Life took Fredericktown High School grad down path to homelessness
MOUNT VERNON — When Samantha Blanton graduated from Fredericktown High School in 2011, she had no idea that six years later she would be sleeping on the street.
She was raised by her grandmother and grandfather in Fredericktown. In 2012, she decided to move out and live with friends. Health issues, including anxiety and depression, and polycystic ovary syndrome and endometriosis had plagued Blanton throughout her life, and that didn’t change when Blanton left home. The only difference was that she was now in an environment that didn’t help her address her mental and physical health in positive ways. Marijuana and occasional alcohol use helped cover up her symptoms, and also brought her a new way of socializing with a new friend group.
Blanton’s greatest source of support had always been her grandmother. Though she attempted to leave that support behind, which at the time felt like an affront to adulthood freedom, Blanton was always aware that she would have a place to call home with her grandmother if she needed it.
Over the course of the next few years, Blanton moved back home and started working as a peer mentor at The Main Place, and at the same time worked on her mental health recovery. She stopped using weed and drinking, and focused on sobriety. She looked forward to growing beyond her peer mentor position and even spent a semester at MVNU studying pastoral ministry. But, when Blanton’s grandmother died September 27, 2015, her aspirations and goals grew fuzzy, and life started to spiral out of control.
Without her grandmother keeping an eye on things, drugs and alcohol became commonplace in Blanton’s home. Her younger siblings, with whom Blanton didn’t always have the best relationships, and their children and her grandfather made for a full house. Individuals in the household, Blanton said, were abusive and enabled her drug and alcohol use. She felt she was pressured to use drugs and alcohol with her family members at home, even in the presence of children, which made her uncomfortable. Then, in November of 2015, Blanton also lost her job at The Main Place. Without a job, Blanton found herself unable to pay a fine for speeding and lost her license, and soon after, her car.
Blanton left home and moved in with friends. For a little over a year, Blanton found solace in her friends’ household. She was no longer sober, opting to treat her emotional and physical pain with weed and alcohol as she had in the past, though she did so mostly in social settings and felt she had the situation under control.
But as her anxiety and depression increased, so did the tension with her house mates. She was asked to leave in August of 2017, and began bouncing from friend to friend looking for a place to stay so she wouldn’t have to go back to her grandfather’s house.
Blanton had applied for a housing voucher through the Main Place back in June of 2017, which would grant her temporary housing to give her time to figure her life out and become self-sufficient. However, receiving the housing voucher takes up to a year.
Hearing the word “homeless” typically brings with it the vision of a person living outside or in a shelter. But the word “homeless” also applies to individuals living out of their cars or “couch surfing” with friends and family members. As Blanton bounced from home to home in the following several weeks, she began her journey within homelessness. Blanton was using marijuana and alcohol daily, and it was during this time that she also began using meth.
Life continued in a downward spiral for Blanton due to depression and addiction. As her housing options ran thin, Blanton turned to the one place that she knew she’d have access to basic necessities — the Main Place.
She took what she could with her in a small basket, three or four shirts, her letterman jacket from high school to keep warm and a few sweatpants — enough clothes for a week. She began sleeping outside in the alley behind the Main Place.
It was a spur of the moment decision, she said, and she recalls that snow was on the ground and it was cold. Blanton doesn’t remember the exact timeline of how long she was outside the Main Place, but it was likely at least a few weeks in October and into November. It was the lowest low she had felt.
“I felt like I really wasn’t in control — like I wasn’t sure what was going on from start to finish,” Blanton said. “It was kind of just a learn-as-you-go experience I guess.”
She didn’t have basic hygiene necessities while sleeping on the streets, but she knew she could get those from the Main Place, which offered shower and laundry facilities, as well as a place to charge her phone from 9 to 5 on week days.
When the Main Place was closed, though, Blanton had to be creative in taking care of her “human needs.”
