In her own words: a conversation with Billiejoe

Nov 28, 2019
Photo by: Patrisha McLean Billiejoe (right) speaks to Stephanie Primm, executive director of the Knox County Homeless Coalition: “Not only do you give somebody a home, you help them become the real ‘them’ again. You make them strong and give them confidence. You guys change lives.”

Camden — The following is a conversation between Stephanie Primm, KCHC executive director and Billiejoe, a Knox County Homeless Coalition shelter resident. The conversation was edited by Patrisha McLean.

“You Guys Change Lives”

He said ‘I want you out Monday.’ I didn’t know what I was going to do.

That’s when I called the shelter and Kalie’s beautiful and comforting voice told me ‘We got you.’

I get goosebumps when it’s so real and I’m getting goosebumps:

From that first phone call, to the case workers, to the staff: everybody has magic in them and I’ve never seen anything like it in my life.

I was assigned Tiffany as my caseworker and Tiffany got to know me. Tiffany helped me to figure out for the first time what my issues were. For instance, ‘Why did I drink?’ We opened all that up through therapy.

Then the shelter staff helped me get my own apartment. That was huge. In the beginning, I needed help with the applications for housing. Now if any of the other residents need help with the applications, I’m going to help them.

The staff also arranged counseling to help me with my kids because I’m too easy and I’ve only ever seen too hard so I don’t know how to do it in the middle. They connected me with vocational rehab to help find me the right kind of job for me.

The shelter is a family and when I moved in, it didn’t take me long to figure out that every staff member has their own strengths they bring to this family.

Cindy is the mother hen and she is the craft person. Bonnie to me is the Clean-It Lady: Scrub-a-dub-dub all night long. Talia is the beauty queen: She put highlights in my hair and does my make-up. 

Isaiah, he’s younger, always cooking for the group and he’s the gentle giant. One day I was having a really hard time and with the softest voice he helped me come down.

Paul and Cody are the child-whisperers: when they play with the kids they look right at them so the kids know they care.

Steph and Jess, you can tell them everything. They’re like the younger siblings who lift you up and give you unconditional love. Even when you go to the the store [household items and clothing given free to shelter clients] the young woman who works there is so kind.

[Shelter residents] J. and L. were going to come over to my new apartment for Thanksgiving, and then E. and P. were like ‘Could we come over?’ All of a sudden I hear from A: ‘Well mama said she’s coming over to your house for Thanksgiving.’ So I was talking to Steph [house team leader] about it and we figured it is easier to have Thanksgiving dinner in the shelter, because Cindy loves to make the turkey.

We need the piano out of the dining room because we are not going to eat all scattered here, there and everywhere. We are going to bring tables and chairs in from the church and the 30 or 40 of us are all gonna sit down together.

Last Thanksgiving I was in a house, with none of my kids. I was thankful for my kids, and that was it. This Thanksgiving, I could go for half a day telling people what I am thankful for.

I was going to get on disability [benefits], get an apartment, raise my kids and die alone. That was my road.

And I felt all right with that road.

Then I came here and I found out ‘I’m not stupid.’ ‘I’m not ugly.’ I have something that’s worth giving to other people. Instead of being beat down, they are raising me up. So I am looking so forward to my future.

People hear about homeless people and they think of them freezing to death. I was almost a statistic. I almost died as a homeless person. But it was because I felt so low about myself. I had a place to sleep on someone’s couch but I knew I wasn’t wanted. I knew that place would never be my home.

The people [at the Knox County Homeless Coalition] look into the residents’ hearts,  and see what they’re good at, what they’re interested in and help them do that. It’s not just about shelter. They give you your life back.

See? Goosebumps again.”

Notes from Stephanie Primm:

’I want you out Monday.’ Can you imagine being a single mom, having been verbally beaten down for a long time -- and hearing those five very frightening words? When people come out of abusive, unsafe, or otherwise challenging moments in their lives, they often are without hope, confidence, and any ability to envision a positive life.

Many have given up. Anxiety and depression, PTSD, unhealthy influences and relationships have snuffed out the 'pilot light of hope' inside.

At Knox County Homeless Coalition we re-ignite that pilot light of hope — with love, caring, respect, dignity and a skilled social work team that supports for as much time as is needed to get back to an independent life.

Billiejoe mentions having  ‘goosebumps’ when she courageously speaks about her experience going from hopelessness to a hopeful future. Her success gives me goosebumps. Her enthusiasm for giving back keeps our entire team energized — each and every day.

This Thanksgiving, I am most grateful for BillieJoe — a shining example of why KCHC exists.

We have the privilege of seeing entire families rediscover hopeful productive lives. We see children re-engage in school, then sports and start smiling and running across our parking lot giving out hugs. We know for sure that respect, dignity and caring are things that all human beings deserve. And the proof lies in our success rate, like BillieJoe—92 percent of clients who complete our program remain sustainable in their independent lives. And because over 50 percent of our clients represent children and families — quite simply they are the future of our community.

To those of you who support us, thank you for saving and changing lives.

For those of you who would like to support us or to learn more, please call 593-8151 and ask for Kim Rand or me, Stephanie Primm, visit our website and find our ‘donate’ button, or checks can be mailed to Knox County Homeless Coalition, P.O. Box 1696, Rockland ME 04841.

On behalf of our board, client families and team at KCHC -- we wish you and yours a warm, joyful and peaceful Thanksgiving.

About Knox County Homeless Coalition:

Knox County Homeless Coalition is the only dedicated homeless services organization serving Knox, Waldo and parts of northern Lincoln County— helping families achieve sustainable independence and a hopeful future. Their client-focused wraparound approach begins with building trusting relationships, identifying and building on an individual’s strengths -- and simultaneously working to break down barriers to sustainable, productive independent lives. KCHC is committed to delivering everything they do with respect, dignity and genuine caring. KCHC is also committed to being a catalyst for systemic change in solving root causes of homelessness in the Midcoast through collaboration. Programs include: Hospitality House Family Shelter; comprehensive case management; The Landing Place Youth Program; transportation; emergency services and supply store; outbound food distribution and pantry and love.

Patrisha McLean's multi-media exhibit Finding Our Voices: Breaking the Silence of Domestic Abuse is at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center in Augusta through Dec. 13. For more information, visit findingourvoices.net or hhrcmaine.org.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Cindi Campbell | Dec 04, 2019 09:41

I am so glad that the shelter's people were able to give Billiejoe back to herself.  I have had the pleasure of occasionally interacting with her over the last year and found her to be a delightful person.  I found her to be a woman with a huge heart.  I am sure that Billiejoe will get through the hurdles that may face her.  Thank you, to the Knox County Homeless coalition, for being such an integral part of this community...For helping our friends get back on their feet.  Thank you, for all that you do!



Posted by: Stephen K Carroll | Nov 28, 2019 11:04

The Knox county Homeless coalition is truly a marvelous organization filled with careing and dedicated people willing to improve the lives of others.  To hear more about all the homeless coalition does please tune in or stream live WRFR's Metro show Wednesday December 11th.  Representatives from KCHC will be on discussing their role in our society.



Posted by: Rosemary P. Stuart-Libbey | Nov 28, 2019 08:33

Wonderful article about someone whose strength and courage I have always admired! Billiejoe is real and has a heart as big as you will ever find - thank you for helping her rediscover who she is meant to be.



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