 months clean and sober. I am a loved child of God full of compassion and kindness. No longer allowing others to control my life, I am creating a new me with the guidance of my Savior. I am living in a faith-filled home with the presence of God. I have complete trust in Judy and feel trusted and loved.
Can you share three things that the community and society can do to help you address the root of this crisis? Can you give some examples?
1) Engaging in relationships, volunteer to speak with a homeless person and see them through eyes of possibility.
2) Help provide major resource for the people we serve such as a change of clothes, mental health care, showers, medical/dental care.
3) Support strengthening the family, volunteer at local churches, schools, YMCA, and Boys and Girls clubs are examples to make a positive difference in someone’s life just by showing up and helping out with kindness.
If you had the power to influence legislation, which three laws would you like to see introduced that might help you in your work?
You can’t legislate a solution, it takes personal communication and relationship. You need to give of yourself, that’s not a law, that’s community values.
I know that this is not easy work. What keeps you going?
The lives of the people we serve are valuable.
Do you have hope that one day this great social challenge can be solved completely?
Over the many years of helping and serving with love, I have seen lives healed, restored, and filled with hope; hope for a better way, a better life, dreams remembered, and lives fulfilled. As children, we dream, but when life gets too hard, our dreams hibernate. They don’t die. Hope opens the doors to the sleeping dreams, and like a butterfly breaking out of a cocoon, life begins. Yes, one day and one step at a time, a new creation is birthed.
How can our readers follow you online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much!
Heroes Of The Homeless Crisis: How Judy Hoff & Esther’s Place are helping to provide dignified… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.