... "I was helping out while mom and dad were with my brother. I also spent a lot of time taking care of my dad and stepfather through various cancer treatments. Another one of my brother’s also had cancer more recently and he also experienced homelessness. I dropped everything and moved to their home to take care of him for a while.”Le Anne shed light on the various relationships with her family. “Growing up I wasn’t close with my family. My one brother and I hung together. I keep in touch with my step dad and my brother, but my mom passed away in 2008. I was married twice. They were not marriages, believe me, they were very abusive. It is by the grace of God that I am sitting here. That’s how bad they were. I went to groups with other domestic violence victims. They gave me strength knowing I wasn’t alone. I have two sons, they are 39 and 24. I keep in touch with both. I have grandbabies; they are 16, 13, and 7. It has been pretty tough with that. I haven’t seen my granddaughter in 7 years. I am planning on filing for grandparents rights. I call my grandkids, but I just get the voice message.”
Le Anne’s care for her family and others translated into her work. “I worked at Handishop Industries with individuals with varying disabilities. I loved it [my job]. I wish I could have taken them all home with me. I hope they were as rewarded by me as I was by them. I had heard of the Warming Center and the Hospitality House and I utilized them when I was homeless. I also worked there. I would wake up, volunteer, clean up, and listen to people share their life journeys. That was where I got my strength from, talking and listening to them. I met so many wonderful people and they became my family. They still are my family. I began working at the Hospitality House and it was so amazing. There was this community of people coming together to bring a meal, water, and clothes to people. It reminded me of my time at Handishop Industries. I do what I love and I love what I do. It goes back to when I was really young and caring for others.”
As we follow so many individuals on their journeys of homelessness, Le Anne, turned our eyes to a new perspective. “I became homeless in September of 2017 and it was because I was paying more than 50% of my income for rent. I was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and $425 was my rent. This was really cheap for La Crosse, but I couldn't do it. I still had my electricity, my car insurance, and things I needed for the home. I had to move out. My church was wonderful in helping me get a storage unit as I was cleaning out my apartment. I became so lost I didn’t know where to go. I was homeless for a year and a month. It seemed like forever. I slept in my vehicle. It was a small Saturn. By this time I had gone through more than one back surgery, ankle surgery, and a knee surgery, so I didn’t know how to position myself [in my car]. I had to put towels in my windows to make sure no one knew I was in there. I never had to sleep outside though.”
Le Anne recounted her first night of homelessness and how she worked hard to remain unnoticed as a person experiencing homelessness. “The first night I had to sleep in my car, I really didn’t sleep. It was September and beautiful out. I heard this guy and I could tell he was drunk or something. He could see me and he was ordering me out of my car. I dialed 9-1-1 and luckily the police took care of it, but that taught me to put towels in my windows. I was given a three month membership to the YMCA. I would work out there and shower. No one knew I was homeless. You don’t want no one to know you’re homeless.”
The journey and connection of people who experience homelessness extends beyond the street; Le Anne is a testament to that statement. “I kept volunteering even after I was housed. I met so many people with so many talents and intelligence. They had a degree, but they were homeless. I was only a year and a month homeless and some of these people were 5 years or 10 years on the streets. They were just hanging onto hope. I still go down and bring them blankets and water. I connect with people on Facebook and share my experiences and help others that have recently become homeless. I cry right along with them. I was depressed, but I had to keep going.”
A message of strength, hope, and leaning on each other captures Le Anne’s dream for others. “It can be done, you can get out of homelessness. So what if you need help? We all need help. People who are homeless are human just like we all are. Be grateful that you are where you are, but those who are homeless are just as deserving of having a home and medical services. Help and volunteer and you will meet wonderful people. Just get involved.”
Artist’s Note: Le Anne’s love of butterflies encapsulates her whole being. She has grown into an incredible woman. She always puts the weight of others’ burdens on her shoulders, and even when the days seem dark, she leaves a touch of beauty and grace everywhere she goes.