“Ladies, the financial literacy class is going to start at 9 (a.m.),” is the first sentence Susan speaks in the P.A. system starting her work day as the Housing Monitor at the Hospitality House, The Salvation Army in Tampa’s women’s transitional facility.
The 52-year-old native Floridian, who spent most of her youth in Tampa, has only worked at The Salvation Army since January, but she is glad to find a place to finally call home.
Susan was raised in a very conservative household. Her father was a pastor who traveled throughout the state whenever he received a new clergy position. So from a young age Susan understood right from wrong and tried to stay on that path each day.
“I couldn’t do things that other kids could do growing up, like dances and movies,” she said.
Susan went to the University of Central Florida after high school and eventually got married and started her family in Orlando. However, a divorce would leave her single and caring for a little girl alone. So she quit college to work a full-time job and take care of her daughter.
Now with two daughters, 21 and 6 years old, Susan life had become a steady pace of family and work, until two years ago when she reconnected with a high school sweetheart from Tampa.
After a year-long courtship, the two were engaged and were living in Tampa to start their new family. However, during their engagement Susan’s new fiancé cheated, forcing her to leave the home they shared to find a new job and home.
“I left the home I stayed with him and his parents. I had savings, but it was all used it to support me and my kids in an Extended Stay for a month,” Susan said.
“It was nearly 1,000 a month.”
Susan tried to find apartments in Tampa, but she could not qualify because she either didn’t make enough money or didn’t have suitable rental references or history.
Susan was able to briefly stay with a church friend, but couldn’t stay long because the rental facility didn’t allow subleasing.
She was now back to square one. No money and no home.
At this point Susan only had money for a three-night stay at a hotel for her and her daughters.
“The place I stayed in was so filthy and was filled with roaches, she said.
“I had to go buy a piece of plastic from The Dollar Store to put on the bed so my kids had somewhere to sleep. It was the weekend and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I decided to take my kids to the $5 a day at Lowery Park Zoo and accept the realization that me and my kids would have nowhere to live on Monday.”
Susan spent that Monday driving around Tampa to look for a place to stay. She checked various shelters throughout the city, like Metropolitan Ministries, but they all gave her an appointment to come back in three weeks.
“I understand now what people say. You need help now,” she said. “When people come in at The Salvation Army and what to do things, it rings more true to me now.”
Susan continued to drive and pray that day hoping she could find anything. Susan didn’t know what to do. But as she was a driving a familiar sign stopped her in her tracks.
“I remember driving down and seeing The Salvation Army sign on top of the building here on Florida Ave, so I stopped and came in here,” she said. “Literally, within an hour, I did intake and had a place to stay. That day I could pick up my daughter and bring her to a place where we would be able to sleep.”
Just six months at our women’s transitional facility, Susan went back to college and started working part time at The Salvation Army in Tampa.
“At first I was like is this how I am supposed to end up. I thought I was doing the right thing and living my life the right way,” she said.
“I learned a lot by working here. I can truly say that God has a plan for you. You just have to keep trusting and believing.”