Jessica Parks is known as the diva of the group at Outreach, to which she replies, “Get diva-licious. You don’t have to look like what you’re going through.” Somehow, no matter where she sleeps, she always manages to be dressed up, outfit completed with matching accessories. You’d never know from looking at her that she’s experiencing homelessness. While Jessica is certainly a diva, she’s also so much more. She is a woman of deep faith, determined to trust God to see her through so that she can help someone else.
In 2012, Jessica became homeless when her housemate kicked her out. She didn’t have a network of people that were willing to help her at that time. She didn’t have anywhere to go, so she began sleeping outside and in shelters.
Being homeless the first time rocked her faith. For a time she was consumed with the lingering question, “Why me?” She hadn’t ever even imagined being homeless. Jessica says she was really, really angry. Slowly, she began to forget who God was and who she was. Thus began a series of suicide attempts (one at Outreach, with a staff member who interceded and called an ambulance). Cutting, overdosing on pills, and swallowing sharp objects were the painful methods she used as an attempt to cure her suffering.
One time in the ICU, she really thought she was dying. She was under 24 hr. care and observation and couldn’t walk or eat. She wasn’t even allowed to go to the bathroom by herself. It felt like she had been there a really long time. She made a plea with Jesus, begging that if He would let her leave the hospital, she would turn back to Him. He was gracious.
“Outreach,” she says, “gave me my hope back. Back in 2012 I was talking with Kristin, and I told her I felt like I was in a deep blue sea, and the more I tried to swim up, the more I began to sink. I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no more light for me. I’m through. But as I began to have relationships with the staff and the other girls…I realized it wasn’t just about me. I wanted to get better so I could help someone else.”
Her grandmother had always taken her to church as a child, and she has known Jesus since she was a little girl. Despite all the times she has asked God, “Why me?”, she can honestly say that today she believes God made her strong. He made her able to overcome, and one day she’ll be able to help someone else in a similar situation.
She reflects today that she spent so much time looking for something that was always right in front of her: the unconditional love of Jesus. She ran to people for love and acceptance, but she says that now she realizes she will never find the love and acceptance she was looking for in people. She says, “God promised me that He is the one I’m looking for.”
Her journey continues. It is rarely easy, but she feels like Jesus always sees her through. In 2014 she got her first apartment. She had a full-time job and paid for the whole thing by herself. Unfortunately late in the year, she got sick and missed a few weeks of work. She didn’t have FMLA or sick leave, so she missed the pay checks and fell behind on rent. She was evicted and went to stay at a shelter again.
She was staying at Salvation Army and working to get on her feet again when she missed the last bus back to the shelter one day (she had accidentally left her bus pass at work). Her boss’s family invited her to spend the night at their house, and one night has turned into more than a year. She continues to live and work with them.
Today when people ask her about her past and ask if she regrets some of the things she’s been through or the bridges that she has burned, she says she doesn’t. She says she might wish things had gone differently, but without them, she wouldn’t know the people she knows today–especially Outreach staff and volunteers and the friends she’s made there. “I still keep and build those relationships.”
She’s excited for the day when she can give back to Outreach. The staff and volunteers at Outreach gave Jessica a place to feel safe and be herself. She wants to offer the hope that was offered to her and pay it forward. “Maybe I can be that light to another girl that’s going through something.”