More than Shelter: Jensen’s Story

Sarah Davenport, FCNI Director

Jensen wasn’t a kid used to getting or giving second chances. He lost his parents when he was young and spent most of his childhood bouncing between extended family members, family friends, and foster homes. He endured physical and emotional abuse from people he was told to trust, so by the time he was in his early teens, he didn’t trust anyone. By then, he’d become a ward of the state and his Social Worker, Lacey, wanted nothing more than to find him a safe and stable home. But Jensen wasn’t interested. Every time he was placed in a new home, he ran away as soon as he could, never giving a family a chance; never risking being hurt by adults again. 


By 16, Jensen was under the influence of drugs and involved in criminal activities. In addition to Lacey, he now had an assigned probation officer, Robyn. Lacey and Robyn wanted so much more for Jensen, especially as he got closer to adulthood and emancipation. They knew Jensen was capable of having a successful future, and that his poor decisions revealed unhealed trauma, not a malicious character. Underneath his defensive exterior, Jensen was just a kid who longed to belong. After another conflict with law enforcement, Lacey and Robyn sat him down and asked him one more time if he’d give a foster home a chance; asking him if he would just try spending one week in care before running away, before giving up, to see if some stability and safety could help him change the course of his life. Jensen, exhausted from running and fighting, reluctantly agreed. 


Jensen was placed in an Emergency Shelter home with a couple who’d been providing care for many years and were very experienced caring for youth like Jensen. They aimed to ensure that even if Jensen only stayed with them for a night or two, he would be well fed, given lots of time to rest, and feel some semblance of comfort while there. But to everyone’s surprise, most especially Jensen’s, a week passed and then another and he still hadn’t felt the need to run. Whether it was his foster mom’s cooking, his foster dad’s bad jokes, or the family’s sweet dog, Jensen was settling into his new home, feeling safe and very well cared for. His defenses lowered and his engagement increased, and he eventually started talking to his foster parents about his future and what he wanted for his life.    


Talking about the future was difficult and scary for Jensen, but he found a lot of encouragement between Lacey, Robyn , and his foster parents. Having lived without hope for so long, Jensen wasn’t used to “dreaming” or imagining what possibilities might lay before him. But Lacey and Robyn continued to spur him on, connecting him with the Independent Living Program and other work readiness agencies so that he could explore different careers and get connected to further resources. He was also enrolled in an independent study program which meant he could finish up his high school credits at his own pace with help from his foster dad. And together, the family set about helping Jensen learn basic life skills he’d need, like putting together simple meals, how to do his own laundry, and how to keep his room clean.  


Jensen’s time in Emergency Shelter Care went far beyond the normal parameters of the program, but for the best reason. When Lacey saw his connection with his foster parents, and how it reset his life towards one of healing and stability, she knew that Jensen had found his first real home. Special accommodations were made so that Jensen could stay with them until he turned 18. Until that day, Jensen would get to grow and learn in the comfort of a stable home--one with all the rules, laughter, routines, warmth, celebrations, conflicts, gatherings, chores, dinners, and caregiving that he’d missed out on, finally.