Category Archives: Featured Story: Self-Sufficiency

Homelessness: Everyone in Life is Only One Step Away

By Lisa McMillon

I worked at a nursing home for 12 years, the longest that I have ever kept a job. I thought I was going to retire with that job. I had a great 401k plan, four weeks paid vacation and all the bells and whistles that come with job longevity. My boss started bringing in family members who were recent college graduates and asked the staff to help train them in various departments.


At first, everyone went with the program. However, slowly but steadily they started laying off employees and the family members starting getting various positions. I thought I should be safe. I had been with the company for 12 years; staying overnight in winter emergencies and filling in when they did not have adequate staff coverage. And then it happened. I was feeling very leery, butterflies in my stomach, when the boss informed me that they didn’t have adequate funding. They would be laying off some employees, and I was one of them. I was in shock and total astonishment.


“How could this happen to me?”


I later found out that the dietary aide that I was training, so that I could take vacation, would be filling my position. I was making $15.00 an hour and they paid her $9.75. I applied for unemployment, but this took some time to process. My bills were accumulating and I started falling behind on my rent, PSE&G bill and other living expenses. I started going to local food banks. My pride was consuming me.


“How could this happen to me?”


I gave my landlord my last four unemployment checks, and explained to him that I was waiting for an extension. A week later, I got a court ordered eviction notice.


“How could this happen to me?”


I went to court and got a 30-day hardship stay as I had been living there for 11 years. I was praying that my unemployment would come through. But after 30 days, I was evicted from my apartment. My unemployment check came through after I was evicted, so that money was consumed while staying with various relatives and at hotels.


But as soon as you don’t have any money, people make you feel unwelcome. I had to split up my family, stay at various places because of my monetary situation and spend most of my money so that my child could stay in a stable environment. It was heart-wrenching.


“I was homeless!”


I got a job at a friendly restaurant and was getting paid partial unemployment. I went from 100 to zero real quick. I hated leaving my son at night, hated splitting up, but I had to do what I had to scratch a meager living. I would go without eating properly sometimes just so that he could eat. In between working, I would apply for jobs every morning for nine months. I searched for housing and a decent job. I finally found an apartment, put the deposit down, but that was delayed because an elderly man’s house caught fire and he had to live in the apartment temporarily. Another setback.


"Swirl Face"  By Derrick Branch
“Swirl Face”
By Derrick Branch

My mother called me one day. She was always encouraging me to pray. I was becoming desolate.


“When is the Lord going to answer my prayers?”


Slowly, the miracles started happening. I got a job offer. I immediately accepted the position. I was ecstatic when the woman informed me that I could start in two weeks. I started the job, and loved it. I got off to a rough start, very rough, but I endured.


I was talking to one of my supervisors one day and she asked me, “Are you okay? You look very stressed.”


I replied, “I’m OK.” She then asked me if she could pray for me, and I said, “Yes.” She prayed, and I started to cry. She was adamant, “What’s wrong, Lisa?”


“I’m homeless,” I said. “I’m grateful for my job, but I need an apartment so me and my child can live together.”


She said, “Why didn’t you tell someone about your situation?”


She started to help me mentally and materially. Then I got a second job. She told me to keep the faith — it’s coming. I was working both jobs and checked with the apartment complex daily. The landlord called me about three months later and said, “Lisa, I have good news and bad news. The older gentleman will be relocating to the Senior Center, but the apartment hasn’t been painted.”


I told her, “I just need my own place. I’ll take it, they can paint it later.” She said she would have to get a lock for the apartment. The first night, she said she didn’t have time to get it. She called me the second night and said the same thing. I hung up the phone on her. She called me back and said to look out the window. I looked up and she was dangling some keys. I left the chicken in the fryer. I was crying and happy at the same time.


It was over.


I had a decent job and an apartment. I lived in that apartment for a whole month without cable or television. Just a couch and a bed. I was just happy to have a place to call home again.


As for the job, I’m still working there and it has gotten better with time. I have an extended family and friends, and I’m doing what I love: cooking. Come see me! The food is fantastic, and you can get anything from soup to nuts for free. You can even get deodorant and soap! I invite you to come dine with me at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen.

