In the last five years, Amberlee Hoagland overcame homelessness, domestic violence and a house fire.
But with some help from her community, Hoagland’s life has turned around and the 30-year-old, her fiance and their kids will move into their own five-bedroom home this Friday, Oct. 15.
Hoagland said she left her abusive ex-husband in 2016, driving her four kids away from their home in Louisiana back to Gainesville, near where she grew up. She found an apartment but couldn’t sustain herself and her kids on her own and was forced to look for other options after getting evicted that same year.
Hoagland then went to Family Promise of Hall County, a nonprofit dedicated to helping those experiencing homelessness. Family Promise staff helped her get temporary housing for several months while she looked for work and cared for her young children, then all under 7 years old.
“They really opened my eyes to all the opportunities and things that are available to serve me … make me more stable when I was able to move out officially,” Hoagland said.
Hoagland took advantage of programs to help her build up her credit score in order to eventually buy a home, she said. She plans to close on a five-bedroom house Friday, Oct. 15, about five years after she first arrived at Family Promise.
Having an eviction on your record can be costly for getting a loan on a home in the future.
“An eviction here is much like a scarlet letter,” said Lindsey McCamy, executive director of Family Promise. “We don’t do that very often, to go from homeless to homeowner. It takes a while, because there’s a lot of steps in between.”
Hoagland is one of only a handful of people who came through Family Promise and now own their own home, said Laura Sumner, a Family Promise staff member.
The organization has undergone significant changes in the past two years, moving to its new facility at 3606 McEver Road near the end of 2019, McCamy said. Sewer issues have delayed the opening of new shelter facilities, but staff plans to open 11 rooms for families in need soon, with the first three opening in January 2022, she said.
Even while shelter rooms are under construction, Family Promise has started new programs at the former McEver Road United Methodist Church, such as adding a food market in October 2020. The organization is also in the process of obtaining a license to expand children’s daycare services with plans to add an infant room, a toddler room and a pre-K room, McCamy said.
Family Promise will likely allow families to stay on site longer than their usual 90-day limit, McCamy said, so staff can help on a deeper level like they helped Hoagland.
“We’ve been doing that a lot better and trying to go a little bit deeper with our families instead of just covering surface things,” she said.
In the time between leaving Family Promise and closing on a home in Gainesville, Hoagland still had a lot to overcome. And during her time at Family Promise, Hoagland received a lot of tough love from staff.
At one point, the organization lent Hoagland a car, so that Hoagland would have a way to commute to work and transport her kids, McCamy said. They have since discontinued the program, but they required Hoagland to make small monthly payments for any maintenance needs, McCamy said.
Hoagland didn’t make any of those payments, McCamy said. Staff tried sending her letters and emails repeatedly, giving her notice that there would be consequences, and eventually, they decided they needed their car back.
One day while Hoagland was shopping at a Publix, McCamy saw the car and took it back, leaving Hoagland stranded in the parking lot with her groceries, thinking her car had been stolen, Hoagland said.
“It’s a good testimony that things don't have to be perfect,” McCamy said. “They’re usually not loving us when they come in here, because we’re telling them things they need to do to make their life better. It’s hard.”
But that moment, among many others, became a chance for growth, Hoagland said. Tragedy struck again when her rental house burned down in 2019, and she had to move one more time before finding a permanent place this year.
Since then, she has found a loving fiance, a steady part-time job and this year she started her own micro-business, Heda Cosmetics, she said.
The start-up sells detergent specifically for face masks and other delicate items.
Hoagland said she had the idea, because masks were causing her and her kids’ faces to break out with acne, and her detergent products are more sensitive on skin.
For every bottle she sells, she is donating masks to children in the Department of Family and Children Services care, she said.
She and her fiance have eight children together now, with three from his previous marriage and one child together in addition to the four kids she moved back to Georgia with, and all of them will have much more room in their new home.
“I feel like everything is finally complete, and it took me 30 years to get here,” Hoagland said. “But I feel so grateful, and I feel like if none of that happened to me, I wouldn’t be so grateful right now.”