When homelessness became reality for Peggy Derringer, it was exacerbated by relentless fear and guilt. Peggy felt that she was also responsible for her daughter and her two grandchildren, ages 3 and 4, suffering through this uncertain time as well.
Home for Peggy and her family had been in a comfortable apartment on Osage Street for many years until a new tenant moved into an apartment below them. She soon began confronting the family and threatening them.
“She tried to hit me with a cane, but the police came out and stopped it,” said Peggy.
The threats and confrontations continued until the landlord told Peggy she was being evicted.
One of her friends told her she and the family could stay with them until she could contact her son and arrange to live with a family member.
“I tried to call my family and they said they would take me and my grandbabies in, but not my daughter,” said Peggy. “They said my daughter had posted something on Facebook that they didn’t like, so I told them if they wouldn’t take all of us, then they couldn’t take any of us because I wasn’t going to leave my daughter with no place to go.”
Peggy had retired as a nurse’s aid to help her daughter, who had experienced great difficulty with her pregnancies and needed someone with her.
The family stayed with a friend for two months and were then told they needed to move on. Peggy had a little money saved and they got a hotel room for a few days.
Their fear escalated as they tried to figure out what they would do next.
Peggy’s 27-year-old son was trying to find them a home, but was having difficulty finding anything that didn’t require a large deposit and the first month’s rent upfront.
“No one would work with us to find a plan where we could divide it all up and pay some each month,” said Peggy.
Then, after hearing about the Shelter of Hope, they decided it was their only option. They were grateful they could be together there as a family and her son told Peggy that it would be a place to lie down and be out of the cold.
“It was scary, but it was good to know that we were all together,” said Peggy.
The family had to be up by 6 a.m. and out of the shelter by 7 a.m. They would then head to Welcome Central.
“I’m so glad we had the chance to stay at Welcome Central,” said Peggy. “They closed at 3 p.m. We would go to the park and let the kids play for a while or go up to Catholic Charities and stay there until 9 p.m. I was scared that the weather would get bad and you know, here we are, no place to go, no place around Leavenworth where they had a shelter where people can go during the day other than Welcome Central, which is a really nice place.”
It was there that Peggy and her daughter, Jessica, watched women making crafts. And the more they watched and learned, the more they wanted to try it themselves. As soon as Peggy could she got some materials so she and her daughter could start creating crafts that they could then try and sell.
Soon, they had saved enough to start looking for an apartment.
“We were at Catholic Charities and someone told us they knew of a place for rent so we went to see it and it was affordable,” said Peggy.
They moved in immediately without any furniture, bedding or kitchen items, but Catholic Charities came to the rescue and provided blankets which the family used for beds and covers. They saved and were able to buy a bed, while Welcome Central and Catholic Charities came together and provided needed furniture.
Peggy and her family were among local residents who found themselves in a homeless situation in Leavenworth.
Although the total number of homeless people in Leavenworth remains unclear, many people in similar situations are utilizing the services of the agency now known as the Leavenworth Interfaith Community of Hope, which includes a shelter, a day center and Welcome Central.
The shelter, which has room for approximately 30 beds, is free and guests do not need a reservation.
The day center provides a place where people can go during inclement weather.
Welcome Central helps clients gain access to benefits and medical care.
“I can’t ask for better people than at Welcome Central and Catholic Charities,” said Peggy. “They are amazing people.”
Sister Vickie Perkins, Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas, believes the community should be proud of stories like Peggy’s.
“One of the most rewarding parts of our work is to have someone who is homeless and struggling, but is able to truly turn things around and get back on track,” Perkins said. “We have seen many people who have been able to do this. When things go wrong in your life it is easy to just give up, but many of our folks don't do that, they dig in and make things better. We are grateful that we are able to support them while they do this. So many people have supported our work and this makes it possible for us to support those in need.”
Perkins says there are a number of people who don’t come to the shelter, but at least 15 to 20 do come each night.
“I’m not sure of the number, but I would guess that there are at least 20 more people couch hopping or sleeping outside,” she said.
After two years of living in the apartment, Peggy is still haunted by the fear and uncertainty of living on the streets. She breaks down and cries when remembering that time in her life.
“I still think about when I was homeless and that I put my kids through this and I didn’t want my grandkids to go through it. I didn’t want to go through it either but it happened and I’m glad it did because now I see how these homeless people live and it’s not good. It was scary for me at the shelter because there were a lot of people I met and what scared me the most were all the drunks. There were a lot of fights there, especially this one guy. People said that he had three different personalities. I would tell my daughter to get the kids and stay close together. It was scary, he threatened my life at the shelter. They don’t refuse anyone there, but if they get really belligerent they would do something.”
Her grandkids, Jaliyah and Jeremiah, were strong and resilient throughout the ordeal and when they would see Peggy break down they would say, “Nana, don’t cry.” But with no other children to play with, they often would experience loneliness.
As the experience moves further into the past, Peggy is grateful that the family now has a comfortable home, but the fear of being homeless again is ever present.
“I can’t say it won’t happen again because you never know, but if it does happen again I’ve got my eyes open,” said Peggy. “If there is a next time I kind of know what I’ve got to do, but this being the first time it hurt me that my kids had to go through it and my grandkids. I was at the point where I was just about ready to give up.”
Peggy is determined to help others as Catholic Charities and Welcome Central helped her and she encourages anyone who is homeless and needs someone to talk to to call her or meet her at Welcome Central where she goes regularly to help out.
Her best advice for someone who is facing the nightmare of homelessness is “Just keep your head up high because God is waiting for you to look up to him.”
And more than anything, she believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.