Resilience Personified: The Empowerment of Art and an Artist

“It was a Friday morning, I will never forget that day, when my daughter called,” reminisced Jo Ann Abdelwahabe. “She said that the house was on fire.”

Upon arriving at the scene, Abdelwahabe was unable to process what was happening as she witnessed firefighters swarming what was left of her home. It was then when she was asked, “Do you need to go to a shelter?”

She could not even begin to consider the option. Abdelwahabe, a Trenton resident, had led a very normal life up to this point. She even volunteered to tutor students in math at her daughter’s school, and was taking care of her ailing mother on the day of that life-altering call.

After losing her home, she at- tempted to stay with her parents, continuing to care for her mother. But once her mother’s condition took a turn for the worse, Abdelwahabe was forced to seek assistance. It was under these dire circumstance that led Abdelwahabe to HomeFront.

A local homelessness prevention agency serving families and individuals in Mercer County, HomeFront provides many services and programs, as well as an emergency shelter, to keep those faced with situations, similar to Abdelwahabe’s, from having to resort to a life on the streets.

Abdelwahabe stayed in the shelter for three months, and although this could have been the lowest point in a string of unfortunate situations, she had no idea that it was actually the beginning of many uplifting moments to come.

“One of the ladies at the shelter invited to me to go to an art class, but I told her that I wasn’t an artist,” said Abdelwahabe. Despite her reluctance, Abdelwahabe was persuaded to just attend one class at ArtSpace — HomeFront’s art program — to see what it was like. It was here that she discovered her new talent.

“I found out that I loved to paint,” Abdelwahabe said.

"Sunny Landscape"  By Jo Ann Abdelwahabe
“Sunny Landscape”
By Jo Ann Abdelwahabe

It was ArtSpace’s mission in action. The therapeutic art program encourages its clients to express their stories through creative outlets; stories that may otherwise be kept hidden from others. It also instills a sense of confidence and self-esteem that many struggle to attain given their circumstances. “Jo Ann was a natural from day one,” Executive Director of ArtSpace, Ruthann Traylor, said. “It’s like she’s been painting for years.”

In addition to operating a venue for paintings, Traylor also works tirelessly to get her client’s work into exhibitions to be sold. Abdelwahabe can still remember her first exhibition.

“It was an art show so I got as dressed up as I could,” recalled Abdelwahabe. “I had a purse and a nice dress, and I felt like a movie star.” It was then when she was told that her first painting had been bought.

“I couldn’t believe that some- one wanted to pay me for my art,” Abdelwahabe said.

After having moved into an apartment of her own and sold several more paintings, Abdelwahabe has still not gotten used to people’s admiration of her work, but she has begun to share her artistic prowess with others.

“She not only helps the other la- dies with their paintings, but also teaches them to sew at our new space,” Traylor said referring to SewingSpace, a new venue that started with just a few sewing machines, but is now adorned with paintings, bags and patterns designed by clients.

“I really like working with the other women here,” Abdelwahabe said. “Sewing provides them with a way of realizing that they can get past these seemingly insurmountable obstacles.”

After effortlessly demonstrating the use of several machines and sharing some of her newer work, Abdelwahabe expresses her gratitude for Traylor, the volunteers, as well as HomeFront as a whole.

“The work we do here is more than just gratifying,” Abdelwahabe said. “It is empowering for us all.”


Article written by Raj Manimaran, for the Fall 2014 edition of The Wall

The Return Home: “I Am Still Alive”

Article by Melissa Katz


War has plagued this country since its founding, most recently from the Korean War and the Vietnam War, to the more recent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Each war has a different focus, origin and outcome. One thing that does not change from war to war, no matter the circumstances, is the effect it has on returning veterans. It is a simple fact – no one returns home the same as when they left. What they return home with – the traumas and the images – lasts a lifetime.

Kenneth Bridgewater, a United States Marine Corps Veteran of the Vietnam War, is now residing at the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.

Bridgewater has had a life full of struggles and difficult times, from the time he was drafted at the age of 19 in 1968. He began abusing drugs as soon as he entered the service and did not stop until 2012.

