The cost of healthcare can cripple a family. Even when wise health decisions are made, exercise is frequent and diet is healthy, the “unforeseen” can blow a hole into anyone's reality.
For our neighbor Shawn, the “unforeseen” was a large piece of furniture, which took 3 years out of her life. “I was hauling a big bookcase, like the ones in a lawyer's office, with 3 other men. One of the guys dropped his corner, and I tried to compensate for it. It felt like I had pulled a muscle, so I thought, ‘It’s Friday….Whatever, I’ll just grab some Tylenol,’ and I went home.” That pulled muscle turned out to be a crushed disk in her neck and a pinched nerve. She lost all feeling in her right hand and arm. It was fixable, but she would be out of work for months.
Shawn was working for an antique restoration shop, a small company with only a handful of employees. She was told that because she did not fill out an accident report form the day of the accident, the accident didn’t happen within work hours, and they were not obliged to help cover the cost. None of her colleagues were willing to risk their jobs to vouch for her, so she took her employer to court, so she could keep paying the bills.
Months later, after enduring torrents of verbal abuse from her ex-employer, the judge ruled in favor of Shawn. The whole situation left a bad taste in Shawn’s mouth: She had been ostracized by other employers in the area and couldn't find work. But she had to keep paying the bills. So Shawn and her young daughter moved to Muskegon for better opportunities.
To make the situation worse another “unforeseen” hit. After Shawn’s first surgery the doctor told her that they had found evidence of a degenerative bone condition in her spine. The condition is hereditary: her brothers, mother, and grandpa all have it. Her vertebrae are compacting down, literally crumbling away. The discovery led too two more surgeries fixing some of her vertebrae, but ultimately there is no cure. She can have other surgeries, but the main deterrent is physiotherapy, exercise, and pain management for the rest of her life. That's not cheap especially when there's no money coming in, so Shawn signed up for Medicaid.
Unable to find work, with worker’s comp running out and bills piling up, Shawn finally had to claim disability benefits. They pointed her in the direction of a local veterans housing facility. Shawn had served in the 126th Army Band of the Michigan National Guard as an oboe player. This qualified her for free, non-permanent, dorm room apartments. It was better than nothing, but after the allotted time, Shawn and her 11-year-old daughter were out on the street. With no place to go and no money for rent, they ended up in the Muskegon Rescue Mission.
“It was really bad for us,” Shawn recalls. Shawn was breaking the rules, smuggling food in for her daughter who would cry herself to sleep at night due to hunger. “At some point I just realized, ‘‘I need to get out of here!’ My daughter was losing tons of weight, she was being really quiet and was intimidated by the other women there.”
It was around this time that Shawn came across Community enCompass. Shawn was told that Community enCompass had resources to support female veterans with families, two years later Shawn shares a two-bedroom bungalow with her daughter with rent assistence from Community enCompass. Shawn found work with Pioneer Resources, providing care for people with physical and mental disabilities. Shawn enjoys her work, the physicality of it keeps her active, which helps with her spinal condition, and the work is flexible. She works part-time so she can continue attending her physical therapy sessions.
Between Shawn's initial accident and her finding her job with Pioneer Resources, Shawn was unemployed for three and a half years. As she looks back over the years of struggle, she is thankful. “It is definitely a blessing: my church, my family, and Community enCompass. I don't know where we would be without them. They are a strong part of what has gotten us this far.”
“Unforeseen” things can push anyone over the edge into poverty, vulnerable housing, or even homelessness. Accidents, medical conditions, the insensitivity of others, can all pile up on top of each other until everything breaks down, and health is a significant player. At Community enCompass, we encounter neighbors whose realities have been swallowed by their struggles to survive. We make it our business to walk alongside neighbors so that they are able to do more than survive. Shawn and her daughter have incredible gifts to share with society, and she is in a place now where she can offer them up. We are so proud to call Shawn neighbor, and look forward to seeing how her gifts add value to our community!