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Whaattt? You’re Grateful for Being Homeless?

If you’ve read my bio, you’re probably aware that my Emma and I spent a large portion of 2010 homeless, living in a shelter in Northern Iowa. The reasons behind how we ended up in that shelter are not really important and truthfully are pretty boring, but for the sake of putting it out there, I can nail it down to one word. Divorce. You might think that I regret those months spent in that shelter, but really? I don’t. In fact? My thoughts on it are quite the opposite. I’m grateful for those months.

In 2010, my daughter and I spent 10 months in a homeless shelter. I don't regret it. Instead? I'm actually grateful for it.

Let’s go back a few years. In 2010, I was a completely different person. I was drinking every day/all day, I was argumentative, unhappy, bitter and resentful. I’ve said it before here on the blog, but I’m perfectly comfortable saying it again…if you had known me then, you’d hardly recognize me now. Not only was I all of the above, but I was also extremely irresponsible. I was 27 years old and I was working on job #- higher than 20 in the time since I started working when I was 16. I love my parents, but the one thing they truly didn’t teach me was how to be a responsible adult. I spent the better part of my late teens and early twenties borrowing money from people I knew and yes, I’m sure that even now, I still owe some of them (um…if I do still owe you from back then, I’d love to get that taken care of so just let me know.)  I had never once in my 25 years supported myself or my child. There had always been someone else to do it for me. If I was totally honest, I’d admit that I didn’t know HOW to care for myself.

Sometimes I truly am surprised that I made it to 25…I really was that stupid and wild.

Anyhow, so 2010 comes and things happen and bam! I suddenly find myself and my Emma homeless, staring at a room in a strange shelter, 800 miles from anything I knew. Most people think of the cliche shelter set up when they think of them. One single room, lined with beds where you sleep with your shoes under your pillow to prevent them from being stolen. I’m grateful that we didn’t have to deal with that, but I won’t say it was easy. Yes, we had our own room with a locking door, but there was no privacy. At any point in time the staff was able to just walk in, our food was kept in community fridges and yes, on more than one occasion I had food stolen. Food that was for my Emma that went into some adults belly. I say adult b/c Emma really was the only child for the vast majority of our stay. A few other kids came and went but she was the one constant child.

Personal items were rare for me even though there was a walk in pantry full of them. The staff just didn’t share them very often even though that’s what they were there for. Donations that were meant to be shared with the residents that for some reason, the woman who ran the shelter didn’t see a need to share with. I remember going 3 months without having a razor to shave my legs. Let’s just say that once I was able to get some? I destroyed them in one shave…lol. I still deal with the damage that was done to my teeth in those months when a toothbrush and toothpaste was a luxury I couldn’t afford.  Emma slept in a trundle bottom with a twin size mattress slipped down inside of it. Some nights she would climb into bed with me, but that wasn’t technically allowed so most nights she didn’t. I can still remember that first few nights and hearing her cry because she was in a new place and scared.

It didn’t matter whether I was actually on the streets, in the cliche shelter or in a residential shelter. People around town knew and as soon as you wrote the address on a job application…you got “the look.” Those months are what taught me everything I know about people and the crazy assumptions they will make. I can’t tell you how many times I was basically told that I “must be a druggie or alcoholic” since I was living there. Never mind that I had actually sobered up or that drugs hadn’t been a factor in my life for years. I was homeless. Therefore to them, there must have been more to the story than a simple divorce. In fact, the majority of the other women in the shelter were NOT on drugs or drinking. Sure there were a couple that came and went, but the gamut of reasons why we were there was wide. Divorce, mental illness, loss of job, abuse and more. The worst part (at least for me) though was that I didn’t have my family to rely on, I literally knew no one in the city I was in besides my then soon to be ex husband and I had a 5 year old child depending on me. So I did what any sane (or is it insane?) person would do. I sat down and cried.

It was that moment, which is frozen in time for me, that changed everything. Without going into the long details, let’s just say that something someone had said to me 15 years earlier came floating back from the nether-regions of my mind.

“You’re better than this.”

