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Formerly Homeless, This Redding Woman Has a Degree and A Good Job Thanks to Two Programs

Published August 7, 2019
  • Success Stories
  • Unsheltered Adult Program
  • Affordable Housing
Jenefer Meme

Jenefer Hunt took it in stride when her graduation ceremony at Shasta College was pounded by a historic squall of rain and hail. It was a fitting bookend to the personal storm she faced when she began her studies.

Jenefer, 55, had been living in her car for several months at the beginning of the 2018 fall semester. She had previously been a long-time In-Home Support Services worker and was living with her mother. When her mother and five clients passed away within a short time period, she was suddenly homeless.

Today, through tenacity, patience and the help of HHSA and Shasta College’s STEP-UP program, Jenefer is renting a nice home and has completed her college degree.  In addition, she was recently hired by Waste Management, her first “real” job after nearly two decades of struggling to find work due to her criminal record.

“I’ve never been in a position like that, and I hated to impose on friends and family,” Jenefer said about her experience with homelessness. “But so many people have helped me along the way.”

How the Community Helped Jenefer

The longer she was homeless, the more her anxiety began to mushroom, Jenefer says. One day, her physician at Shasta Community Health Center noticed she was stressed and disheveled, and made some referrals that eventually led to her connecting with HHSA’s Unsheltered Adult Assistance Program.

Jenefer is not alone. About 60 percent of Shasta County renters are unable to find affordable housing, leaving many a few missed paychecks away from homelessness.

JenandZachShe then met HHSA Assistant Social Worker Zach Kamla, who helped her find a new home where she’s lived for nine months in June 2019. She received rental assistance from HHSA so she could continue to focus on school and put herself in a good position for higher wages.

“Once you have a roof over your head, then you can move to the next step like going to school or finding a job,” she said. “I didn’t have to worry where I would take a shower or if someone was going to hurt me. It alleviated so much stress.”

This spring, Jenefer finished her Associate degree in industrial technology and a certification as a heavy equipment operator. She decided to go back to school because she felt she would be given a fair chance to find work in construction regardless of her criminal record.

“Her confidence level has quadrupled in the time I’ve worked with her,” Zach said. “Once you get someone stable with a good place to live, a lot of their others problems dissipate. They will be successful."

Jenwithdegrees

Criminal Records: A Difficult Barrier

Jenefer’s search for a new home was often disheartening because of her record, the same barrier that made it difficult for her to find employment.

It was especially frustrating for Jenefer because, after her prison stint, she completed two years of a 12- step program, counseling, earned a degree and did everything right for nearly two decades.

“Very few landlords will give you a chance when you have a record, even if you’ve been doing things right for 20 years,” Hunt said. “But Zach was always there to give me encouragement and moral support when I got down and discouraged.”

Shasta College's STEP-UP Program

She also received assistance at Shasta College through STEP-UP, an inter-agency program that supports eligible students with criminal records and helps them achieve their academic goals. STEP-UP helped Jenefer by paying for books, providing lunch cards and counseling.

Now she can drive an excavator, operate a backhoe and a loader and much more. Her dream job, she says, is be on the highway maintenance crew for Caltrans.

“This experience has taught me humility and that anything is possible if you keep doing the right thing and don’t give up,” Jenefer says 

Weeks after graduation, Jenefer received an unexpected tiding of even more good news. STEP-UP staff helped her complete an application to expunge her two 20-year-old drug-related felonies, and the District Attorney agreed to erase them from her record.

“For 20 years, I had to do my own jobs. Now, I’m so excited I have a good job at Waste Management, and I’ll never again have to check that box ,” she said.

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Contact Community Relations:

Amy Koslosky, Supervising Community Education Specialist, (530) 225-5970

Christopher Diamond, Media Liaison for Stand Against Stigma, In-Home Support Services, Adult Services and Mental Health, and alcohol and drug programs., (530) 229-8484

Jill Haskett, Media Liaison for CalWORKs, CalFresh, Medi-Cal,  Work Readiness, Women, Infant and Children (WIC) programs, Adult Protective Services, and other immediate need services, (530) 229-8413

Tim Mapes, Media Liaison for public health programs, Healthy Shasta, Emergency Preparedness, Foster parent programs and programs for children, (530) 245-6863

Jeri Butler, Senior Public Health Assistant, (530) 225-3689

Front Desk, (530) 245-6862

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