"Moving Emotions" by Shanell Hutchinson
“Moving Emotions” by Shanell Hutchinson

“I’ve been clean now for 18 months. I’m still alive. I’m 65 and I’m still alive. We’re still human beings. We still have a mind and we still think.”

Bridgewater grew up in Trenton, New Jersey with a mother, three sisters and two brothers. After being drafted, he began work as a warehouseman in the U.S. Marine Corps. He described his first days in the Marine Corps as: “Scary. It was my first time away from home.”

He was assigned to stations in Hawaii and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. During his time serving, Bridgewater got involved in the pervasive drug use among Army and Marine Corps troops, which continued for 44 years after returning home.

Over these 44 years, Bridgewater was in and out of jail, constantly involving himself in different drug activities.

Upon returning home, Bridgewater got married, but he did not feel any respect from the public. In 2010, he was put in jail on multiple drug charges.

“I should’ve gone in for 50 plus years. I was lucky. I got probation and a fine,” said Bridgewater.

In 2011, he was taken back to jail for probation violation and spent 5 months in the county jail.

At this point, Bridgewater had had enough. After getting out of jail, he went to the East Orange VA Hospital and spent 44 days in a drug rehabilitation program. He continued in his recovery by spending the next 6 months in the Lyons Veteran’s Hospital in Basking Ridge, New Jersey, before coming to the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps.

As of 2012, it is reported that as many as “62,619 veterans are homeless on any given night. Over the course of a year, approximately twice that many experience homelessness,” according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans and the Annual Homeless Assessment Report (AHAR), prepared by the Housing and Urban Development Department for Congress. “Only 7 percent of the population can claim veteran status, but nearly 13 percent of the homeless adult population are veterans.”

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports that “each year, Veterans Affairs (VA) provides health care to almost 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to over 112,000 veterans through its specialized homeless programs.”

Multiple factors contribute to the homelessness of veterans, such as lack of resources, poverty, support networks, employment. Difficult living conditions in substandard or overcrowded housing may be their only option. These factors are also putting about 1.4 million other veterans at the risk of finding themselves homeless, according to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

Many of the displaced or at- risk veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), in addition to substance abuse and an absence of any family or communal support. “Additionally, military occupations and training are not always transferable to the civilian workforce, placing some veterans at a disadvantage when competing for employment,” said the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans.

“The problem is people don’t know,” said Nathan, an employee of the Salvation Army Perth Amboy Corps. “Most people are unaware of the issues when veterans return. The public needs information. It’s important for people to know how much we want to legitimately do good for the people of Perth Amboy and specifically our returning veterans.”

The Salvation Army is devoted to helping communities everywhere, keen on providing whatever is necessary to help people.

“This place is helping me get on my feet,” said Bridgewater as he smiled and let out a deep breath. “I’m still alive.”

The Salvation Army New Jersey Divisional Headquarters

P.O. Box 3170 Union, NJ  07083

Phone: 908-851-9300 Fax: 908-688-4460



The Salvation Army Homeless Drop-In Center

575 East State Street Trenton, 08609

Phone: 609-599-9373


More resources for veterans experiencing homelessness can be found in the resource guide.

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2013 Issue of The Wall Newspaper


Emily Lewis: Dreaming Outside the Box

By Gary Kehoe

Emily Lewis was introduced as the focus of a feature article written by the Star Ledger in 2010: “Aspiring Artist from Ewing Homeless Shelter…”—For most, that is who Emily Lewis was.

In 2014, exactly four years since her stay at the HomeFront homeless shelter in Ewing, New Jersey, Emily Lewis will graduate on a scholarship from The New School of Design, located in the heart of New York City, with a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts. She has her own studio apartment and numerous works on exhibit in New York City.

“It is all about bringing yourself to a canvas or whatever kind of art you do,” said Lewis in a recent interview. “The lessons I have learned are shown in my art, but sometimes may be hid­den and only I know it’s there.”

Not long ago, Emily had not yet recognized her own talents. In fact, as a young teen struggling with addic­tion on the streets of Columbus, Ohio, her life seemed void of any positive outlet. The story behind the portrait of success she now presents is one that can inspire many more like it.

