Gann knows what it’s like to hit rock bottom and lose faith, but she also knows what it’s like to find hope again. She said she has found hope through her faith, some new friends and the promise of finally being able to own her own home through Habitat for Humanity. Originally from Harrison, Gann had plans to earn a degree that would allow her to work in a medical office. The Central High School graduate had begun working on a part-time basis and taking classes at Chattanooga College when something unexpected happened. She was diagnosed with narcolepsy, a nervous system disorder that causes her to fall asleep frequently and suddenly, and everything she was working toward began to fall apart as her condition worsened.
“When I could no longer stay awake for school, I had to let that go,” Gann said.
She quit school when she could no longer function the way she needed to in order to keep up with her work. Not long after, she lost her job and could no longer afford to pay to live in her home. This left Gann and her children, now 10-year-old Noah and 9-year-old Destiny, homeless for 10 months. The family stayed in a Chattanooga homeless shelter but were forced to leave because of rules about how long people could stay.
“It was really kind of hard,” Gann said. “I didn’t find that most of the people were supportive. I guess that’s because you have a lot of people who abuse the system.”
The family stayed with a friend in the Ooltewah area for a little while but had to move again, leaving them homeless for about two or three more months, she said. It was then that she moved her family to Cleveland, where they stayed in a shelter until they could find a place to live.
Shelter life presented some unique challenges for her family, Gann said. In addition to her narcolepsy and a back problem that requires her to use a walker, her son, Noah, has autism. When they moved to Cleveland, the children began attending Prospect Elementary School. Noah required medication before school each day, but the shelter’s rules included keeping all medication locked up outside of business hours. School started before business hours did.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful though,” Gann said. “At least we had a place to go.”
Gann found house hunting to be challenging because her income as a disabled person was too high to live in public housing but still too low to afford most apartments. She said she felt “stuck in the middle.” She eventually found a one-bedroom apartment for the three of them to call home. However, it soon proved to be too small and cramped for three people, especially with her limited mobility.
It was around that time, in 2009, when she said she “had a situation where the kids were taken from home.” When the kids left, she broke down. That, she said, was her most hopeless moment. She didn’t know what else to do, so she prayed.
“I just said ‘God, help me’ one night, and it suddenly was like night turned to light again,” Gann said.
She said God began to work out things for her and kept leading her to people who would encourage her and show her where she could get help. Gann started going to church again and rededicated her life to God. She said her children also became Christians, and all three of them were baptized at Mount Olive Ministries in 2010.
Of course, there have still been times she has felt like giving up, but Gann said there are only two options available when you are dealing with the trials she has encountered. You can run away from your problems, or you can stick around and face them. “It was very hard, honestly,” Gann said. “I guess it’s ‘fight or flight.’ You have to make yourself keep going.”
Even after finding faith, she still faced challenges such as the search for another new home. Since the family lived in the small, one-bedroom place, Gann found a “really run-down” three-bedroom house that currently provides more room for her family but has a rent cost that is too high for her. That prompted her to look for other housing options again, and she found a promising one. Unfortunately, that option left the table, so she had to start searching yet again. It was around that time when Tiffany, one of Destiny’s friends’ mothers, suggested she try applying to get a house through Habitat for Humanity. The friend had gone through the process to be a Habitat homeowner herself, but Gann said she had never suspected that until the friend told her, because her friend’s place looked like a normal house.
She filled out the application to become a Habitat homeowner last November, and the application process took about four months. When she was notified of her approval, she was ecstatic. Gann said she realizes now that everything fell into place because God was watching out for her, even though she did not know it at the time.
“Everything works out for a reason,” Gann said. “He knew we would be getting a home, but we didn’t.” Habitat for Humanity requires 400 hours of “sweat equity” from each of its homeowners before and during the construction process, meaning they are expected to attend classes on topics like budgetting and home maintenance, put in work on the construction of their homes, and assist other people with their homes. They can also work at the Habitat ReStore and help with the organization’s events.
Once the houses are completed, prospective homeowners then purchase the homes with low-interest mortgages that are determined by their incomes and intended to be more affordable than other options available to them.
“A lot of people think these houses are free,” Gann said. In truth though, “It allows people to be able to afford good housing,” she said.
Gann said she sees the home as a new beginning rather than a new financial burden because she will be working toward owning a home rather than renting like she is now. She is currently taking a class on being a good neighbor and said this has allowed her to bond with other homeowners, even though she won’t be living next to them. She said her home will be in a new development on which Habitat for Humanity hasn’t even broken ground yet. After she has put in a few more work hours, she will meet with someone who will help design a home that will work with her family’s needs and construction can begin. As for the work, she said she knows it won’t be more than she can physically handle. “They’re great to work with,” Gann said. “When they say they don’t discriminate, they really don’t. They made sure whatever they asked me to do was what I could do. They treat me like family.”
Gann said she is much more hopeful than she was when she was homeless. Even though the family does not have much, they do have the ability to spend time with each other. One of her favorite things to do is to sit around, talk and play board games with her kids. Though she is raising them alone, she said she is fine as long as she has her faith because that redemption is what brought her hope.
“It’s a Jerry Springer life, but it works out for our good, I heard,” Gann said. “God works everything for our good.”