Before I begin my story I feel I should tell you...

The shelter staff helped me find a maternity home for young unwed mothers, somewhere I needed to be.

Before I begin my story, I feel I should tell you some pertinent information about myself and my family. My name is Jenn and I'm 29 yrs old. I am a single mother of 3 wonderful little boys. They have brightened my life and changed me in so many ways.

I guess I'll start at the beginning. The first time I ended up in the shelter I was 17yrs old. I'm not proud of who I was or what I was doing at that point in my life. But Rotholme (a family shelter in London) was a stepping-stone to putting me on the right track. My first stay at a shelter was court ordered. I was living on the street and desperation led me to break the law. Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to make excuses for what I did; I know it was wrong and I could have handled the situation a lot better. But my teenage thinking process didn't see any other way out. The judge sent me to the shelter and I was both terrified and relieved at the same time. That was in August of 1995.

Between August 1995 and January 1997 I stayed at the shelter many, many times. My life continued on pretty much the same way before the court order put me in the shelter. During this time I basically considered the shelter a "flop-house", somewhere I could sleep, eat and shower if I had nowhere else to go. Then, in March 1997, just shy of my 19th birthday, I discovered I was pregnant.

The man who helped me create my oldest son was verbally and emotionally abusive towards me. He did not approve of me being pregnant and told me to either get an abortion or get out. I chose to leave, abortion was just not an option and neither was living with a cruel, hurtful man. I once again ended up in the shelter.

This stay was what began to change me and my life. The shelter staff helped me find a maternity home for young unwed mothers, somewhere I needed to be. I did not return to the shelter again until July 1998, when my son was 8 months old.

I lived in a small 2-bedroom apartment that truly was a dive. My main window was metal bars and plastic (the kind you use to cover glass windows in the winter) and the landlord would not replace it. The hot water tap in the bathtub ran continually which made it really hard to bathe my 8 son, I was terrified he would get burnt. The final straw was one night I came home from a family dinner to find a bat flying around my apartment. I called the shelter and moved in yet again, this time to the family side.

I moved out in September 1998 and discovered shortly after that I was pregnant with my second son. I lived in the place I was renting until April of 1999, when I was evicted. I was behind in my rent and they did not want to give me a chance to make it up, fearing I would get further behind. So I moved in with my boyfriend and his grandfather. It did not work out and I was forced to go back to the shelter in June 1999, this time with a toddler and a small baby. I remained in the shelter until September 1999.

This time I remained out of shelter until August 2005. At this time I was no longer living in the same city as I had before but I had decided it was time to come home. It was all set-up, I was to rent a friend's basement until I could find something bigger and more suitable for a woman with 3 boys who were ages 7, 6 and 3. Then 3 hours before I was due to get on the train to move back, my friend called and told me she and her husband had changed their mind. All my belongings were in storage; my notice had been given to the place I had lived. In tears, I called the shelter asking to come back. They easily told me no problem. I got on the train and made my way back. I remained in shelter until September when we moved into our own place. We stayed there until August 2006, when I had to return to shelter.

The apartment I was renting developed a pretty big leak that came from the wall between my living room and kitchen. It ended up leaking onto my carpet in the living room. For 2 weeks, I called and wrote the landlord, asking him to repair the problem but nothing was done. My house began to fill up with flies and fruit flies. There was a rim of mold along the outside of the "pond" in my living room, and the smell was horrible. It became a health hazard, and I feared for my children. I called the shelter, put my belongings into storage, and moved into shelter again. I remained there until September.

And that brings me to today. I have been out of the shelter for 13 months, and hope to remain that way. I'm not saying the shelter was a bad place to be, because it wasn't. The staff - on the whole - were wonderful, caring people. I have made some wonderful friendships over the years and learned some important lessons. I am truly grateful that the shelter was there when I truly needed a place to go. And I am happy to know that it will continue to help many more families in the years to come.

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