Jamilla came to the United States when she was only 3 years old. The day she was born, a war broke out in her home county of Ethiopia. It wasn’t even safe for the newborn and her mother to stay in the hospital.. they fled. Jamilla’s mom left everything and everyone she knew to protect her baby girl. In the chaos, Jamilla’s mother got disconnected from her father and the two stayed together in a refugee camp in Nairobi for three years.
“A part of my childhood was survival,” Jamilla said.
And up until this last year, survival remained the focus of Jamilla’s every day.
In Early 2022, Jamilla, who was pregnant with a baby boy, and her 7 year old daughter arrived at Samaritan House. That’s when life started to turn around.
Before starting her own family, Jamilla was with her mother a lot. Her mother struggled with mental challenges but Jamilla never imagined she would turn violent towards her. One day last March, Jamilla’s mother attacked her and tried to kill her. Jamilla’s daughter saved her. Jamilla says her husband was shocked about what had happened and kicked her and her daughter out. They were homeless.
Jamilla hasn’t seen her mother since that day. She says mental illness and years of abuse led her mother to that violence. “Understanding her was like … always having to comfort her, nurture her, being her mom.. while also being a child,” Jamilla said. “She tried being a mother but it was more abusive that’s all she knew.”
Jamilla felt safe to share those feelings and learn from them while staying at Samaritan House Denver, the family shelter provided by Catholic Charities of Denver. “Helping yourself is therapy,” Jamilla said. “Whatever you went through in your life that got you there .. whether it’s domestic violence fleeing from people who caused you pain in your life… once you get into those doors, you have a real opportunity at getting out of homelessness.”
In the last year, Samaritan House Denver has added on-site therapists which they call wellness consultants.
“We want to focus on wellness.. how can we help you live better,” Family Services Manager Josh Zielinski said. “We want to be that one stop for a family experiencing homelessness so we really vet them when they arrive. The stories that we hear during our technical trauma assessments, and the prevalence of trauma of those walking through our door, the scores from our are off the charts for what they’ve experienced before they’ve come here.”
“We’re providing that really safe place for them to come in to process, to just have that human interaction and acknowledge the stress that they’re experiencing.. and hopefully learn some coping skills along the way,” Samaritan House’s Clinical Director Rachel Volmert said. “We have guests coming back with assessment scores that have declined in anxiety and depression and so that kind of speaks to the skills our clinicians have and how we serve our families.”
“To see the strength, to see the will to succeed, to see the love of parents for their kids, to see the steps they will take, and to celebrate what they did and what we did alongside them, it is fantastic,” Zielinski sad.
“Samaritan House has done their research on homelessness on how it affects families, how it effects different people and they know what they’re doing,” Jamilla said. “And because of that, it is a new chapter for me and my daughter.. big time…. and my baby boy (Jamilla was expecting her son at the time of this interview. He has since arrived!)”
Aside from the emotional support, Samaritan House also provided Jamilla with the tactical support.. assistance in locating a new job, a place to live, access to doctor appointments, after-school tutors for her daughter. All of that encouragement has boosted Jamilla’s self-esteem. She is very confident about what lies ahead. Jamilla made good friends while at Samaritan House whom she lives near in the same Denver apartment building. The two families are so close that they’re now like one.
“I’m not scared anymore,” Jamilla continued. “We have our own space, our own apartment and my daughter sees the peace, she sees her family. She’s got love and he’s (referring to her son)..and I got love. And, for someone to have love.. real love, that’s a blessing.”
Jamilla’s story premiered at the annual Sam’s Supper that benefits the Shelter Services program at Catholic Charities of Denver. This short story was produced and shared prior to the event to encourage attendance at this special evening;