Woman Outside
Dena’s Story: A Survivor’s Search for Security

Dena Vincent is a forty-seven year old single mother, a survivor of domestic abuse, an addict in recovery, and as of April 2021, experiencing homelessness. Dena was born in Lexington but grew up in Nicholasville, Kentucky. She moved back to Lexington as an adult, but an abusive relationship catalyzed her addiction to drugs and alcohol. The physical abuse left Dena with seizures that make manual labor nearly impossible. Given  that Dena does not have a college degree, and lacks transportation, she finds her job prospects limited. This, alongside the arrest and eviction of her abusive partner, is what led to Dena experiencing homelessness earlier this year.When asked about misconceptions about homelessness, through tears she responds, “We’re not dangerous, we’re not any less or more than anyone else. This could be any of us on the street, you, him, anybody. And until you walk in those shoes, you know nothing about it. Homelessness has no eyes, it doesn’t care what color, age, religion [you are], it just sometimes happens, whether you’re ready for it or not.”

As a mother, Dena’s love for her two sons is palpable. She stayed with her partner to provide her sons with a two-parent household. When she left the relationship, she moved to Nicholasville. After Dena’s mother passed away and she became addicted to heroin, Nicholasville turned into a place too painful to call home. She decided to move back to Lexington three years ago and has been in recovery since. Shortly after moving back, she ended up in an abusive relationship. Her partner was arrested and simultaneously behind on rent, leaving Dena to grapple with the aftermath of eviction. “I would take homelessness and having nothing any day over being abused,” Dena shares. “Since being on the streets, I’ve been beaten, I’ve had seizures, I lost my tooth, I have no family, so that’s why I’m out here. It’s rough, but I try to make the best of it.”

Since becoming homeless, Dena has learned how to survive. Whenever she calls her youngest son, aged eighteen and living with family in Louisville, she tells him, “Everything’s okay. I’m okay. You hear me breathing? I’m good.” because she doesn’t want him to worry about her.  What she doesn’t tell him is how she constantly looks behind her to make sure she’s safe. Dena’s abuser was released from custody with no warning given. Her abuser knows she’s living on the streets and stalks her, so she’s become skilled at picking hiding spaces from him while being unhoused. Being overheated triggers her seizures, so being unhoused in the warmest months of the year makes it even more of a struggle for Dena to survive. Although extremely vulnerable, Dena remains fiercely independent. “I have friends that I can stay with when the conditions are bad, but I choose to be out here because I don’t want to drag anyone else into my situation.”     

However, it is the deep camaraderie Dena’s found in those also experiencing homelessness that has proven to be her lifeline. She admits that they fight like brothers and sisters, but if someone from the outside of their group comes in and does wrong to any of them, they form a circle and protect each other as a unit. One of her friends was assaulted and robbed the night before and won’t go to the hospital, so Dena divulged that she plans on taking band-aids from the Church Under the Bridge event back to him and mend him the best she can. This is just one example of how their community watches out for each other and considers themselves a family unit. Due to the help she has received from her friends that are in the same situation, Dena finally views herself as a trusting person. The Church Under the Bridge, a communal worship service and meal service offered to those enduring homelessness, was her first event she’s attended since she’s been unhoused. As she works on connecting to service providers to get into stable housing, she wants to put her son through school, and then go back to school herself. Dena hopes to get her degree in nursing and pursue a career in the medical field. “I want to become somebody, even at forty-seven years old. I have it in me. I just want security; I want that key to open so I can be normal [again]. But it’s hard.” Lex End Homelessness aims at helping survivors like Dena access the resources they need to get housed so that everybody can feel the security that Dena longs for. You can get involved with Lex End Homelessness by joining the Continuum of Care, donating to the Lex End Homelessness campaign, or by following us on social media @lexendhomelessness