Marybeth's Story
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Marybeth's Story

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From homelessness to work

At work at the American Red Cross in Quantico, VA, Marybeth, 60, is sure and confident. As she greets newly placed Marines, she knows her script well.

But after work, life is much more precarious. In the past seven months, “home” for the 60-year-old former Marine has been a blurred menagerie of parking lots, campsites, hotels, and borrowed houses.

Marybeth is employed, but homeless.

A Lifeline to Employment

Her story is part of the shifting face of the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Virginia Resource Center in Alexandria, VA. Through a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, NCOA runs the program that trains and places low-income seniors in temporary employment to help them regain their economic footing.

Before the economic crisis, the Alexandria SCSEP program placed about one homeless person each year. It mostly provided job training for people aged 55+ who needed supplemental income.

Then things changed.

By December 2009, the program had placed at least six homeless clients and dozens more who were “just a check away from being homeless,” says Jamescha Johnson, program manager. “This is it, this is people’s lifeline.”

As the nation’s only employment and training program aimed solely at low-income seniors, SCSEP offers a critical safety net for people like Marybeth, a veteran who left her job to care for aging parents. Unemployment nearly doubled for seniors between January 2007 and July 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor statistics.

Validation and Control

Marybeth and her son lost their apartment in June 2009. Two cars became home. At night, they parked next to each other, cracked the windows, and whispered messages over the glass. To eat, they volunteered at food pantries.

Frustrated by a lack of help from the county, discouraged by her job hunt in a market inundated with younger workers, and unable to live on her son’s disability check, Marybeth turned to NCOA’s SCSEP program.

Within days, she was on scene at Quantico, directing recently placed Marines through the Red Cross office.

While the job is temporary, it has given Marybeth a critical sense of validation and control over her own narrative. “I still have approximately nine to 10 years where I need to get out there and compete before I can even think about that ‘retire’ word,” she says.

“The biggest thing, I think, is that this stabilizes you,” she says. “You are worthwhile, and you are doing something, and you may catch your breath.”

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