“It was kind of embarrassing because you didn’t know who was walking by, or who’s driving by — you don’t want anyone to see you going to the bathroom,” Blanton said. “Obviously sleeping outside in the cold for the most part was embarrassing. I felt ashamed of it… I remember waiting outside the Main Place for them to open the next morning, because they opened at 9 at that point, I went in and the first thing I asked was ‘Can I take a shower to warm up? ‘Cause I’m froze.’”
The Main Place also helped Blanton by providing Internet services.
“Because I don’t have access to a computer or Internet half the time, I needed help [to sign up for food stamps], and that’s where people at the Main Place came in, the staff at the Main Place, ‘cause they give you help with that stuff — to sign up for food stamps, to sign up for medical insurance, help you make appointments, help you schedule transportation,” Blanton explained. “They help you with a lot, and then they’re there if you need to talk to someone.”
There was another woman sleeping at that location that shared her sleeping bag with Blanton to use as padding on the cold concrete. The woman also shared her food stamps with Blanton, and would get them something to drink in the evening.
The woman also provided a sense of security and companionship for Blanton.
“I thought I was going to be alone,” Blanton said. “Just having this individual there with me, just made me feel safe. She wasn’t going to be able to do much to protect me but she was still there to help me.”
Blanton said that though she was aware of other homeless individuals in the area, she and the woman were the only two at that location. She recalled one evening where a passerby who had just gotten a pizza, gave them his pizza after they teasingly asked him why he hadn’t brought them a pizza too.
“He brought [the pizza] over and it hadn’t been opened yet or anything,” Blanton recalled. “And let me just tell you, those were like some happy tears right there, because like that gave me hope that somebody does care, or not really care, but there are still some good people in the world. It was somebody that we didn’t even know really, so that was an awesome feeling.”
But Blanton also recalls how small she felt most of the time as people passed her by without making eye contact.
“It made me feel like they think they’re better than me, just because I had a setback in my life,” Blanton said. “A lot of people that would walk by had nice clothes. A lot of people who drove by who saw us had nice cars, had money. I had nothing. I pretty much had to work my way back up to where I am now… I don’t think they took the time to put theirselves in my shoes.”
Two days before Christmas, Blanton began staying at the Winter Sanctuary.
“I was originally only supposed to be at the shelter for the weekend, and I ended up going there until a week before they closed,” Blanton said.
Life began to get a little easier once she was in the sanctuary. Though she had not yet received a housing voucher, she knew she would at least have a bed to sleep in the next few months, as long as she could show that she was working towards getting sober and staying that way. She got along very well with the other women there, and specifically with one of the volunteers who Blanton described as “like a best friend I’d known for years.” During the day she would go to the Main Place, which also provided weekday lunches, and to the hot meals program meals for dinner.
Blanton finally received word that she would be receiving a housing voucher for an apartment in Mount Vernon. She moved in March 23, 2018, just one week before the shelter closed. In the same day, she also found a job.
“I was working my ass off to find a job and find housing,” Blanton said. “It was very stressful. It was very overwhelming, because I had like a certain time to find that housing or my voucher would expire and I had to go through the whole process again.”
But when Blanton finally found housing and began the process of pulling her life together, she relapsed in both drug and alcohol use. Blanton was fired from her job after working just three months.
With hard work, and perhaps some divine intervention from a guardian angel that she identifies as her grandmother, Blanton is now focused on getting her mental health and addictions under control before seeking further employment. Thanks to her housing voucher, Blanton has a period of security that she can use to focus on her recovery. She is celebrating nearly five months of sobriety and regularly attends Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. She also serves as one of the faces of the 2019 United Way Campaign, which, in part, will provide funding to help others find a path out of homelessness. Next fall, she looks forward to attending COTC to study social work, a career path she chose as a result of her time as a peer mentor at the Main Place.
“Just find your silver lining, because there’s better days coming,” Blanton advised. “[It’s] a quote that took forever to get beat into my head, ‘cause there’s one in every situation. Like, if I wasn’t homeless, I would not be where I’m at [now]. I don’t know where I would be at right now. So just find your silver lining and never give up.”