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Voiceless not friendless

Homelessness brought woman, children into new community, deeper compassion

Two and a half years ago, Bridget Bradick and her children stepped off a train in Spokane as refugees from domestic violence and stumbled into poverty and homelessness.

She left Ohio to start anew with four children in a town she chose at random from a list of cities she knew nothing about except that they were far from her former husband.

Today, Bradick, the subject of a May 2009 Spokesman-Review article, has climbed out of indigence with help from a friend she met along the way.

“I think I had to go through that, being homeless, to be here today,” said Bradick, 45. “I had to take this walk to see who I really am. It made me stronger, independent.”

Bradick said she used to look down on the homeless, who she always assumed were that way through some fault of their own. Being homeless herself changed that view.

“It opened my mind and my eyes to what’s going on in the world,” she said.

A survey by the U.S. Conference of Mayors identified domestic violence as a primary cause of homelessness. About 63 percent of homeless women have experienced domestic violence, according to the Network to End Domestic Violence.

A month after arriving in Spokane in February 2009, Bradick depleted her savings on hotel rooms and microwaveable meals. The family’s luck began to change on St. Patrick’s Day when the Bradicks were taken in by Interfaith Hospitality, now Family Promise of Spokane, a nonprofit coalition of churches that since 1997 has helped more than 350 families in similar circumstances.

The organization provided case management that helped the family connect with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food assistance, WorkSource, Medicaid and supplemental dental care – all services that have since been diminished by budget cuts.

The family was sheltered in the organization’s participating churches and transitional housing before moving into a northeast Spokane home with the help of federal rental assistance. Even after securing housing, Bradick’s family struggled while she searched for work that paid a living wage.

“Sometimes I feel bad because they had to walk the walk with me,” Bradick said of her children. “They all appreciated what we have and where we came from.”

She recalled her surprise one day when her oldest son, Zach, a 10th-grader at Rogers High School, told her he knew at least 10 homeless teenagers in his school.

“Some kid was talking bad about the homeless, and Zach spoke up and said, ‘If you haven’t walked the walk, you have no business putting us down,’ ” she said.

On another occasion her kindergartener, Nate, piled all his old clothes on a table and said, “Can we give these to Interfaith?”

Even after leaving Interfaith Hospitality, the family continued to participate in HeartSongs from the Voiceless, a choir of homeless and formerly homeless people organized by the Rev. Michael Rice-Sauer, called Redhawk, pastor at Covenant Christian Church.

The group, known as the Voiceless Choir, provides a sense of community to homeless families and brings public awareness to their condition through the performing arts.

It was at a rehearsal for the Voiceless Choir last Christmas that Bradick met Kemper Rojas, treasurer for the nonprofit organization. Rojas is a managing partner of Fruci & Associates, a Spokane accounting firm.

Rojas, 33, married with two children, comes from a very different background than Bradick. At first she felt out of place and self-conscious at the Voiceless Choir. But she continues to come each week with her 10-year-old son, Bowe.

“It’s eye-opening for my son,” she said. Bowe understands that other children are not as fortunate as he is. “When someone’s eyes are opened to it, they are less selfish.”

One day Redhawk gave Rojas a speaking part in a skit with Bradick, and soon she realized that “it’s only by the grace of God” what path we walk in life.

“You think, ‘It couldn’t happen to me.’ But looking at her I can see how it could happen,” Rojas said.

Bradick’s family shared Rojas’ discomfort, too, at first.

“Me and my kids were all homeless,” she said. The children saw she was not like their family and they gave Rojas “a hard time because they didn’t trust her.”

Then one day, Redhawk came to Bradick and said Rojas wanted to offer her a position at Fruci & Associates.

It was Christmas, Rojas said, and she was thinking about what she could do for Bradick’s family.

“It dawned on me the best gift would be to give Bridget a job,” she said. She got approval from her partners to offer a temporary job to Bradick, whose only real job skill was as a cook.

Without computer skills and with no clothes appropriate for office work, Bradick would have to earn a permanent position at Fruci & Associates. Rojas took Bradick clothes shopping, and other employees taught her what she needed to know to be an administrative assistant.

“I was eager to learn,” Bradick said, “and they made me feel at home there.”

In May, Bradick became a full-time employee, making a little above minimum wage, but unlike other jobs she has held she now has hope for pay increases and a real career.

But with opportunity comes other challenges. Because her income increased, Bradick saw her share of her subsidized rent rise from $91 to $400 a month.

“She’s not a charity case at our firm,” Rojas said. “She works for her money.”

In the upcoming performance of HeartSongs from the Voiceless, Rojas and Bradick will switch roles in a skit re-enacting Bradick’s flight from domestic abuse. Redhawk will lead the choir in a performance of “Run for Your Life,” a song Bradick helped write.

As for any debt of gratitude, there is an agreement between the two women not to pay back what has been given, but to “pay it forward” to some other family that Bradick may have the chance to help.

More than the clothes, more than the job, more than the opportunity, Bradick said, Rojas saw “something in me I didn’t see in myself.”