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One woman's journey, from homeowner to homeless to hopeful

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published July 17. 2011 4:00AM   Updated July 18. 2011 3:29PM
Abigail Pheiffer/The Day
Nelly Woodhall, right, a housekeeping supervisor, teaches Sarah Gamache, a participant in Bethsaida Community's Homeless Women Deserve Treatment program, how to check for dirty spots on the glass tabletop as Gamache cleans a hotel room in the Grand Pequot Tower. Gamache was receiving training for her new job as a guest room attendant at Foxwoods.

Sarah Gamache was depressed, scared and confused.

It was last December and, with no money and no job, she had lost her Norwich home. A repossession company had taken Gamache's car from outside of the Covenant Shelter in New London, where she had been living. In the trunk had been her clothes and a pocketbook containing her vital documents.

Gamache's mouth was on fire with infected teeth and her deteriorating hip ached.

Life was crushing her.

At one point, Gamache, 46, had been more in control. She had worked in a group home and had been making payments for 12 years on her Norwich home.

Last spring, allegations were made against her that she said were unprovable, but she couldn't shake them. She was fired and thus ineligible to collect unemployment.

She has two adult daughters, one of whom has special needs and lives with Gamache's ex-husband.

She was more than ready for help when she saw a flier for a new program: Homeless Women Deserve Treatment. Eva Vega, a Bethsaida caseworker, came into her life.

Vega interviewed Gamache and almost immediately - and amazingly - a bed became open at Bethsaida's eight-bed Katie Blair House for homeless women in Norwich.

Vega connected Gamache with medical services at United Community and Family Services - one of the program's partner agencies - and got Gamache thinking about finding a new job.

"If it wasn't for Katie Blair, at this point, I would be in the streets," Gamache said during a May interview.

Her speech was a little hard to understand because a dentist at the UCFS dental clinic had removed all her teeth. In June Gamache was fitted for dentures. Vega gives her rides to those appointments and to an orthopedist.

Gamache spoke with confidence about her future that May afternoon. She talked about getting her dentures, going to a couple of "promising" job interviews and eventually getting her own apartment.

"I applied the 12 Steps to my life even though I'm not in recovery," Gamache said.

Her confidence and determination paid off. Gamache started training in the hotel housekeeping department at Foxwoods Resort Casino June 13.

It's not an easy job. She has 38 minutes to clean each room top to bottom. She admitted to being exhausted during that first week, but she already had her first paycheck - $9 per hour plus tips - mapped out. She would save for rent and a deposit for a new apartment.

"It's been a long time coming," she said of getting back to work. "I'm pretty happy about it."

Vega smiled and shook her head, thinking about the change she had seen in Gamache in just a few months.

"I just wish there were more programs out there for women in these situations," Vega said. "Women and men need programs to feel secure."

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