Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of reports called “Stories from the Streets.” Tune to KSL NewsRadio at 102.7 FM and 1160 AM, or stream at staging.kslnewsradio.com, for more reporting on the topic.
SALT LAKE CITY — How did a middle-class mom wind up living at a homeless shelter? For many families, that transition is just a couple of difficult months away from reality.
Melissa Lucero lived a middle-class life. She was married, working as a hairdresser, and had two children, while her husband was working as a boilermaker.
Then a few years ago, his workflow started to slow down.
“They quit running so many coal power plants, and his work just went down the tube,” Lucero said.
The couple did everything they could to stay off the street.
“We ran through all his pension because that’s the last thing we [had],” Lucero said.
But the Luceros ended up homeless and staying at the Road Home’s Midvale Family Center after family members refused to take them in, possibly worried that they would overstay their welcome.
From the middle class to the homeless shelter
Melissa Lucero said the move was tough on her children. A homeless shelter, she said, is not the best place to raise children.
“My kids [have] seen fights. Ruthless fights, being woke up in the middle of the night to two dudes fighting next to them, slamming each other into their beds… and not knowing if the guy next to you is a sexual predator unless you look it up — if they’re even registered,” Lucero said.
She also refused to potty train her daughter at the facility because she witnessed people were doing drugs in the bathroom.
Lucero recalled feelings of shame for, as she says, subjecting her children to this environment. The label of “homeless” felt like a Scarlet Letter.
Dealing with homeless stigma
One day, she had to take her daughter to the hospital for an ear issue.
“She had a rash from using detergent that she was allergic to on her legs,” Lucero said.
Then she revealed to the doctors that they lived in the shelter.
“They were fine with her, touching her. All of a sudden, they put on hazmat suits,” Lucero remembered.
Back on her feet
Lucero and her husband separated, but she said he is still involved in his children’s lives.
The Road Home eventually helped the former middle class mom transition from being homeless to finding a suitable apartment in Salt Lake City.
It’s near some train tracks, and her son sometimes has to avoid some characters around the building on his way to school. But she is grateful to have an apartment that is not roach-infested or in the slums.
She would also like people to look at homeless folks differently and, hopefully, advocate for them in the future.
“Don’t look at people just because they’re homeless as bad people. They’re not just bums and drug addicts. I have made some of the best friends I’ve ever made [in the shelter],” Lucero says.
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