Voices of HOPE: How Barbara rose ‘like a phoenix’ after a history of abuse and homelessness
TW: This story contains references to domestic violence and sexual assault. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800–799–7233.
After agreeing to share her story, former HOPE Atlanta client Barbara showed up to her interview looking radiant in a brightly-colored dress, jewelry, and a huge grin.
“I feel pretty,” she told us.
At 59, Barbara had found a path out of homelessness and to safety with help from HOPE Atlanta. Now that we’ve learned her whole story — a survival story as well as a success story — her image is among the first that comes to mind when we think about what it means to have HOPE.
Barbara, who turns 60 next month, has been through the unimaginable: the “messy valley,” in her words. Her troubles started during her first marriage, where she endured physical and sexual assault.
“That’s where the domestic violence started,” she recalled. “But I stayed with him for 12 years.”
When Barbara found out she was carrying her abusive husband’s child, she considered abortion. In that moment, Barbara remembers the words of her beloved mother — whom Barbara calls her “savior.”
“My mama said, ‘Not my grandbaby.’ So, I had her first grandbaby,” Barbara said.
Barbara ultimately escaped her first husband’s abuse and had a second son with a new partner. That relationship also turned violent.
“I met another crazy man, and he was worse than the first one,” she said. “He broke my foot one day.”
After she was able to seek medical care for her broken foot, she was hesitant to return home to him. With nowhere else to go, she spent the night at the airport — her first experience with homelessness. When she finally went home, she was met with even more rage.
“He beat me with my crutches and almost killed me,” she recalled. “He knocked me out, and all I can say is, in the name of Jesus, I’m still here.”
Like many domestic abuse victims, Barbara felt trapped. But she never gave up.
“Every day, I got up. I kept rising up,” she said. “I’m better than this. They tried to prey on my self-esteem, but I got up. We don’t deserve to be down there.”
Amid the chaos, Barbara’s ailing mother had been helping her care for her two boys. Then, tragically, her mother passed.
“I had to let my kids go to foster care for a minute,” Barbara said. “But they love me to this day.”
Once Barbara escaped the clutches of domestic violence, she had to confront a new set of challenges. Without a home or her mother as a support system, she found herself in a cycle of homelessness, struggling to meet basic needs.
“I’ve been hungry,” she recounted. “I’ve been on the streets. But, it’s like they say, you’ve got to get up. I might be homeless, but I’m not going to look like it. I’m not going to lie there and say this is where I’m supposed to stay. Every day, I got up.”
Desperate to travel to reunite with her children, but with no means, she turned to HOPE Atlanta for help. Her first case manager helped her get approved for Social Security.
“I got my money, and then I went to Tennessee to find my babies,” she said. “That was a blessing for me. I got my apartment and stayed there for about a year.”
When she returned to Atlanta, she secured another apartment. But the complex was in a rough neighborhood and had fallen into disrepair. Barbara made a goal for herself to improve her living conditions and began saving up money. HOPE Atlanta’s HOPWA program — which assists people living with HIV/AIDS — provided the extra help she needed to get to a better place.
“We moved her into an elderly community that provides [rental] subsidies like we do,” said Kiara Davis, Barabara’s former case manager. “We assisted her with her deposit so that she could save her social security check.”
Besides covering Barbara’s security deposit, HOPE Atlanta provided a move-in kit and connected her with a resource to furnish her apartment. Today, she is stably housed and thoroughly enjoying her new lease on life. One day, she hopes to own her own home.
“I’m like a phoenix,” Barbara told us. “I rose up out of the ashes.”
Best of all? Barbara can now enjoy more time with her grown sons and three young granddaughters.
“She told me she is now able to have her grandchildren and children visit because she feels safe having them over there,” said Kiara.
What would Barbara tell others with similar hardships?
“Mama always told me, ‘You’ve got to love yourself before you love someone else.’ There’s help out there, but you have to go get it.”
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