In early 2020, the Women’s Foundation of Collier County began making grants to address the issue after learning of over 70 homeless senior women in Collier County who were left with no other option than to live in their cars. One of these women, Marie C, has a story that starts with hope, turns to hardship. Thanks to the Women’s Foundation of Collier County’s focus on supporting homeless senior women, her story ends with her dignity and hope restored.
Marie and her husband came to the United States from the Caribbean 40 years ago. With one child in tow and another soon to arrive, they landed in Miami, starting their American dream — for the first few years. Both Marie and her husband had good jobs, the children were healthy, and there was always plenty of food on the table. While the nation was booming economically, the couple began to struggle with employment. As Marie’s husband bounced between a few jobs, their basic needs became harder to come by. Eventually, Marie’s husband left the family.
Not to be deterred, Marie and her three children moved to Jacksonville, Florida, where she found a job and became head of household providing for her children.
After a few years, her son left for the military, serving several tours, and was honorably discharged at the end of his service time. But he came home with PTSD, a struggle and hardship for the whole family.
Marie’s two daughters, though, continued to excel, eventually having families of their own. Marie now has a few grandchildren she loves to spoil when she can.
Hard times returned when Marie lost her job in Jacksonville. She moved to Naples to live with her son hoping to get back on her feet. In her mid-60s, Marie found it tough to find employment and became another mouth to feed in her son’s house. The day-to-day strain of providing meals and needs for his mother became too much for her son. Marie had no other choice but to live in her car for the next few months. Using Walmart bathrooms for quick wash-ups and food pantries for her meals daily — Marie was barely surviving.
The Hunger & Homeless Coalition (HHC) outreach coordinator found Marie in a grocery store parking lot. After performing an intake, the outreach coordinator and several HHC team members reached out to some landlords. One had an efficiency unit available that Marie could afford. With the Women’s Foundation of Collier County’s help, the Hunger and Homeless Coalition was able to pay her first last and security deposits to get her back in the housing.
Upon hearing about the Women’s Foundation senior women homeless initiative, the Naples Women’s Club wanted to team up to tackle senior women homelessness in Collier County. Each organization is making substantial grants to the Hunger & Homeless Coalition of Collier County to facilitate housing for local older women who are homeless. The Women’s Foundation of Collier County has dedicated a total of $35,000, and Naples Women’s Club is donating $13,000, together making a sizeable impact to help end homelessness in our community.
Valerie White, President of the Naples Woman’s Club, said, “The issue of homeless senior women in our County is shocking. Our members immediately responded with an initial grant to the Coalition for Hunger and Homeless. We are going to continue working with the Women’s Foundation because this is an issue that touches our hearts and minds. We care about our seniors.”
“We are pleased the Naples Women’s Club has joined the Women’s Foundation of Collier County in our initiative to advocate for homeless women in Collier County,” said WFCC Board Chair Donna Messer. “In 2020, the Women’s Foundation partnered with the Hunger & Homeless Coalition to meet this important and immediate need by facilitating housing for 13 women. We’re looking forward to assisting many of the 61 who are still currently homeless in the County.”
The support that the women’s foundation started providing in the spring of 2020 has changed 13 women’s lives, including Marie’s, and has put the Hunger & Homeless coalition on a mission to end senior homelessness in our county.
The Women’s Foundation of Collier County has received other gifts, most recently a $5,000 gift from The Wasie Foundation, to help place homeless senior ladies into housing where they are safe. These women are also given access to the case management services and care needed to remain stable and secure.
Marie, in the meantime, has landed a job enabling her to care for herself fully since moving back into the housing and is grateful to count herself as a WFCC/HHC success story.
“Our goal is to first and foremost end their homelessness while additionally bringing much-needed resources like; food, health, and mental health; we have so many amazing community service partners that are assisting with these resources,” said Michael Overway, Executive Director of Hunger & Homeless Coalition of Collier County. “Without the Foundation’s support, we would still have so many senior citizen females living in daily crisis.”
To learn more about the Women’s Foundation of Collier County or to support our work by donating today to benefit programs and scholarships for local women and girls, visit wfcollier.org.