Rising from the Streets: Brooke Rogers’ Journey

Imagine not having a place to call home. Think about how long you’ve gone without having a roof over your head or heat. Was it more than two years? Four walls and a roof provide safety: a bed to sleep, privacy, independence and even a sanctuary. For those without one it’s merely a dream. If you have one you likely have food in your kitchen as well. Brooke Rogers has lived without any shelter or food, weighing as low as a mere 98 pounds. Through her will and the power of Hand UP for Women’s ministry she discovered renewed hope while overcoming hunger and homelessness. This is her story.

Surviving on the Streets

“I was miserable. It was scary. I fought for what I had. People stole from me,” Brooke said, recalling her time as homeless and hungry.

But her life didn’t start out that way. She says she grew up with “wonderful parents in a wonderful home.” But in high school she was raped and started using drugs at 16 years old and her life spiraled downward. Her mom learned about Hand UP for Women through church, and one day took Brooke to meet Hand UP for Women’s Executive Director, Eva Pierce. The two of them knew the timing wasn’t right. Brooke was not ready to change her ways.

A few years later Brooke left an abusive marriage and her three kids to try to get help, but soon found herself on the streets. A place she would stay for about two years. While camping out on sidewalks, in tents and under bridges around Knoxville she became addicted to the needle. During her last Christmas on the streets she went 17 days without eating.

On January 4th, 2010 her life changed forever. She called her mom and knew she needed permanent help to regain her life. It had been six months since the two had talked. Brooke recalls saying, “Please come and get me. I am going to die. It was really Jesus who picked me up that day,” Brooke said.

From there she began detoxing. Her parents did not allow her to stay at their home. Brooke said, “I didn’t know where I was going to go, but I knew I wasn’t going back to where I came from.” Brooke soon called Eva and began class at Hand UP for Women that night knowing it was time to change for good.

Starting Over

Brooke said Eva recognized she was ready to change this time because she wanted a permanent life change. June of 2010 is when she started the Hand UP for Women program. “Eva has been my spiritual counselor since then,” Brooke said, explaining how Eva helped her start counseling while being in the program.  “It’s the program that saved my life,” Brooke explained.

But it was hard, back in 2010 and 2011 Hand UP did not have Duncan house yet. The ladies met at a church. “I didn’t know how to be an adult. I didn’t know who I was. I had always been using.” From 16 to 35 years old, addiction drowned Brooke’s life. “I had to get away to get better for my kids,”  Brooke shared.

From the program Brooke learned how to be a parent and how to control her anger. “I battled being aggressive because I grew up in a neighborhood of all boys and I learned how to fight real quick.” She said going from aggression to assertion was difficult for her. She learned about God and scripture, paving a life course for her in sobriety. She also read a book called “How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk” that Brooke said helped her open her eyes to problems in relationships. It taught her how to find the right man, and now she’s happily remarried.

Through Hand UP she was able to reunite with her three kids. While she was in the program her daughter was in middle school and would come with her to some of the classes, which helped her learn too. “I absolutely loved the program,” Brooke said.

Creating a New Life

Brooke graduated from Hand UP for Women in 2011. She recognizes her past each day driving to and from work getting on and off the interstate. She said, “Homelessness is everywhere. It’s very noticeable.” When she sees people on the streets she asks them their name. She keeps water in her car to give them. Brooke says she talks with them about where she was and where she is now. She recognizes it’s difficult to find affordable housing, but once more Hand UP for Women is providing a solution for those who are in the program or have completed it.

Brooke continues to stay active in the ministry that saved her life. She enjoys being a part of the Christmas parties yearly. She now works at DisABILITY Resource Center as the financial officer and human resource manager. “I absolutely love my job.”

“If I could encourage every woman in Knoxville it would be to take that program,” Brooke said.

Hand UP for Women is a nonprofit and relies on donations to help women like Brooke.  If you’re interested in helping Hand UP for Women’s ministry continue to grow and serve more women, please make a donation here.