DWC Housing Manager Elvia Valdes (left) with resident Dana Harris
Mother’s Day is important at the Downtown Women’s Center.
For many women at DWC, Mother’s Day is not just a reminder of the families they love, but also their journeys to stable and empowered lives. Every year when May comes around, participants and staff alike reflect on what Mother’s Day means to them.
DWC Housing Manager Elvia Valdes shares, “Raising my daughters Gianna and Mya (ages 5 and 7) inspires me daily and brings me so much joy. In our home, we value unconditional love and acceptance. Each chance I get, I try to always model and teach them the importance of giving compassion, empathy and dignity to self and others.”
Elvia with her daughters, Gianna and Mya
Elvia explains that as Housing Manager, forging connected relationships with other women at DWC and listening to their stories of courage and resilience affords her a unique opportunity to embrace motherhood in a deeper way.
“I always say that Gianna is my heart, for having so much empathy and compassion for others,” she says. “Mya is my soul and everything I yearn to be…"
"I am eternally grateful to be their mom as their births restored the dignity needed to regain a life full of meaning, joy and unconditional love.”
Recently, Elvia sat down with DWC resident Dana Harris to share about their children. When Dana walked in, she immediately pulled a large photo album out of her bag. “I brought my pictures,” she said, laughing.
“Coming up on Mother’s Day I always reflect,” Dana said, showing off her son's baby pictures. “Every year since I’ve been a parent, for the last 27 years.”
After becoming pregnant at 19, Dana had her son Brandon in 1987. A single parent, she described the months that followed as a new mom as “surreal.”
Early in her parenting journey, Dana and her son became homeless in San Diego—staying in hotels, with a friend’s grandmother, and even with a kind stranger who provided them with a temporary home while Dana got back on her feet, all while keeping Brandon in preschool.
Dana called herself lucky to have support from her mother—who moved from New Orleans to help babysit—her sister, and her brother-in-law.
“We went through a lot of difficult struggles and times,” Dana recalled. “But you know, I wouldn’t change anything, going through that to get to where I am right now.”
Dana plays with Brandon as a toddler.
As Brandon grew up, Dana worked full-time to keep their family afloat, doing everything she could to be the best parent she could be. But when he reached his senior year of high school, she found herself unprepared for the separation that was coming.
“The next thing I know, I come home from work and he’s like, ‘I got accepted into the Academy of Art in San Francisco,’ and I’m like, ‘…greaaaat!’” Dana shook her head. “But when we got there [for orientation], I saw the look on his face and I already knew that was where he was gonna be.”
Leaving her son at college was, Dana said, the worst day of her life.
“I think now, losing my house and my car and all that was nothing compared to when I had to drive away from him.”
In January 2007, she lost her job and struggled to find more work during the nationwide recession. With the added loss of her home and car, plus Brandon's absence, Dana entered a spiral that led to a doctor diagnosing her with chronic separation anxiety.
She told Elvia that she’d stayed with her son in San Francisco for a short time. “Brandon wanted me to stay up there,” Dana said. “But I told him, ‘Your life is there… I’m gonna go back to LA. See if I can make it, get back on my feet and make it work again.’”
When she arrived in Skid Row and was housed in a DWC permanent supportive housing unit, Brandon came to visit her. “He came and saw [my apartment] and said, ‘Oh Mom, this is good, I’m happy. I’m just glad you’re safe.’”
When Elvia remarked that it sounded like even today Dana draws so much strength from her relationship with her son, Dana agreed, saying, “Yeah, because he’s a strong kid.”
“Someone once asked me, what is your greatest accomplishment? And they always think I’m going to say something like, ‘Oh, when I worked here, when I worked there…’ And I’m like, no, my son. Having my son was the greatest accomplishment.”
Dana poses with her son Brandon 27 years ago (left) and today (right).
Please consider giving a Mother's Day gift to DWC to help us continue to end homelessness for more women and their families.
Photos of Brandon provided by: Dana Harris
Photos of Gianna and Mya provided by: Elvia Valdes