Elizabeth Softky is aptly named: when you hear her speak, there is a soft, lyrical quality to her voice, supported by deep notes of strength. It’s a voice that she used while working as a journalist, as a mother of three, and as a teacher, to calm down an unruly classroom of squirming students.
Never would she have dreamed that she’d become homeless—or feel voiceless.
Not only did she teach in a classroom for more than 10 years, she had founded a nonprofit ‘Jump Into Writing’, to organize creative writing workshops for elementary school students. And she put her bilingual voice to good use, leading English workshops for immigrant Spanish-speaking families in Los Angeles.
Then came her diagnosis of advanced-stage cancer, immediate surgery, and a “super aggressive” chemo regimen.
“My immune system was so compromised that I was not allowed to return to work—and that meant digging into my savings to pay rent,” she says. “When I ran out of money, I was evicted from my home of 14 years. I was looking at the reality of nowhere to go, except for sleeping at a bus stop.”
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Weakened by chemo, she walked through the practicals of survival, and navigated a difficult system to find temporary housing through a program repurposing hotel rooms for the unhoused during the pandemic.
COVID added a new layer of uncertainty to everything Elizabeth was going through. While grateful to have a room and a bed, there was an intense feeling of loneliness as the world shut down.
That’s when Elizabeth met Joan, a volunteer phone buddy for Miracle Messages—and the two hit it off right away
“She’s brilliant!” Joan says of Elizabeth.
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Early in the pandemic, Miracle Messages, the nonprofit that reunites families with relatives who’ve become homeless, saw the isolation happening when unhoused individuals had to stay in their rooms alone, and wanted to help. So they created a program called Miracle Friends, in which volunteers from around the world are paired with unhoused participants staying in hotel rooms for a weekly friendship phone check-in.
Joan and Elizabeth used their weekly phone calls to practice their Spanish together, and swap stories about their days. Joan was there to talk as Elizabeth finished her chemo treatments and worked to regain what she had lost.
During this time, Miracle Messages expanded into a basic income pilot program known as Miracle Money. Elizabeth was chosen as a participant, and was given $500 a month for 6 months to help her on her journey. The money combined with the friendship made all the difference: in a matter of weeks, Elizabeth secured a new apartment.
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Joan visited Elizabeth in her new place.”This is so cool…your front yard! It’s awesome!”
“Being back here is a major part of being restored back to the world,” says Elizabeth, looking around her new place. “The Miracle Messages family has been a miracle for me.”
Now Elizabeth uses her voice as a speaker and advocate on the topic she never thought she’d need to have a voice in—homelessness.
See her story on the PBS News Hour below – and visit the MM website to learn how quickly you can become a volunteer for Miracle Friends.
(Co-written by GNN editors and Jenni Taylor)
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