Since the age of 16, Emily Lewis had been admitted more than once to drug-rehabilitation and was no longer continuing her high school education. In an interview with the Star Ledger in 2010, her mother Linda recalled, “I would lie awake at night when she didn’t come home and think, she’s late, she’s late. Later, I just prayed she wasn’t lying dead somewhere.”

Amidst Emily’s struggles, the fam­ily home in Ohio was lost and Lewis, her mother, and Emily’s young daugh­ter were now without direction or foundation. The family moved itself to Lawrenceville, New Jersey. Lewis received an assistance check earned through the Work First New Jersey welfare program, but with minimal education or sustenance, life seemed without any positive outlet for change. It was the chance encounter with Ms. Ruthann Traylor, founder of the ArtSpace program, and the discovery of a “hidden talent” for artistic expres­sion that opened the door to a brighter future.

In 2008, a 23 year old Emily Lewis sat down in the ArtSpace room, having never painted before. Traylor claimed to immediately notice Lewis expressing herself in ways that stood out among many other pieces being done. After receiving some acclaim for works including “How You See Me” and “Pennies,” Lewis was en­couraged to pursue her talent further. With the help of her newfound sup­port system at HomeFront, Emily took the SAT’s and eventually earned her GED. She then took a shot at a new beginning by applying to one of the most prestigious art schools, The New School of Design in New York City. In 2010, Emily was accepted.

A life that seemed to stall on the streets of Columbus, Ohio was now on its way to a new beginning in the busiest city in the world. In the fall of 2010, Lewis joined over a thousand incoming art students arriving at The New School of Design in Greenwich Village, New York. “I accepted my past and moved on” she said confi­dently. She arrived at The New School with her past as nothing more than special color in her palate.

The first day of college is a fright­ening experience for most incoming freshmen, especially for those new to life in the Big Apple. Having only been to the city as a child, the environ­ment was entirely new to Emily. She recalled worrying if she would make it through her first year.

“I’m going to be honest, New York City is tough and I felt like it was breaking me a bit. Then I sucked it up. That is how it seems to be in the city. To live here, a person really needs to explore and find things of value. It has to be the best and worst place I have ever lived!”

The fast pace of New York City may have devoured some wide-eyed freshmen, but Lewis’s unique story has shown she is not the type to be broken. Lewis believes she has developed a unique, mature perspec­tive: one that allows her to speak to many crowds and turn the city into her canvas.

“It’s easy for me to relate with people on the street or drug addicts, but I also can have that smart educated side and that is a plus. I think it’s nice to have both!”

Residing in her own studio apart­ment with her daughter, Lewis has her own space to create new work and contemplate new meaning.

Recently, Lewis brought her art to the streets in an attempt to bring awareness to homelessness in New York City. She described a time she visited Union Square one night and was shocked at the number of people sleeping there. “It made me angry that this was happening,” she said.

She responded with a piece enti­tled, “Worth Something”, a box spray painted gold on the inside and fur­nished with a fur vest on the bottom, a nice pillow, boots, and even light­ing. She covered the outside with the saying “Treat Them and Street Them”. The piece was shown at the Octagon Gallery on Roosevelt Island this past fall.

Lewis remains connected to those who helped her realize the hidden tal­ent that released her into her new life, including Ruthann Traylor, the woman who began ArtSpace ten years ago.

Lewis recently returned to Home­Front to hold her own class in the ArtSpace. “It was a lot of fun to go back and see the people who helped me ‘Get it together!’”

Next year, The New School will join HomeFront as one of the priceless stepping stones in Lewis’ open-ended journey. As she walks as a graduate for the first time in her life, she will have the same apprehensions as any college student. She is still unsure what her future holds; a master’s de­gree and a larger apartment for her and her daughter are among her aspira­tions, and one of her greatest desires is the simplest of all.

“One thing I think that I will always want is for people to be less judgmental. Kids do it to other kids because of what they wear or look like and adults do the same. We look down on people because they are poor/rich; need help with drugs; have an illness that makes them look or act differ­ently; like the same sex, or even just have other views. I get sick of it and seeing people down all the time. I want people to understand we all walk in different shoes!”

From Columbus, Ohio to New York City, Emily is an example of what potential can do when it is given a chance to dream outside the box.