Annette Dupre sounds happy on the phone. You can hear her smile, and feel the easy humor that comes through. This, despite having lived a lot more in 40-something years than most of us do in a lifetime.
Dupre, a licensed massage therapist in Georgia, is a NEW alum who had already grappled with homelessness when she first arrived at our doors at the end of 2009. In junior year of high school, she found herself homeless for a week, sleeping on park benches and showering in the school gym before anyone else came in until a friend’s parent found her and offered her safe shelter.
“School was an outlet and a focus to get to the next level,” Dupre says. But when she found herself evicted as an adult, it meant she knew she had what it took to survive being without shelter. When she found herself evicted in her 30s—with her pregnant daughter in tow—she drew on that focus again, “I’d done it before, I could do it again.”
Echoing what another NEW alum, Tecoy Bailey-Wade has said, Dupre says getting out of homelessness was a matter of choice, determination, and focus. “There are resources, but you can’t give up. It may seem dark, but you have to stay focused. You can’t get distracted.”
Which is not to say Dupre was at all okay with her situation when she came to NEW. Far from it. Dupre’s daughter had found shelter, but they had been separated in the process, and she was determined to finish class for her massage therapy certification. She wasn’t there to make friends. She was there to move on.
Says Dupre, “I came in angry, with my head down, didn’t want to talk to anyone.” However, the NEW experience is supportive and communal. “It caused me to open up and make friends,” she says.
Dupre developed friendships she maintains to this day, was encouraged to keep going to school, and benefited from the many resources NEW offers residents—mentorship, better budgeting, committed case managers who care enough to follow up so that giving up is not easy, and is in fact, a choice. Most crucially, NEW helps residents to develop structure that resembled life before homelessness. It gives residents a goal to strive for and a framework to achieve it.
A conversation with Dupre also provides another reality check. We are used to the stories of homelessness as a result of mental health issues or substance abuse. Certainly, there’s a very high incidence of both among homeless people in the US. But Dupre ended up on the streets for very different reasons that are harder to distance ourselves from—job losses, medical bills, robbing Peter to pay Paul until both catch up with the bank account, and finally, eviction. Furthermore, although there are resources, not all work for everyone. Dupre’s daughter found shelter in a program for young mothers and children. But that left Dupre out. And she was further stymied by the choices she was making to get out of homelessness: being in class until 10 p.m. several nights a week—an automatic disqualification from many shelters, where curfews are earlier and strictly observed.
Today, seven years after first coming to NEW, Dupre runs a thriving massage therapy practice, and sees her children and grandchildren as often as she can. Asked what she says when her homelessness comes up, she says, “I can help if the subject comes up. I know that there are resources. You have to find them though, and you can’t give up.”