Community Connections – Celebrating Howera’s Milestones

Written By: Mental Health Case Manager, Julia Parmer, MSW
Howera is small and slight, perhaps all of 95 lbs. Her eyes are warm and bright and her smile is infectious. She is sitting across from me in my office, and we are on the phone with the Human Service Agency of San Mateo. She speaks almost no English but has given me permission to advocate on her behalf. Howera has been in this country for just a little over a year. Before that she spent her entire life in a small town in Ethiopia.

This has been a big week for Howera. On Monday, she and I met with her immigration attorney from Community Legal Services in East Palo Alto. The attorney, whose services are free of charge, came bearing good news. After months of delays and endless paperwork, Howera’s work permit finally arrived; the first in what will be a series of steps towards her self-sufficiency. The lawyer also came with a thick sheaf of official looking papers indicating that Howera’s Violence Against Women Act Visa has been filed. Howera wasted no time this week in firing off job applications to countless retail shops and local grocery stores. On Tuesday, Howera met with a primary care doctor at our Samaritan House Medical Clinic after many months without health care. Soon she will qualify for County medical coverage, but in the interim she will utilize our comprehensive services.

Howera came to us from IVSN’s Maple Street Shelter. She had fled an emotionally and physically toxic marriage. Her husband (who is also originally from Ethiopia but has been living in California for several years) had been introduced to her through a mutual friend. They had spoken on the phone several times but had met only once. For Howera, who lived in a small impoverished war-torn village with her grandparents, the opportunity to come to California was a dream come true. But soon after coming here, the marriage steadily declined and she decided she had to get out. With the help of a counselor at Kaiser and a friend from her local church, she was able to get into Maple Street. Once timing out there, she came to us, where we hit the ground running to create a case plan and follow through on her many goals.

After waiting patiently on hold, we are finally patched through to a case worker. I read off Howera’s case number, and a moment later, we are told that Howera has qualified for CalFresh, formerly known as Food Stamps. She can pick up her EBT card tomorrow. Instinctively, Howera and I both nearly leap out of our seats rejoicing. $195 will be deposited on her card, and she will finally be able to bring food for lunch while she attends San Mateo Adult School. I have never had to think about where my next meal will come from; food is a luxury that I take for granted every day. But since the day she came to Safe Harbor, Howera has constantly voiced to me (through the help of an interpreter) her distress at not having money for food and the feeling of utter helplessness that it has given her. For the rest of the day when I see Howera around the shelter, we both burst into joyful smiles, savoring this victory that seems so small, but means so much.

There is much more for Howera to accomplish on her road to self-sufficiency. Next will be filing for divorce, then tackling the issue of housing. But for this week, for today, we will celebrate this milestone.

Community Connections is comprised of narratives from the people who know Samaritan House the best- our staff, clients, and volunteers! To submit a story, please email it to