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Your Neighbors

YMCA supportive housing helps neighbors in need


“I would recommend this for anyone. Like I said, sober or not, you know, once the person gets here, there’s a lot of initiative to get sober and stay sober,” Adams said.

A community of individuals who have their neighbors’ backs live at the YMCA supportive housing campus in downtown Des Moines. This solution for those who are homeless, or are about to face homelessness, is unique. 

One of the residents is Mary Adams, a Navy veteran. She was pre-enlisted in the Navy only a week after finishing high school. Many of Adams’ neighbors inside the campus are also veterans. 

“I think that’s one of the reasons I went into the military, was to get more disciplined, see the world and get away from my parents. You know, when you’re 18, that’s your No. 1 priority,” Adams said.

Adams was with the Navy for a few years before bouncing around several jobs. She says her ADHD caused her to become bored with most jobs quickly, so she moved on early and often. 

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After some struggles, Adams moved to Houston and started a pet-sitting business. 

“It was kind of like my calling, you know, because I’ve been around dogs my whole life. My dad trained hunting dogs. I really liked that, and it made good money,” Adams said.

Why was that job her favorite? 

“Because I’m a pet lover. I love pets. This is the first time in my life that I don’t have a dog, but I am looking if anybody has one they want to get rid of,” said Adams. 

Adams ended up moving back to Des Moines to help take care of her father who had gotten sick. Unfortunately, once she moved back, Adams became addicted to drugs, which took her life off course.

“I have to be careful on how much I take on (responsibilities) because I will overwhelm myself. Real easy, real fast. So, it’s like, kind of figuring out how much I can do every day,” Adams said. 

Her addiction and the related struggles resulted in Adams ending up at a homeless shelter. She says the difference between living in the homeless shelter and the supportive housing campus are night and day.

“The employees had a tendency to kind of stay behind the desk. And here it’s totally different. You know, Katie (Kamienski, executive director at the housing campus) will usually sit down and eat if we have a meal here. Katie will grab herself a plate and go sit down and talk to us, just like one of us,” Adams said. 

Adams is involved with the activities within the campus. They hold 5K runs, have a walking club, tend to a community garden, and more. 

“My favorite thing is the arts and crafts classes that we have. I help volunteer with the pop up shops. It takes that to keep me sober. You know, and I won’t lie, I have had some slip ups, but these people here, they don’t hold it against you. They help you get up and dust yourself off and carry on,” Adams said.

The Navy has helped Adams, too, paying for the first six months of her rent. This and other veteran-based programs, along with the campus’ food pantry, ensure Adams will not go hungry. 

While Adams likes where she’s living now, the people she lives beside and those who work on the campus, she has plenty of admiration for those working at the homeless shelter she was at previously, too.

“That’s a tough job down there. I’ll tell you what, you got to be hardcore. But then, at the same time, you’ve got to be real tender. We’re a lot closer here. The staff here is a lot more involved, being one-on-one and hands-on with the people here. Most of their jobs (at the homeless shelter) is just keeping things under control when everyone’s there. They really don’t have the time to do the one on one,” Adams said. 

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