Eastside Christian Church’s Local Compassion team met with Anaheim native, Shanelle, to learn first-hand about her life; one that has been marked with different waves of obstacles and perseverance.
Growing up between the counties of Orange and Riverside, she was taken away from her biological mother at a young age, due to a drug test with positive results for Marijuana. As a young adult she lived with her boyfriend until deciding to take her leave, an act her partner was not in agreeance with. He resorted to stalking her for a couple years after the fact, at one point causing Shanelle to flee on foot from his presence, finding her only escape to be a truck filling up at a gas station with the keys in the ignition.
Caught after a high speed chase in the truck that she had taken out of desperation, Shanelle began to experience rounds of custody and the probation periods that followed. She became homeless, living at the Anaheim Riverbed for what would be a total of four years. As she grew accustomed to this new habitat, she was introduced to a life of using drugs, and one void of “responsibility or drive.” She explained, “I knew that if I wanted something I could get it, but what do you do when you don’t want anything?”
The Riverbed, a community composed of individuals and families experiencing homelessness, was where she met her new partner, a man who had struggled with Autism all his life and, due to the grief of losing his mother to cancer, had resorted to a life marked by drug addiction. The couple were soon expecting their first child together, and it was her pregnancy that gave Shanelle the push to stay clean of drugs, though she wrestled to do so.
Shanelle checked into probation for the first time, taking her partner with her as he began to withdraw in the office. She begged her probation officer to give the couple a chance to make a stable life for the sake of their child. The officer took a chance on them indeed, and the small family moved into a sober living facility.
Not long after moving in, however, Shanelle’s partner began to struggle once again with the Autism he had endured without assistance all his life, and the couple together ceased to obey the rules. The facility forced them to take their leave and back to the Riverbed they went, where Shanelle endured two days of childbirth labor and gave life to their daughter before being transported to the nearest hospital.
Child Protective Services then opened up a case on the family, looking to gage whether or not the newborn’s parents could do well in caretaking for her. Shanelle fought tooth and nail to receive full parental rights, and while she was victorious in getting custody of her baby girl, her boyfriend was not as lucky. With a warrant out for his arrest, it was illegal for him to be with his daughter alone, or for the family of three to live together.
As her daughter goes on one year of age, Shanelle, now living in stable housing, receives government assistance and focuses on raising her daughter. Her heart is for the wellness of her sweet little girl and for the boyfriend she loves who continues to struggle with the mental illness he cannot control. Her desire is for them to be a family, and though it be an overwhelming journey, she longs to see the three of them together again.
She divulges that her struggle to stay clean is very much so that, a struggle, as she recounts that “relapse is a part of recovery, the temptation to use is always there.” But despite the temptation, she remains strong for her family and the hope of their official reunion.
We asked Shanelle what the church could do to help as other continue to slip through the cracks of our society, to which she replied, “kindness”. Shanelle said sadly, “Just kindness. So many homeless are treated like dirt. People in their everyday life forget the positive effect they can have on the people around them.”
This simple truth is what Shanelle and her boyfriend experienced while on living in the Riverbed. “If it weren’t for the churches that visited the Riverbed and their obedience and consistency, familiarizing themselves with the families and the needs...? It’s just so good. So needed. People are discouraged right now.”
Shanelle’s words ring true, and perhaps her act of bravery in creating a better life for her family step by step, can be an encouragement to us as a community to take steps forward with the same bravery. If we subscribe to consistency, like the individuals and organizations that have made it a priority to build relationships with those living in places like the Riverbed, our society could be, just maybe, on the brink of real, profound change.