After an unexpected divorce, Arizona native, Kathy Johnson, found herself in what she refers to as “the sub-basement of rock bottom.” Newly homeless, Johnson felt hopeless for the first time in her life. Hungry and in need of medication, Johnson sought help at Payson’s Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) office where she successfully secured Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to purchase food and medical coverage that allowed her to obtain the thyroid medication that she had been going without. From Payson, a scared, but determined Johnson, drove south with her dog in the truck in which they were living. The two settled in Sierra Vista during an unusually cold time of year. Johnson knew she needed income and remembered that DES staff in Payson recommended ARIZONA @ WORK for employment assistance.
Johnson went to the Sierra Vista ARIZONA @ WORK office seeking a job and left with much more. When the office supervisor, Teresa Celestine, and her team learned that Johnson and her dog were sleeping in her truck, they rallied. “Realizing that she was homeless living in her truck with her dog, the immediate thought was food for them both and keeping them safe and warm,” explained Celestine. Celestine went home to pick up blankets and pillows to keep the two warm and a bag of Milk-Bone dog treats for Johnson’s pup.
Meanwhile, the Sierra Vista staff brainstormed other ways to help. The team referred Johnson to a nearby facility so she could take her first hot shower in a week at no charge, and directions to the laundromat to wash her clothes with the quarters Celestine gave her.
“We made sure she had everything she needed to get her through the weekend,” said Celestine. “Our security guards allowed her to park in our parking lot over the weekend, where it is well lit with security patrolling.”
The team encouraged Johnson to come back the following Monday for help finding a job and she took them up on it. During her next visit to the ARIZONA @ WORK office, the staff provided her with job search assistance, online testing required to obtain the job she sought, and direct access to the hiring employer, which led to employment. Johnson was thrilled and began to have hope again.
“Walking into the ARIZONA @ WORK Sierra Vista office was the best move I ever made. Teresa Celestine and her team were able to give me the hand-up I needed. They made me feel valued as a person,” said Johnson.
Celestine was concerned as Johnson still didn’t have a place to live, so she took to social media and searched local community groups for possible home share options. With a lot of research and several conversations, Celestine found a woman who was willing to open her home to Johnson.
“It was a very rough point in my life and now thanks to DES and ARIZONA @ WORK, my dog and I have a warm place to live, food to eat, and I have a job,” said Johnson. “They gave me a path out when I felt like there was none.”
DES and ARIZONA @ WORK serve clients holistically by connecting them to services to meet their needs and provide them with hope when they’re at their most vulnerable. For more information about DES services, please visit www.azdes.gov. For more information about employment assistance, please visit www.ARIZONAatWORK.com.
By Jillian Seamans