Why me?

Tests, turmoil and perseverance are words to describe what Romelle has faced in her life before becoming restored and having a renewed belief in the Lord

This story references graphic content. Please be aware that some guests at St. John’s Ministries have gone through very traumatic situations in their lives.

“Love one another and learn to love yourself. With love for each other, love for yourself, and with trust in God, anything is possible.”

Romelle left our interview with these final words of advice for those currently struggling with homelessness. Words for the community, words for her brothers and sisters, and for everyone who might go down the path she endured.

Romelle had not lived an easy life. In many ways, she is fortunate to still be here. She experienced years of depression, loss, addiction, and homelessness. That led to one question: Why me?

Growing up in Chicago, Romelle was forced to grow quickly. “I had a rough life; I had a tough life. Out there in Chicago, the kids can’t be kids. They must grow up fast to survive.”

She grew up on the south side of Chicago in a neighborhood riddled with crime and drugs. She was the victim of sexual assault, physical harassment, and emotional abuse throughout her childhood and most of her life.

“I was first molested at eight years old by family members. They molested me, tortured me, and scarred me for life,” Romelle said with anger.

Surviving as a child in Chicago wasn’t easy and she eventually escaped the torture and abuse of her family. God had more in store for her, more barriers to overcome, and more for her to persevere.

In 1993, when Romelle was 18 years old, she had her first experience of loss and death. Her infant son and his father passed away when he crashed a vehicle with all three of them inside. Romelle admits to being a bit wild as a way to cope with the loss of her son. She had become free of childhood trauma, free from an abusive relationship, and didn’t know how else to cope without her son other than to numb her mind and just escape it all.

“I survived though. I survived the streets of Chicago. I got wild after I turned 18, but I made it through.”

A Journey of loss, grief, and hope

Fast forward 25 years.

The year is 2018, and compared to her childhood, Romelle is living a relatively “normal” life. She is living in Indianapolis, working for Indianapolis International Airport cleaning planes after they land and preparing them for their next flight. She just moved into a new apartment, and all is going well until she gets terrible news. On May 18, 2018, Romelle learned that her father had passed away unexpectedly in his sleep.

“As a child, I did not grow up knowing my father the way I should have. That was taken from me at a very young age when he and my mother split up. I had grown close to my father as an adult, and suddenly he was taken from me again,” she said with sadness.

Reflecting on the difficulties in her life, Romelle knows God was testing her. God had a plan that consisted of depression, addiction, and several years of homelessness.

When her father passed away, Romelle hit rock bottom. She used drugs to cope, to escape. “I got curious. I started smoking crack cocaine because my father passed. I didn’t care anymore.” For the next two years, Romelle spent her income on drugs and rent.

In 2020, her body had enough. Romelle injured herself while at her job, and because of that was unable to work or afford her apartment. The coping mechanisms she refined with drugs only got stronger.

“I had nowhere to go. I ended up smoking $2,000 worth of dope the night before I left my apartment. I left my apartment fully furnished, with a refrigerator full of food. I didn’t care anymore. I just left. I left it all. I moved to St. Louis because I knew I would die if I stayed in Indianapolis.”

Once in St. Louis, Romelle stayed in a group home called STL Restoration. A church group home formed by the pastor and his wife who also overcame barriers and setbacks in their lives. They formed STL Restoration to help guide others and assist them in overcoming barriers the same way they did.

“While I was out there, I was growing. I was clean and fed the word of the Lord every day.”

During her time with STL Restoration, Romelle was able to travel as well to spread the word of the Lord. She and others in the group home would fundraise to pay for their trips to North Carolina, Texas, and Alabama.

“We would create fellowship with other restoration homes and churches. We would reach out to His lost children on the street, our homeless brothers and sisters, and let them know they’re not alone.”

Romelle stayed at STL Restoration for four months and grew homesick. One of the many reasons was the two 15-minute phone calls per week to family. A restriction she couldn’t handle anymore.

“I had to catch up with my mom, my kids, and my sisters in such a short amount of time. It kept me focused on myself, but it also became very difficult.”

Love, Friendship, and Toxicity

Romelle left the group home clean and sober and moved back to Indianapolis with her ex-boyfriend. For the first time in a while, Romelle was stable, thinking clearly, and in a home with someone who loved her…and then the honeymoon phase ended. Romelle lapsed and began using again and couldn’t escape it. Her friends, boyfriend, and everyone around were using or enabling her to keep using.

