Misha Jackson has lived on the economic edge for years, and then last May the roof caved in. Literally.
The roof collapsed on the two-bedroom home she was renting in Harvey, a south suburb of Chicago, and her family pretty much lost everything.
So Jackson, 39, a single mom, packed up her kids and looked for something new.
It wasn't the first time. She'd lived in Chicago and Minneapolis and Rockford, working as a janitor, cashier, security guard and dietary aide, but "bad decisions" left her with little to fall back on. She'd had nine children along the way, living in subsidized housing, or sometimes shelters or hotel rooms or with family members, never really finding a permanent home.
Her roundabout journey last summer eventually brought her to Champaign, where a friend had recommended she apply for the transitional housing program at Restoration Urban Ministries. It offers shelter for families but also financial literacy classes, GED courses and other programs to help people find jobs and get back on their feet.
She loved the sound of it, but there was one problem: You couldn't just walk in and get a room. She'd have to go through an interview, the resident director told her, which would take a few days.
Jackson left, unsure where to go. She had spent her first night in town at the Lincoln Lodge Motel in Urbana, courtesy of a "good Samaritan" who had driven the family there from Livingston County.
He paid for the hotel room and gave her money for dinner and bus fare to Restoration the next morning.
On the bus ride she passed West Side Park in downtown Champaign, so after her initial appointment at Restoration she took her kids, ages 5 to 14, back there to play. She went to the Champaign County Family YMCA across the street and asked if they knew where her family could stay. A helpful clerk called around, with no luck. Champaign-Urbana has no drop-in shelters for families, and the women's shelter was full.
Jackson ended up going down the street to the United Way office and asked to use the restroom. Hearing about her situation, the staff contacted the Champaign-Ford Regional Office of Education, which provides assistance to homeless families.
Regina Parnell, coordinator for student services, found Jackson a hotel room at the Eastland Suites, got the kids enrolled in school and supplied them with backpacks. Her sorority adopted the family, donating towels, clothes and shoes.
"We had been through so much," Jackson says. "They just went to work. In 45 minutes' time they changed my whole life situation."
The following Monday she was accepted into the Restoration program, and moved in Aug. 31. She and her children live together in what is essentially a double hotel room, but she's hoping to find public housing soon.
She says she's learned a lot, "not only just being here and having peace of mind, and letting God restore your life. It's a whole life transition." She's completed several courses, including financial literacy, and her children attend Bible study and services with her.
An emergency shelter, Jackson says, might have made the initial transition to town easier, "being so far away from home and not knowing anybody."
A shelter could provide a secure environment for kids, she says.
But over and over she expresses thanks for her good Samaritan and the help she's found in Champaign.
"God can cure any situation," she says. "I just want other families to know there is hope in the midst of a storm."