Jennifer & Alan: Closing the loop through giving back
January 13, 2023Jennifer and Alan first met a handful of years ago when they were living on the streets of the Tulalip Indian Reservation where Pallet built its 100th village. Today, they’re co-workers at Pallet who are finding meaning in giving back to the area where they experienced homelessness.
Get them in a room together and Jennifer and Alan laugh – a lot. The two first met each other a handful of years ago when they were living on streets of the Tulalip Indian Reservation in Washington. Today they’re co-workers at Pallet. Their witty humor makes them a dynamic duo dropping hilarious one-liners as they tell stories about their past. Indeed, they can have a crowd in stitches.
“I relate to many of the people here because we can laugh about things that most people would get appalled by,” Alan says in admiration of his co-workers, many of whom share similar lived experiences.
Jennifer agrees – they have witnessed the darker sides of life. But, she says, they’ve risen above them. “It’s like, you guys, we have overcome so much and we’re killing it now. We are rock stars,” she says, laughing.
She and Alan are proud to have surmounted substance use disorder and other challenges that are, truthfully, nothing to laugh at. Right now though, they’re excited to be working on Pallet shelters for a new village on the Tulalip Reservation where they were once unhoused themselves.
“I’m super happy about the village because there’s a lot of my friends still stuck out there in Tulalip, doing the same dumb [stuff] I was doing,” Alan says. “Now they can potentially move into a Pallet shelter. And the guy that they used to get high with and go commit burglaries and crazy [stuff] with, is the same [guy] who built that shelter for them.”
Alan’s a machinist. He creates the individual parts that form the skeletons of our shelters.
Jennifer works in maintenance and repairs; she just transitioned from being an HR safety specialist. Sometimes she also works onsite erecting the villages. She feels a connection to the people who move into the shelters.
“When you get the opportunity to go out in the field and watch people take down their tents and cry and be so thankful and tell you that as they’re moving their stuff into a unit” it’s powerful, she says.
Years of substance use and cycles of recovery and recidivism led to Jennifer and Alan living unhoused on the Tulalip Reservation in the same circles for about six years. Alan lived in a tent surrounded by 30 other tents. Jennifer sold drugs.
“I needed drugs, she had drugs, that’s how we met,” Alan quips.
“As long as I could keep drugs in my pocket, I was ok. It meant I had money,” Jennifer explains.
Life on the streets was extremely hard both physically–such as defending oneself from attacks—and emotionally; there’s often a loss of self-worth, Jennifer says. “You have to be a survivor. You have to do things you normally wouldn’t do just to get by.”
“People tend to think of drug addicts as being weak,” Alan says. “But it’s the opposite; you’re battling every single day. You’re not thinking about tomorrow, you’re thinking about how am I going to get through today. You’ll worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.”
Through their own journeys and fortitude, Jennifer and Alan both eventually entered clean and sober houses. Jennifer started managing the women’s house, and Alan, the men’s. Jennifer came to Pallet about a year before Alan and found the structure and accountability she needed to start rebuilding her life. Soon she was promoted to HR. “Alan’s manager referred him to me as a great worker and we needed people,” Jennifer says. She helped hire him.
“I just love that when I got into HR I could get more people in and be a fair chancer,” she says. “To watch your fellow co-workers thrive and grow, you get so much reward out of that.”
Being part of a fair chance employer feels like an extension of how she, Alan and others provided support to each other on the streets. “Being in the circle of addiction, you still take care of each other,” she says. “Some days are harder than others. You’re just ready to give up and you just need that one person to believe in you.”
With co-workers who believe in them and stable jobs, Jennifer and Alan are thriving. Alan just moved into an apartment and got his license back. Jennifer lives in her own place with her daughter.
Through their work on Pallet’s 100th village—the Tulalip village—Jennifer and Alan are striving to provide these critical transitional shelters to friends who are still unhoused on the reservation.
“For me, it’s about being part of solving a bigger problem,” Jennifer says. “What makes me excited about the Tulalip build is coming from there–it’s literally closing that whole circle and being able to give back.”
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