“I had lost tremendous weight. My boyfriend began verbally abusing me and kicked me out of his apartment. I was sleeping in drug houses, smoking morning, afternoon, and night. I found myself waiting in line for a fix when I came to my senses.”

In 2021, on Christmas Eve, Romelle moved back home. She was tired, missed her family, and just needed a break. She arranged to stay in a family member’s apartment in Chicago and when that fell through, she ended up in a homeless shelter in the heart of the city for the next 11 months.

During the first three months in shelter, Romelle was clean and sober. She was in a happy relationship, but together they simply could not afford housing in the Chicago area. It wasn’t until she grew bored with her situation and her relationship became toxic that Romelle relapsed, again.

“I was hurting. I was unhappy and what made me happy was dope.”

It took Romelle four days in a hospital in early November 2022 for her to get her head straight once more. She had overdosed and was told she has Acute Chest Syndrome and knew if she didn’t make the right choices, and make them permanently, that she might end up dying an addict on the streets of Chicago.

After a few days out of the hospital, a friend offered to take her to Green Bay to start a new life. It was a risk for sure, but a way out of the city that had caused so much trauma as a child and now as an adult.

“This wasn’t going to be my first time moving from Chicago, so I told myself I’m going. I’m going to give it a shot because I know I won’t make it out here.”

A New Day

Romelle made the move; packed up what little she had and took a risk. Shortly after arriving, the relationship with her friend had dissipated, and her living arrangement fell through as it had done in the past.

“That’s how I ended up at St. John’s. On November 15, 2022, I came to the Women’s Shelter. I was a hot mess. I was broken. I was depressed. I was sick; mentally, physically, and emotionally.”

The difference this time was her surroundings.

“I don’t have family in Green Bay. I didn’t know of the drug houses. I was forced to focus on myself and formed a new family with the ladies at Wellspring and the Women’s Shelter.”

Romelle, with a new lease on life, took it upon herself, in a new city surrounded by new people, to make the permanent changes necessary to live her best life. She enrolled in St. John’s Ministries Women’s Empowerment Program shortly after arriving.

The Women’s Empowerment Program has a strict sobriety requirement, case management and workshop expectations. The goal is to provide women with the tools and support needed to become strong and self-sufficient once again. Romelle quickly became a role model and leader for her sisters in shelter, and those having experienced similar situations.

“I was finally doing what I was called to do. I grew up mentally and spiritually. I grew close with the ladies at St. John’s; they are my family now, my network of support.”

In early March, Romelle and Tameika Hughes-Foote, St. John’s Ministries case manager, worked together to apply for a grant from St. John’s Ministries Guest Grant Program.

The Guest Grant Program (GGP) is designed to help guests overcome financial barriers impeding their forward movement. For example, guests may apply for funds to assist with the first month’s rent, employment uniform expenses, application fees, or security deposits. Not all applications are approved, and any approved funds are paid directly to the vendor by St. John’s Ministries.

“Romelle was an obvious candidate for the Guest Grant Program. She was a leader for the ladies in shelter, a beacon of light, and for herself, she was making significant improvements. She was making all the right decisions to better, not only her life but the lives of those around her,” said Tameika Hughes-Foote.

Based on her attitude, forward progress, and well-being, Romelle is the most recent recipient of funds from the St. John’s Ministries Guest Grant Program. With the award, Romelle was able to expedite the process and move into an apartment. Her first month’s rent and security deposit was handled with her Guest Grant Program award.

“My faith in God, my hard work and dedication, and the support of St. John’s made this possible. I am blessed. Blessed to have my new apartment and a new path in life,” Romelle said with happiness.

She took her situation and turned it into a positive one. Having spent too many years feeling sorry for herself, and accepting abuse, Romelle now uses her experiences to give her sisters in the same situation a better outlook on life.

Romelle is now meeting regularly with a Financial Health Counselor from Catholic Charities to continue learning and bettering herself. She volunteers regularly at her church pantry (Green Bay First) three times a week and passes out dinners to families and individuals staying on the streets, in hotels, or living out of their cars. Romelle also continues to host a Bible study once a week for the women at Wellspring.

“I asked God to use me, and He certainly did. God used me in strange ways for many years. But now because of the path and journey He sent me on, I am ready and able to give back to others going through what I went through.

“For the first time in my 47 years of life, I have focus. I have peace. I am humble. I have never been happier in my life.”

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