November 28, 2022

Veronica Horton is waking up on these cold November mornings cold and tired and wondering when her next shower will be.

After a few hours of restless sleep trying to stay warm in the backseat of his car every night, he’s thinking a lot about how good his own bed would feel, or how good it would be to not have to wash in the sink of a toilet

Horton knows what it’s like to be desperate and homeless.

A situation of domestic violence forced her 13 years ago to take refuge with her two small children in Lazarus House in St. Charles, where he not only found refuge but the support he needed to start building a new and better future.

And so, since Friday, the 45-year-old Montgomery social worker has chosen to sleep in her van, determined to do so until she raises $35,000 for Bridge Communities, the county’s transitional housing program of DuPage where Horton has been a social worker for almost a year.

According to its website, Bridge Communities helps more than 100 families find self-sufficiency each year by working with other organizations to provide mentoring, housing and support services.

As of late Tuesday afternoon, Horton had raised nearly $8,500 toward that ambitious goal, which he chose because it coincides with the number of years the nonprofit has been helping families like his who suddenly they find themselves homeless and with few or no options.

This is the 19th year this group has held Sleep Out Saturday to raise awareness of the challenges families face when forced to live in their cars. But Horton wanted to take this fundraising a step further, well aware that the more money raised, the more families can be helped, and realizing his own personal story can also go a long way in reminding us all that the Homelessness can affect anyone anywhere.

“Of course I want to go home. I miss my husband and the cat. I miss my routine and my things. But this is very important,” she said in a phone call Monday morning after her fourth night in the vehicle parked on a side street, with police permission, near his office.

Horton told me that she works during the day, then retires to her car around 8 p.m., grateful for those who visit her from time to time, but also noted that even under these controlled conditions like “ alone” can be heard as the hum. of everyday life slows down and darkness settles in.

“I’m lying here … my head doesn’t shut off very easily,” she admitted, adding that in addition to battling loneliness, she’s also been battling a cold.

Her husband Lou, whom she married almost 10 years ago, has been “very supportive”, as have her two children, Elizabeth, 19, and Geoffrey, 25, who live in Wisconsin and called her at 2:30 a.m. “just to make sure I was okay.”

My conversation with her a few hours later showed that Horton is more than fine, a determined and passionate woman who grew up in a household where she watched her father, even when he was living paycheck to paycheck, always extend a help others.

And she insists that no matter how long it takes to reach her goal of $35,000, she’s not giving up, even if it means sleeping in her car for a couple of weeks. Those who would like to help Horton reach that dollar amount so he can return home to Montgomery can contribute at www.sleeputsaturday.org/hopeunderthestars

“The work that Bridge does is enormous. So many lives have been changed when you can give people hope and opportunity,” Horton insisted. “I wouldn’t be where I am if it wasn’t for those people who were there in my lowest and darkest moment.”

Which was “an emergency situation” that took her from making breakfast in the morning to calling the police “and throwing my stuff in garbage bags” in the afternoon and visiting a shelter that night . Homelessness doesn’t always happen in slow motion, he noted, but it can be attacked so quickly.

Still, Horton is adamant that the chapter in his life is part of a story he wouldn’t change. With the help of Lazarus House and other support people, she was able to earn a master’s degree and after working for four years with Mercy Housing, she eventually found a position as a case manager at Bridge Communities that “completed the full circle of the my life.” ,” she says.

“It’s good for my heart and soul to work with these families,” Horton added, noting that his own experiences give him that special connection with those who are often “so desperate that they don’t know what to do next.” .

When I spoke to Horton on Monday, he had been up for several hours, having gradually emerged from the blankets covering the backseat air mattress where he slept as temperatures dropped into the 30s, leaving a dewy intense the window.

Imagining what it would be like to have to dress young children for school makes Horton even more appreciative of the apartments Bridge Communities offers families. And that, in turn, makes her more determined to keep it up, even with temperatures that want to drop even more in the coming days.

On Thursday, Horton plans to return home to Montgomery and pick up medicine and fresh clothes, noting it will be “a short trip.”

And he insists that no matter how long it takes to get to $35,000, he’s not giving up, even if it means a couple more weeks in his vehicle.

“I miss home, but I really like what we do here,” she said of the nonprofit. “Everything Bridge is able to do is so life-changing. I just want to do what it takes and raise the funds, however long it takes.”

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