Picture a member of a board of directors. The person might be a familiar face in business, or a doctor, lawyer, or well-known volunteer.
Picture a meth addict, a homeless mother whose kids were taken away by the state’s Child Protective Services. She once slept in a drug house or on a park bench.
It’s not impossible for that woman in the second picture, the homeless mom, to rise from addiction and join the board of a respected local agency.
Kristina Jorgensen, 27, recently joined Housing Hope’s board of directors. The Everett-based agency has a nearly 30-year history of providing affordable housing and other help in Snohomish County.
Serving on the board isn’t Jorgensen’s greatest accomplishment. In October 2014, she successfully completed Family Drug Treatment Court. The Snohomish County Superior Court program provides weekly court hearings, access to chemical dependency treatment and other assistance to help parents achieve recovery and stability — and get their children back.
Jorgensen, now in her third year of freedom from active addiction, is again raising her boys: 11-year-old Christian, Ashton, 3, and Jailen, 2. She works three jobs, rents a duplex near Everett’s Silver Lake, and studies political science at Everett Community College.
Originally from Sultan, she has come far from the chaos of her younger years. Pregnant at 15, she was married and living in Texas by 16. The marriage didn’t last, and by 21 she was back home and involved with an old friend who had become a heroin addict.
Telling herself she could help him, she instead got hooked on meth. And despite a new baby, she continued using drugs.
“I was living in insanity,” Jorgensen said, describing how she would stay up all night and neglect to get her older boy to school. “During those years, the Xbox parented my child.”
As things got worse, reports were made to CPS. She pawned possessions for drug money. She stole from her mother, who eventually gained temporary custody of Jorgensen’s two older sons. Her third boy was born after she had kicked her drug habit.
While working her way through drug court, she was still homeless. But by June 2014, with the help of a social worker, Jorgensen had moved into a Housing Hope apartment in Monroe. The agency’s programs helped her gain stability. Serving on the board lets Jorgensen share her struggles in a way that offers hope to others.
“Let’s have people who have experienced these things help at the policy level,” she said over coffee Thursday.
Sara Haner, Housing Hope’s events and marketing manager, said the agency has had several past board members who experienced homelessness.
“The way Kristina has overcome so much and then experienced so much success is our hope for all of our residents,” said Fred Safstrom, CEO of Housing Hope. Homelessness and addiction aren’t just concepts for Jorgensen.
“In each decision and discussion, she brings the perspective of our residents that nobody else can,” Safstrom said. “It takes courage and strength to stand on your own among a high-powered board, and Kristina does a marvelous job.”
As part of the 19-member board, she attends monthly meetings, is on a services committee, and has spoken at Housing Hope events.
She has three employers, which together approximate a full-time job. She works for the YWCA in Everett as a parent ally; she does research for the Children’s Home Society of Washington; and through work-study, she is a fellow with the Washington Defender Association helping on an incarcerated parent project.
In Olympia, Safstrom said, Jorgensen has lobbied to help lawmakers better understand poverty and homelessness. She is a parent ally on the Washington State Parent Advocacy Committee and serves with the Snohomish County Parent Advocacy Committee, helping families navigate the child welfare system.
“When I was using, I hated my life. I didn’t know my purpose,” Jorgensen said.
With joy, she sees how her boys are thriving. Her oldest son is doing well in school and plays sports. She’s excited to show him the EvCC campus.
“I’m a living example that people do change, and families reunite,” Jorgensen said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.