From the cycle of instability to independence
“I was at work one day and I got a phone call from my sister saying ‘Sherrell, they’re shooting up the house.’”
Sherrell Mullen, a young mother who grew up in the cycle of instability, was advancing in her career and had finally found a sense of permanence for her family in Leavenworth, Kansas. She and her two daughters, Jaydis and Iris, settled there after Sherrell graduated early from JobCorp’s single-parent program.
She now had a job, an apartment and a car. For the first time in her life, everything had fallen into place. It would stay that way for three years — the end of it marked by that traumatic episode of gun violence in her home.
“We were settled, and I was moving forward in life until that tragic event happened,” Sherrell said. “It interrupted everything.”
Iris and Jaydis, 6 and 8 years old at the time, were not hurt during the shooting, but it was too close of a call for Sherrell to stay put.
“I just thought ‘I can’t afford for this to happen. I can’t lose my kids,’” Sherrell said. “It caused me to drop and run.”
And just like that, everything she had worked so hard for was gone.
With no one to turn to and no place to go, the sudden move led to the family’s second phase of homelessness. After hopping around, Sherrell eventually moved her daughters back to her hometown, Chicago. The move took its toll on her girls — the harsh winters, unfamiliarity of the large city and people, and the instability. “It was traumatizing for them,” Sherrell said.
Despite securing a job at a call center, Sherrell and her girls got kicked out of their home on January 1, 2017, and were on the streets.
They got a ride to the police station and, from there, were transferred to a holding facility because no Chicago-area homeless shelter had space for them. Sherrell’s daughters caught a serious infection at the holding facility and both had to be hospitalized for treatment.
They were, again, at a desperate crossroads. Sherrell didn’t know what to do.
“That was the lowest of lows I had ever experienced in my life. There wasn’t a soul I could call and say, ‘Hey, my girls and I need to come to your home.’ I had tried that and did that. I had no one. Nothing,” Sherrell said. “I finally told myself, ‘I’m going to catch the train and go back to Kansas City.’”
Unsure how she would pay for the trip, Sherrell went to collect her final paycheck from the call center.
“The price for train tickets from Chicago to Kansas City for all three of us was $117. It was exactly the amount of my last check,” Sherrell said. “That always makes me laugh.”
HOLDING OUT HOPE
On a freezing January night, Sherrell and her girls arrived in Kansas City —a new city but with the same circumstance. They had no place to go and no one to turn to.
With the help of a woman Sherrell met on Facebook, the family had cab fare to get from the train station to a homeless shelter where Sherrell pleaded to stay the night. They were turned away.
“I looked at my girls, and they broke down crying. I’ve never seen my kids cry so hard,” Sherrell said. “I was in such a crisis stage at that point that my reasoning was off. I didn’t know what I going to do.”
Still in a state of desperation, Sherrell called the police. With the help of multiple officers and a pastor, they were able to get into the shelter for just the night. In the morning, they would be faced with the same reality that had continued to plague Sherrell. Where would she go? Whom would she turn to? What would they do?
Her entire life, Sherrell had fought and worked hard to upend her setbacks. And despite everything that seemed to be working against her still, the little things that fell into place and the support she received in dire moments kept her moving forward.
An assistant pastor at the day shelter where Sherrell and her daughters had been staying made it a priority to find them a place to live. They were put in touch with Salvation Army in Independence which had one potential opening. When a family did not show up, it turned into it a pivotal moment for Sherrell and her family.
“We got the spot, I did the processing, we got in there and, from that day, I started flourishing,” Sherrell said.
It was still tough for Sherrell, but things fell in place. While she didn’t know the area, a contact from Community Services League (CSL), a United Way partner agency striving to help individuals achieve self-sufficiency, met up with Sherrell and taught her the bus route.
“I ended up getting a job on the bus route, which was a blessing. Then, I found someone to watch my babies. That was a blessing. And then I met Bruce,” Sherrell said.
Bruce Bailey, CSL Vice President of Income Supports & Family Stability Specialist, and his team offered Sherrell support like she had never known. They helped her find a home, provided employment services, financial coaching, emergency assistance and, if needed, food, clothing and other resources.
“It shook me from within to know that an organization would actually help me — help me find a place and help with rent,” Sherrell said. “I didn’t know things like that existed. I was always trying to make my own way through life so I never really wanted assistance in that way or welfare in that way. So when Bruce told me about the program CSL offered, I can’t explain the feeling I had.”
RELIEF + RESILIENCE
Bruce and CSL helped with Sherrell’s rent until she graduated out of the program and provided her continual support as necessary. Finally, Sherrell had the support system she needed.
Today, she has a home of her own in Independence, Missouri, where she and her girls, now 9 and 11 years old, along with their two dogs, are thriving. Sherrell works full-time at CSL as a family stability specialist, and her weeknights are filled with activities, from Bible study to her girls’ volleyball tournaments and practices.
Because of United Way, Community Services League and people like Bruce, lives can change course. Sherrell found long-term stability and success, and her daughters will have a far greater opportunity of escaping the cycle in which they grew up.
“United Way and CSL are my family. They supported me for an entire year and gave me a job. They looked at my background and didn’t judge me. They saw a person who had tried and tried and tried — who had failed, but who tried and ended up graduating from college. They looked at all of that like a loving family would and accepted me,” Sherrell said. “With that support — financially, emotionally, just being there — it meant the world to me and my family. The support system is so strong with me that I feel it, I love it. It’s allowed me to move forward in life.”