Karen Butler was homeless when she met Buddy, a dog she rescued. By day, she took care of Buddy. At night, Buddy watched out for Karen, as the two shared a van as their home.
Because of Karen’s physical disabilities of multiple sclerosis and epilepsy, she was unable to drive the van a friend loaned her. A parking lot became “home” for Karen and Buddy.
For Karen, it was a step up from the nights she slept in playground tunnels in area parks.
She was grateful for the friends who allowed her to use their bathroom and provided them with food.
Karen, 51, said her struggles began when her husband left and she became a single mother. She worked various jobs, often two or three at a time, to support her children, who are now adults and have moved away. Eventually, her medical condition deteriorated, she could no longer work and subsequently, she was no longer able to afford her home.
Karen was introduced to Community Housing Network (CHN) through Eddie, her boyfriend and a CHN program participant. She first called the Housing Resource Center, whose staff mobilized CHN’s PATH Outreach Team who went to visit her. PATH team members visited Karen in her van and then, with the help of CHN’s Emergency Solutions Grant program and Easter Seals, a community partner, helped Karen secure housing.
One of the biggest challenges, Karen admits, was finding a fully accessible unit. She smiled as she described her new motorized wheelchair and the support bars installed in her shower. Karen is now a participant in CHN’s Leasing Assistance Program, which provides her with long-term subsidy and makes it possible for her to rent an apartment.
When she moved into her apartment from the van, friends gave her furniture, a television, and a painting for the living room. She was grateful for all the material necessities, but sorely missed Buddy. He’d been at her side since the day she found him, as a puppy that fit into her hand, wandering by a Dumpster. He stayed right with her and had learned to warn her before she’d have an epileptic seizure and would lick her face when it was over.
Community Housing Network staff helped work with her to get Buddy’s certification as a service animal. Two months after Karen moved in, she and Buddy were reunited. “I rescued him,” she says, “but he saved me.” With Buddy back in her life, her apartment became a home. “It feels so good to be home,” Karen exclaimed. “I don’t have to be scared anymore.”
She is able to receive medical care and is working to find a permanent caregiver. Advocating for multiple sclerosis research is now her main goal in life. She has a personal goal as well, and that is to never be homeless again.