Those 5 words said to me when I was a teenager who could have probably cared less, suddenly gave me hope where I had none. They were what I needed to hear in that moment, even though I had ignored them when they were first spoken. They’re not complicated. They’re not judgmental. They were simply the opinion of one person, spoken at a time when I wasn’t ready to hear them; a seed planted in my mind that took hold and grew just when I needed it most.

To make what is a very long story short, those words literally changed everything. I stood…for the first time in my life..on my own two feet. I became the mother that my daughter so desperately needed. I learned what I didn’t know how to do and I kept on learning. I finally understood not only what I am, but who I am as well.

I am a mother no matter what comes…

I am a drug addict (although clean)…

I am an alcoholic (sober)…

I am strong..and I am fierce…

I am a survivor…

I am blessed…

I am a child of a very forgiving God…

I am better than my failures.


and yes…I am grateful for those 10 months spent in that shelter. Without them? I’m not sure I would have ever become who I am today…and I’m pretty okay with who I am today.

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Stacy Barr
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Stacy Barr

Stacy Barr is the face and brain behind the frugal living and lifestyle blog Six Dollar Family . By the age of 30, she had overcome an alcohol addiction, a drug addiction, divorce, survived domestic violence and had built a life for herself and her daughter after spending 10 months in a homeless shelter. Her book, also called Six Dollar Family, has sold more than 7,000 copies since its release.

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  1. Ambika S says:


    I truly admire your strong will that made you come up so far. You are right, it is the hardships of our life, that gives the best lessons.

  2. Robin (Masshole Mommy) says:

    How amazing that you turned a horrible situation into a learning experience. I am sorry for what you went through.

  3. I’m glad you made it through that situation with a good outlook about life.

  4. April West says:

    I remember having to do chores every day and we only had a certain day we could do laundry.. We also had to be out of the shelter from 8am to 4pm every day looking for jobs unless it was raining or snowing and you weren’t allowed visitors in yourroom. It was hell but it was an aamazing experience that only made us stonger… You and robin kept me sane you became my family and that’s all I needed 🙂

  5. I’m glad you made it through this situation. You are truly an inspiration to so many of us without even knowing. I would like to definitely like to know more about your story and will be reading your Blog to get the full story.. Really touching post

  6. I am sorry you had to go through that. It sounds like it made you a changed woman which is great that you had to go through that to make you who you are today.

  7. I think that sometimes we need to hit rock bottom before we can bounce back, you know. I am glad you made it through and stronger for it all. Thanks for sharing.

  8. Thanks for sharing this story. It takes courage to come so transparent.

  9. What a beautiful story. It is so amazing that you can embrace those 10 months and still know that you are a better, stronger person for those challenges.

  10. How inspirational! You picked yourself up out of a bad situation and did what needed to be done for you and your family. I am sorry you had to go through that but it sounds like it made you better for the experience. I admire your courage!

  11. What an inspiring story. I am so happy you were able to make a bad situation good and learn from it. High five.

  12. This was a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing it! Never be ashamed of what you’ve been through, its inspiring!

  13. Star Traci says:

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your story, I heard on the news once that most families are only 5 months away from homelessness so I believe you that many are there due to divorce or other reasons. I know there have been times it would have possible for my husband and me had we not had family help. I celebrate how far you have come and the beautiful spirit you have!

  14. Colleen Elizabeth Cassidy says:

    Thank you for sharing your story and know you weren’t the first and you won’t be the last. There are many reasons people end up there and many times it isn’t even their fault. Battered womens shelters aren’t much different and I remember thinking that sometimes the shelter wasn’t much better than where I came from but I took the first step and refused myself to allow the one step forward 2 steps back, nope, wasn’t happening. I had to tough it out. I was an emotional wreck but I have to say I did learn some life lessons and it made me greatful.

  15. This is so powerful. I’m struck by the assumptions people made, although I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. You are so right that we are not defined by our failures!

  16. Beautiful post…….and thank you to God for His mercy and grace. I’m sure your story will inspire others that may be in this same position. I’m glad you are doing well!

  17. It takes a lot of courage to share your story. It really puts all our lives into perspective. Thank you for sharing.

  18. This sounds like such a difficult journey. I can only imagine what it must have felt like to come back from that.

  19. It usually takes some time, but the hardest experiences I have are usually the ones I appreciate the most. It’s wonderful to be able to look at a situation like this in a positive light!

