Teri Holloman is a competent and confident woman with her own place to live, a two-bedroom apartment in Charlottesville that she shares with her fiancé, Kenny, and her mother-in-law.
It wasn’t always thus.
Holloman has fought with substance abuse, depression and the ghosts of physical and sexual abuse as well as the emotional trauma those events stamp deep into a person’s psyche. Despite those issues, she had worked to build a life for herself.
Then came the night when she woke up in a blazing bedroom in her Orange County house.
“I almost died in that fire,” she recalls, as she sits in an armchair in her not fancy but very comfortable living room. “I had fallen asleep, and when I awoke my whole room was on fire and my bed was on fire with me in it. It was like, well, a few more seconds…”
Holloman somehow made it up and out.
“I don’t know what or why, but something woke me up out of a dead sleep. A few more seconds and I would have been gone,” she says, softly. “I managed to get out of the room and got my mother-in-law out and the dogs out of the house and from there we got separated for a while.”
It would have been hard to keep together. Holloman was taken to University of Virginia Culpeper Medical Center for treatment of heavy smoke inhalation. Kenny went somewhere else and her mother-in-law to another place.
“Everything was ruined in that fire. We lost everything. When I got out of the hospital, I ended up in a homeless shelter out in Fauqier County,” she recalls. “Then I went down to Richmond for a while when my uncle came and got me. Then I came back here and me and Kenny were reunited again and my mother-in-law so we were a family. We stayed at Culpeper in a program out there for a while.”
Life, however, can be a cruel taskmaster. During their stay in Culpeper, Kenny’s combination of diabetes and cardiac issues ganged up on him and shut down his organs, forcing doctors to put him into a medically induced coma and fly him to UVa Medical Center for treatment.
Holloman and her mother-in-law followed. Family, after all, must stick together. It was in Charlottesville, homeless, jobless and with nowhere to turn, that they found PACEM, or People and Congregations Engaged in Ministry.
PACEM started out as a temporary shelter for homeless folks during the cold months operated by faith-based organizations. It has expanded as the need has expanded and as the pandemic made congregate shelters a transmission vector for COVID-19.
PACEM now operates several programs, including traditional shelters and congregate shelters. One of the former is Premier Circle, a renovated Red Carpet Inn where individuals in the highest health risk categories related to COVID-19, such as diabetes, are given individual rooms.
PACEM works with mental health experts and has its own case workers to help clients transition from homeless to independent living.
Kenny’s cardiac issues and Holloman’s problems with COPD, asthma and other medical issues put them at great risk for COVID-19. That prevented their staying in a traditional shelter.
“Part of PACEM’s goal was to fight hard to get Teri and Kenny a home so they could be together and to address Kenny’s medical issues,” said Heather Kellums, women’s case manager for PACEM. “He needed more of a healthy place to live versus being homeless or even a shelter environment so he can heal and he needed to be with his family.”
Since the pandemic, PACEM has served 387 men and women who are unhoused. That includes 93 women, five of whom are transgender.
“Women need some special skills in counseling and services, and the number of homeless women in this community has really increased in the past few years,” Kellums said. “My position was the direct result of a grant from Women United in Philanthropy that was funded because of the increase in the number of homeless women.”
Kellums oversees case management, housing and therapeutic support for the women who come to PACEM, including life skills, income development and connecting them to other services, including mental health and substance abuse, offered in the area.
“I really love to work with the women, to help them realize they are, like Teri says, competent and confident and that they can handle this,” she said. “They are amazing.”
The women’s program is partly funded through sales of a calendar each year. Funds from sales of the calendars in 2021 were directly responsible for Holloman’s being able to move into her apartment.
On Sunday, a fundraiser for the women’s program at PACEM is being held at 530 Panorama Road in Earlysville, from 2 to 5 p.m.. The event features sales of the 2022 calendar and music by Mama Tried.
“Especially the women, they need to find homes,” Kellums said. “I see people like Teri, their courage, resolve and their spirit of fighting every day to deal with their past trauma and the difficulties in life and it inspires me. They keep getting back up and they keep fighting.”
For Holloman, PACEM is more than a program.
“Heather is like my mother, my sister and my friend. She’s one of the family. PACEM has meant all the difference for me and for my family,” she says. “When we got to Charlottesville, a friend told us about PACEM, and we looked them up on the internet. It has saved us. I feel confident and competent and I can handle life, now. I believe it and that’s saying something.”