Growing up in Warm Springs, Keilani Charley’s parents were absent a lot, so she “bounced around” with relatives and foster families.
She gained a deep knowledge of her culture on the reservation, but she entered adulthood without many life skills: financial and credit management and knowing how to find work and housing.
Facing homelessness, Charley, 21, did what many people do and reached out to multiple agencies. She was on a waitlist for Bethlehem Inn when she got a call from the nonprofit Grandma’s House of Central Oregon, a shelter and support for young mothers and their babies. The program sees many teen mothers and young women who were living in their cars or other bad situations.
Charley wants to create a better life for her and her children, she has a 1-year-old daughter and a boy on the way, but she’s found it’s hard for young single mothers without support. Employers don’t always offer flexibility with scheduling or enough hours to get by, especially with new hires. Public transportation often doesn’t connect riders with their workplace, and strollers don’t always fit easily on a bus.
With help and guidance from Grandma’s House, and a lot of her own perseverance, Charley has started a job in Bend she’s excited about and is on her way to living independently.
Where do you live now?
Well, I was living for a while with my brother in Warm Springs, but before that I was homeless.
I live at a place called Grandma’s House.
How long have you lived there?
It’s been a month, and I really enjoy it. I’m getting the support I need as a mother, and as an expectant mother, as well.
How long have you lived in Central Oregon?
I’ve lived in Central Oregon all my life.
What circumstances led you to be homeless?
When I was younger, I didn’t really have anywhere besides my family’s houses to live at. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was seeking to rent a place, and this woman was renting out the rooms in her house.
I moved out because she was breaking a lot of laws, and I just didn’t want to be involved. It was just really hard to live with her and her friends. It was a really bad situation for me and my family. I did not feel safe. I ended up having my daughter go live with my grandparents, so she wouldn’t be homeless with me.
During this time I was working full time at Arby’s at Love’s gas station in Madras. And the way that I found Grandma’s House is, my mother-in-law was telling me when I got pregnant with my second child, how there were opportunities for me to get help from people and like, shelters and other places.
What have you done for work?
I was living in the traditional Wasco, Warm Springs, Umatilla and Yakama ways. I was fishing. I used to go hunting with my grandpa. During the seasons, I would go pick roots. We had celery that’s different from the celery in stores. This kind, you have to go to certain places to pick it.
During this time, I learned how to make Native American drums, how to weave baskets, how to do beading. I also learned Native languages. I was fluent in four of them.
My grandfather, his name was Foster KO-NA Kalama. I learned Chief Joseph Kalama is in my bloodline.
I was told as a kid, our language and our traditional ways are very important, especially to carry on through your life, and to help our kids and our grandkids understand where we come from.
And I learned how all Native American tribes are different but we are also one people. It’s like, we are all from different areas but we understand one another. Culturally and spiritually, too.
What services have you found helpful?
Well, Grandma’s House. Honestly, I haven’t had this kind of help before. Usually, I have my family’s help, which I don’t have a problem with. But this is for me. I wanted to get a place for myself and my daughter and my son that’s on the way. I mostly appreciate Grandma’s House’s help in finding housing. I also appreciate the help I get as a parent, you know, guidance for things that I can do for my kids even after I leave this place.
What don’t most people understand about being homeless?
I feel like it’s a struggle to understand a person’s complete story.
When I was homeless, I was out on the streets and people would think I was into drugs or I was into alcohol. And the reality wasn’t that. I just didn’t really have any place to live. I didn’t have much support, and being at a young age, I didn’t know much.
What was the biggest barrier to being housed?
It was really keeping a job and finding ways to be persistent. You know, like making a schedule to pay bills or knowing when I’m going to work overtime. I also didn’t have the help and guidance that I needed with doing applications for jobs. I didn’t know how to do that stuff by myself — I was so used to being independent as a person. I realized that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. It’s OK to ask for help.
That’s why I really appreciate Grandma’s House and their guidance because I think on my own, it would have taken me longer to be where I’m at. It’s really nice to achieve some goals.
What’s next for you?
To go to college, like for business, for me and my kids.
I’m an artist, as well. I’d like to be in college for my art, too.
I’d like to have a place for me and my kids. One of my next goals is to be more stable.
You sound very mature for someone who’s only 21. Do you know why?
It’s like a lot of life lessons and learning. But I don’t take it as turning away from bad habits or bad ways. It’s more like, well, this has happened to me. Now, I have to find a positive way to take my life. In life, some people fall down, and there are people who are always willing to get back up right away. And I’m one of those people who believe in not giving up.