  20. This was such a beautiful post. I am so glad you shared it, life has a funny way of throwing you a curve ball every now and then. Good for you for allowing this experience to change you for the better.

  21. Sometimes it takes a simple moment of clarity to see what we need to see. Glad you could find your way!

  22. I am certainly glad to see that you have turned your life around. Thank you for sharing your story.

  23. Sometimes people can be so cruel with their stares. It is certainly good that you were able to overcome such obstacles.

  24. It’s amazing how one thing said long ago can have such an impact on someone in the future. Sowing seeds. 🙂 It’s always good to sow good seeds. 🙂 I’m glad your life has changed for the better and you are at peace and happy (you sound at peace and happy). 🙂

  25. What a beautiful story. Thank you so much for sharing. Glad you and Emma are on solid footing now.

  26. Your experience has made you strong and a survivor. Thank you for sharing your story.

  27. Debbie Denny says:

    Awesome story. You Rock Lady.

  28. Such an inspiring story. Thanks for sharing.

  29. Wow an amazing story and thank you for sharing. I love your confessions, and it is very true we are children of a very forgiving God!

  30. What a great way to help put like into perspective!

  31. Finding success in your failures is somethign we should all learn to do. Thank you for being so open and sharing your story.

  32. It’s amazingly brave of you to share this story…Incredible!

  33. You are a very strong woman! Sometimes it takes losing everything to gain a new perspective on life!

  34. What a story! I always wonder on how possibly we can help people on the street and why are people on the street. I regularly donate items to a shelter-like organisation in the hopes to help someone a little bit. I never donate any money either if I see someone on the street as you mentioned I don’t know if they use drugs or alcohol and I am not happy to support that kind of addiction. Instead, I offer to buy something to eat and/or drink of their choice.

  35. I so can relate to your story I was there with 2 kids to my ex-husband and because he wanted to lie and get a pfa on me me and the kids were homeless even though I was the abused one with black eyes and bruises all over me but there I was with those little words my nanny told me as a teenager your better then this and. And today I am able to say I was definitely better then the crap he was doing to me and our kids. I ;earned a lot that I didn’t know about because of that. I knew nothing about going without I always had everything I wanted and some and our kids didn’t want for nothing but at what cost me getting my ass beat whenever he was mad. It wasn’t worth it. I’m glad today to have a lesson learned. But thank you for sharing something so personal.

  36. Mayra Rodriguez says:

    wow! great story that we all need to read and understand. I alwsys have had a heart for the homeless, especially the kids. Can you tell us, what is the best way of gelping them? donating clothes, toiletries, tutoring, play time? please email me. I want to involve my kids on it.

    • Mayra, Donations to local shelters are always a help…especially during the holidays. Usually if they’re in a shelter, they’ve lost everything so clothes, toys, toiletries, and the like can be huge. I would call your local shelter and ask what they need specifically. Just be aware that if it’s a domestic violence shelter, they may not be willing to let you come onto the property. DV shelters are usually hidden for safety reasons.

  37. Thank you for sharing your story, Stacy. Good luck and Love to you and Emma.

    To “Julia,” a previous commenter who “doesn’t donate money, only food or drinks'” I would like to gently mention that is another form of judgement. If you have the money to share, give it. If not, don’t. It is not right to assume from appearances or experiences that the homeless or needy will buy drugs or alcohol. Everyone is on a journey, in a different place on their path. Thank you for sharing your food and drink, that is truly generous. Hopefully we can all be less judegemental.

    • Eliza – Did you read all of Julia’s comment? She also said she offers to buy them food and drink of their choice. Yes, not giving cash is a form of judgement but she isn’t overlooking them. She is still helping them. Much more than what many people do.

  38. Susan Lustenberger says:

    Okay, So you are amazing and a total gift to me today. I am working on a Tedtalk about the words we say to our selves and the power they carry. I would love to talk to you. Our paths are a tad similar and Your words in this post are amazing and are exactly (for a multitude of reason) what the world needs to hear. Please reach out to me if you are so inclined and we will do a little world changing together.
    You are crazy amazing,

  39. This is so inspiring, Stacy. I loved reading your story. 🙂

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