The walls of Laura’s apartment at Florence House are decorated with handmade posters adorned with words of inspiration:
“Embrace the day”
“Give without expecting”
“Some things are worth the wait”
Looking at them, she smiles and shakes her head as she remembers the journey that brought her here. “It’s amazing how much I’ve grown compared to the girl who showed up here with just a backpack,” she says. “What a train wreck I was.”
Laura dropped out of high school and had her first child when she was just a teenager. She developed chronic alcoholism, which resulted in a failed marriage, bankruptcy, and a string of abusive relationships. For four years, she was homeless and living on the streets of Portland.
“I’ve stayed in the shelter, I’ve slept in tents, I’ve slept outside, I’ve couch-surfed — I even built my own little makeshift shack,” she says. “You name it, I’ve done it.”
In 2015, Laura was placed into an efficiency apartment at Florence House, a Housing First property in Portland owned and managed by Avesta Housing in partnership with Preble Street. For the first time in a long time, she had a secure, safe place to live and a warm, dry bed to sleep in every night.
“For the first six months, I thought someone was going to knock on my door, take my keys away, and say, ‘We were joking and changed our minds,’” she says. “It was hard to accept that it was real.”
Laura still has some work to do on herself. She knows this, and she readily admits it. She still battles her alcohol addiction. Her dreams haunt her.
But she’s now 30 days sober and is eager to be connected to counseling services by Florence House staff. She has remained close to her ex-husband and their three children, and her mother and sister visit her weekly to take her shopping. She is hopeful that someday soon she can move out of Florence House and into a one-bedroom apartment.
“Honestly, I don’t think I’d be alive if I didn’t get into Florence House,” she says. “I had at least a 90% chance of not making it — of just becoming another statistic.”
When she needs encouragement, Laura looks at her posters, each of which she has painstakingly created by cutting out bits and pieces from magazines and placed around her apartment so that no matter where she looks, she can draw strength from their words:
“Small changes, big impact”
“Feel it in your heart”