Give ’em shelter
Olliver Jean Jones and Jessica Hendrickson
St. John’s Shelter Program for Women and Children in south Sacramento supports women who are down on their luck, helping them go from a point of crisis to self-sufficiency. St. John’s, the only shelter in Sacramento County exclusively for women with children, has served almost 24,000 people since its start at St. John’s Lutheran Church in downtown Sacramento in 1985. The shelter relies heavily on donations and volunteers, and serves about 115 occupants at any given time, although capacity is 100. In late September, the shelter hosted its annual alumnae open house, where women who had been through the shelter could come back to visit old friends. SN&R spoke to two of these aftercare clients: first Olliver Jean Jones and then Jessica Hendrickson.
So people here call you “Grandma"?Well, my grandchildren were here and my daughter was here. I’m a Southern woman and I believe in order, so other moms would ask me to watch their kids, so they starting calling me “Mom” and the kids would call me “Grandma.” Now I have daughters and grandchildren all over the house.
When were you in the shelter?I was here five months ago.
How long were you here?I was here for five months.
You were born in the South?I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana.
What was it like growing up there?It was very interesting. It was really nice. You could see the stars and the trees and smell the grass and the cows.
Then you came out to California?I came out here to assist my daughter with my grandchildren. I’d come and stay for a few months and then go back. Last year, I came to stay.
How’s your daughter?My daughter’s doing great. I have five grandchildren and two kids of my own, Victoria and Victor.
What was it like living in the shelter?I love this place. This was my home away from home. To me, it was a blessing. I was able to see doctors and get eyeglasses and restore my driver’s license. I got a mail key. Let’s not forget that part. And I’m an evangelist, as well, so I had an opportunity to assist other women, and that’s the most important part: I care for the ladies and their children. I’m a spiritual-guidance person.
What were the hard times like that brought you here?What happened was I found myself homeless. There was a lack of income.
What are you doing now?I do customer relations [at the shelter]. My job allows me to assist all the staff with their jobs.
What are your plans for the future?My plan for the future is to continue to come back and be a blessing to St. John’s, and to be a mentor and minister to the ladies and children, and to support everyone here.
[Jones leaves to guide a tour. SN&R sits down with 40-year-old Jennifer Hendrickson.]
How long were you at the shelter?I was here for four months.
What was it like being here?When I first got there, I was escaping a domestic-violence relationship, and I was in a shelter before and I came from [Los Angeles], so it was really overwhelming for me for a couple days. I came in the middle of the night. I didn’t know anybody up here. They transferred me from a battered women’s shelter down there to up here.
Was it hard to break out of the domestic-violence situation?No, because I was so sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was hard, but I just needed to do it for my son, because I didn’t want him to grow up thinking it was OK to hit a woman.
What are you doing now?I work and I go to school. I’m taking gerontology and psychology classes. I want to be an advocate for the elderly, for that forgotten generation.
Do you come back to St. John’s often?I’m on the board of the aftercare program. I love coming to give back because I know what it’s like to start.
Are there some women who don’t make it?Yeah, just because they’re not ready. You have to be ready to turn your life around. Me, I was ready. I lived in a motel for two-and-a-half years, and I did whatever it took to stay in that motel. Anything I could think of, I did.