It all started going downhill for Jayla Lawing when the man she was living with, the man who’d been so kind to her and her six-month-old baby when he met her, started using methamphetamine.
Then that same man took a job working long hours and late shifts, and ended up using meth just to get through it.
Jayla was used to disruptions in her life. Born in Seattle, she moved with her mom as a child to Florida, the Carolinas, and New Mexico before settling back in Washington, where her son was born. So this was just another disruption and she decided she could fix it.
“I knew what he was struggling with. I’d used drugs, pretty serious stuff, as a teenager but I’d been clean for years and there was no way I was going back to that life, not with my son to take care of. My little boy is my reason for being, my reason for staying clean. So I decided, since I knew what my boyfriend was facing, and how hard it was for him to get out of it, I was going to save this man who had done so much for us.”
Jayla tried. But it was a dead end, and it dragged on for years as he ended up physically abusing Jayla.
“I found his stash, and he told me it wasn’t his. So I dumped it down the toilet, and he beat me up for it.”
By early 2017, Jayla knew she was fighting a losing battle. Her partner had abused her too many times, and was serving a prison term for it. But the struggle had impoverished her. Last March, she was evicted from her housing in the Skagit Valley, and grasped the only chance she could find by moving in with a friend in Oak Harbor.
Jayla’s son was six and a half by then. When she registered him for school, she met SPIN Café founder Vivian Rogers-Decker. Part of Vivian’s job with Oak Harbor Public Schools is to source federal funds through the McKinney-Vento Act. These dollars help families of school children that have lost their housing to adjust more smoothly to a new school environment. With her son in a school he liked, and her housing secure, Jayla took a part-time job working with Vivian at the school district office and finally held onto a little hope that she was moving in the right direction.
But after just a few months in Oak Harbor, Jayla’s ex was released from prison and, in spite of a no-contact order, the threat was too much for Jayla’s friend and host to bear. Jayla was out of a place to stay, again, just when she started to believe she had a new hometown and a new community to be a part of.
Even a local nonprofit dedicated to advocating for domestic abuse victims couldn’t help her find a place to stay; they said the prospect of violence from her ex was just too risky for her to be sharing that risk with others.
They suggested she move to another county.
“I said no,” Jayla says now. “I looked at my son and the new school he’d just moved to, and how much he enjoyed it, and I looked at how much I felt like I’d finally found a community I could be a part of, a community I could call home, and I said no. I wasn’t leaving.”
Jayla squares her jaw in defiance as she tells the story, still fresh and painful from just last spring.
“No. I decided I was done running. My son and I had no place to stay, but we weren’t leaving either.”
Enter Vivian, and the McKinley-Vento Act, again.
With advocacy from Vivian, Jayla was able to obtain a motel voucher for temporary housing, until she could find something permanent and affordable. Meanwhile, through SPIN’s vocational training program, Jayla landed an internship that fulfilled a requirement for her Associate in Applied Science in Human Services.
As she closes in on her degree, with a specialty in Substance Use Disorder Counseling, the future holds promise and uncertainty at the same time.
“I want to keep working at SPIN,” she says. “We have guests who need chemical dependency assessments. Our female guests really need another woman to listen to them, and advocate for them. Our guests who struggle with mental illness are vulnerable, disabled, and in danger. I really want to continue to help. We just don’t know if there’s enough funding for me to stay on there.”
That sounds like a perfect match. If things keep turning her way, SPIN will be lucky to keep her.