Felicia Shaner was one of the many people who didn’t have a home during the pandemic. As a mother of two, she had to be skillful in terms of finding a place to stay at night. After fighting to make ends meet, she is finally a nurse, a position she’s dreamed of holding for years. The transition wasn’t easy. Living out of her car and local homeless shelters showed her just how difficult not having a place to stay can be, especially during a global health crisis.
Surviving without a Home
The federal government has tried to keep people off the streets by issuing an eviction moratorium, so people can stay in their homes even if they fall behind on rent. However, many people have still lost their homes over the course of the pandemic. Social services have been limited during the pandemic, making it harder for people that depend on free food, housing, and other essentials from the community.
When Shaner first found herself homeless, she had a toddler and a baby on the way. She ended up finding a home at Third Street Alliance, a women’s shelter in Easton, PA, or the “mansion” as her four-year-old would call it.
She later took up residence at the Sixth Street Shelter’s Ferry Apartments, where she gave birth to her second child. That’s when she started a practical nursing program at Penn State Lehigh Valley University.
“I wouldn’t have been able to get through college if it wasn’t for (Sixth Street Shelter),” Shaner says. “They helped me so much.”
But this was just the first step. After working as part of the housekeeping staff at Easton Hospital, she finally decided to become a full-time nurse.
“I was a CNA for five years, and I was seeing the nurses and thought, I don’t want to be a CNA, I want to be a nurse,” she says.
She applied to the nursing program at Penn State Lehigh Valley because it was the most affordable, but it was also the most competitive. For about 18 months, she would work as a CNA during the day and take nursing classes at night, while her kids were in evening daycare.
“I was just happy at first,” Shaner says of getting into the program. “I didn’t see the mountain I had to climb. I just knew I wanted to do it and I was going to do it.”
However, the baby wasn’t sleeping at night. She was usually on her own with no one to call for help.
“My motivation was my kids and how much better we were going to live after this,” she says. “I cried so many times during school, but the only thing I could think of was the outcome.”
Shaner kept her personal life a secret at work and school. It wasn’t until someone from the Sixth Street Shelter called to confirm Shaner needed some money to attend a clinical class that the school found out about her situation.
“We never would have known,” says Heather Clark, the program director for the Penn State Lehigh Valley Practical Nursing program. “From the instructor or administration side, she did not show it.”
The school was more than supportive of Shaner’s situation. “The evening classes and every-other weekend clinicals are what attracts students, like single moms, to our program,” Clark says. “Our students can work full time. That’s how this program got started, to help those in that situation.”
Finding a Place of Her Own
After years of juggling school, work, and parenting as a single-mother, Shaner finally has her own apartment. She moved out of the Ferry Apartments and into her own duplex in Easton thanks to a Section 8 grant for low-income households.
Shaner now works as the nursing supervisor at an assisted-living facility, monitoring the health of both staff and patients.
She wants her children and other women to know that they can make their dreams come true. “I want them to know that even when you’re down, there’s always a way up. Education is crucial.”
She tells other homeless and low-income women looking to advance their careers to brace themselves for the long journey ahead.
“If you want to (go back to school) but you’re thinking about how hard it’s going to be, you can do it. There is a way. It’s going to be stressful, but the outcome will be worth it,” she said.
Thanks to a little help from the community, Shaner is on her way to securing her dream job. She plans to become a RN next year so she can help deliver babies.