Shelly Shaw has been fighting for months — fighting to recover and rebuild. But most importantly she is fighting for her children.
After an accidental grease fire destroyed parts of her trailer, Shaw had to send her children to live with their fathers. What was meant to be a temporary situation shifted into a battle with Child Protective Services, and Shaw has acquired a lawyer so she can legally bring her children home.
“The CPS case is closed and they want nothing to do with the court case with the dads,” Shaw said. “When I have the kids on a day when they are supposed to have them, they take them back. And I’m trying to not cause drama in the kids’ lives by taking them from school on my days so they don’t have to deal with that.”
Shaw’s eyes redden and fill with tears, and her soft features twinge as she speaks of her past.
In addition to the ongoing struggle to get her children back, Shaw was homeless for seven months — until she found housing at the Sojourner’s Alliance.
“I was at my breaking point when Christmas came around and I called two days before and they said they had an opening,” Shaw said. “It’s so nice to have my own place.”
The unit’s clean, white walls surround two small bedrooms, a hallway-esque kitchen and a humble living room with furniture spread throughout. Shaw said everything is provided by the alliance, and though it may be simple, Shaw said it is a definite step-up from where she was a few months before.
Shaw’s story and experience may sound unusual for a close-knit community like Moscow, but homelessness is not a stranger in this city.
“The invisibility of poverty and homelessness is immense,” said Steve Bonnar, director of the Sojourner’s Alliance. “Poverty in Idaho is at 14 percent. It’s 29 percent in Moscow.”
Bonnar said the Sojourner’s Alliance has been running at full capacity for three years, housing up to 23 people at a time and turning away between seven and 15 families a week.
“We had an opening, just filled it like that,” Bonnar said.
The Sojourner’s Alliance provides housing for homeless people in Moscow and an expansive surrounding area.
“We take people from eastern Washington, we get people from Whitman, Garfield, and the five counties in Idaho,” Bonnar said.
The lack of shelters and housing options nearby leads people to Moscow in hopes of finding a room. But the alliance is always full.
“The only place we refer them to is Spokane or Coeur d’Alene,” Bonnar said. “But the one in Coeur d’Alene is like us, and they run full too.”
Shaw said she was lucky to get a space, especially a family unit, of which there are only two.
“I was literally sitting with my knees to my chest in every blanket I had in the one empty seat in my van, and there were still boxes at my feet,” Shaw said. “There were a lot of tears, a lot of giving up. I would walk to Rotary Park and sleep in the bathroom because it’s heated and has water for your water bottle and toilet paper.”
Shaw said sleeping in a bathroom was humiliating, but at least it was warm.
Despite her painful past, Shaw is optimistic about the opportunity she has living at the Sojourner’s Alliance.
“It gives you a huge chance to save up,” Shaw said. “It gives you a comfort and makes you feel like you can take a deep breath and move on.”
Newfound stability in her living situation allows Shaw to see her eldest daughter twice a month, but she is still fighting for more visitations of her youngest two, whom she has only seen a few times during the past six months.
“Once I get my kids we will be OK,” Shaw said.
During her time of transition, Shaw said she utilized all the resources Moscow had to offer, which includes food stamps and donations from the food bank like food, toiletries and clothing items.
Bonnar said utilizing Moscow’s resources is one of the first steps the Sojourner’s Alliance discusses with potential clients or those they must turn away.
“We will refer them to the food banks. If they don’t have food stamps we refer them to that,” Bonnar said. “If we don’t have an opening, we tell them to call back every week and if a space opens up we hold it for them until they call that week.”
Shaw’s biggest barrier is getting her children back. She said once that happens, everything else will fall into place.
“I am looking forward to getting on my feet and being stable and so self-sufficient and never, ever, ever depending on a government check or a man or anyone else for that matter,” Shaw said. “I just want to be a strong, amazing woman and the best mom in the world.”
Amrah Canul — Blot Shelly Shaw and her eldest daughter, Meika Schmidt, watch “Footloose” March 30 in Shaw’s family unit at Sojourner’s Alliance. Due to an ongoing battle with Child Protective Services, Shaw sees Meika only twice a month.