An air of determination and grit surrounds this single mother of four grown children and soon to be a grandmother of three. Juanita Dixon easily breaks into a smile and her eyes sparkle as she holds up an application form for the government Tenant Based Rental Assistance program that she just picked up from Torres Shelter. She hopes soon to realize her dream of living in her own apartment.
Juanita came from a family of seven children, but was adopted by parents in Richmond who kept her safe from drugs. By twenty-one she was the mother of a small infant and living with her father when a friend of a friend introduced her to crack cocaine. Five years later addicted and now the mother of a son and a daughter, she was living on her own in an apartment when funds ran out. Juanita then moved to a shelter in Berkeley. It was at this time that she met the father of her next two daughters and went to live with him in a drug-infested life-style in East Oakland. This lasted until her children were removed from their home.
Now, her pattern of life involved drug rehabilitation programs, getting her children back and then relapsing. By 1999 she and her family were living in Oroville, but again in an environment that made addiction easy. In 2006 Juanita got into trouble with the law because she failed to show up in court when summoned on charges of possession of drugs. The court finally gave her 90 days in prison after which she was given an ultimatum: she could either return to the house of the father of her children or return to prison to serve out her sentence. Juanita’s choice was to return to prison though this meant leaving her children without a mother. It was one of the hardest things she had to do.
Prison was a “wake-up experience.” It was a place where she came to realize that “This was not the life for me. . . It is a life with no choices.” The Walden House in Chino, a rehab program in Corona, the El Dorado House for substance abuse in Stockton and finally the Promise House in Sacramento were places that Juanita successfully completed programs that helped her stop substance abuse and prepare her through job-training classes for the working world.
Juanita was released from prison in Sacramento in 2008. She immediately found a variety of part-time jobs, from Touch of Mink demonstrating skin care products at fairs, housekeeping at a downtown Sacramento hotel, and $10.70 an hour work with In Home Support Service. Eventually Juanita had a client who lived in her apartment complex and gave her steady employment for three years. She cooked her meals, shopped, housecleaned, and attended to her personal hygiene. When her client died, Juanita not only felt the loss of a friend, but also of a steady income. Her finances took a down turn as she tried to piece a living wage from part-time work. It was in May 2014 that her daughter asked her to go on a trip to Chico. Her daughter moved on to Fresno, but Juanita decided to stay and search the job market.
All that was needed was a place to stay. This is where the Torres Shelter came to the rescue offering her six months of rent-free housing in a drug free environment as well as advice in job hunting. She “hit the ground running.” She sought employment help from the Welfare Office where she took Employment Service classes in job services and training, and she posted her resumé on Craig’s List. Despite all this effort her first temporary job in June came about when she went from vendor to vendor at the fair grounds until she was hired to sell funnel cakes. This success was followed by work at $9 an hour for In Home Support Service. But this was uneven employment with clients for whom she worked maybe three hours a day once a week to those in need of longer hours such as eight hours a day for three days a week.
By September the Torres Shelter helped her get into transitional housing at the House of Hope, a “lovely” large house where at present six women have their own room, cook for themselves, and share a large living room as well as from time to time community meals. These women are her friends and they are, like herself, members of the nondenominational Orchard Church.
The final piece of good fortune for Juanita came in December, using a computer in her search for jobs, she was directed to apply for work in housekeeping at Enloe Hospital – a job with regular hours and benefits. When she was paroled in 2009, her felony charges were reduced to a misdemeanor because of the progress she had made in rehabilitation. It was then that she vowed she would never return to the drug environment that was her home for so many years and when she arrived in Chico she knew it was time to seek help from the Torres Shelter.
Juanita is close to her children and siblings and is in contact with them through the Internet, but she looks forward to a time when she can visit them as well as her eighty-three year-old, biological mother who lives in Chicago. (Her adopted parents are deceased.) Her gratitude to the Torres Shelter easily flows out of her: “Where can you go and stay for six months free and get yourself together? – That’s half a year!”