Sit down with Tracey Dalton for even a minute and you will encounter someone who is largely positive, and considers herself blessed. “I’ve never been happier in my entire life,” she says honestly.
But it was not always this way. Less than a decade ago Dalton was lost, emotionally, physically and spiritually. For a seven-year period Dalton bounced around Atlanta, Miami, Maine and Cape Cod, a woman without a home or a purpose.
Her bed was wherever she could lay her head. On some nights it was in her Ford pick up truck. On other nights it was in an abandoned warehouse in less than ideal neighborhoods. Then there were the nights when she would sleep on the back porches of homes owned by complete strangers.
Alcohol and drugs were common, partially the result of two major car accidents that left her with a brain injury.
Her plight became so bad that she was losing that which meant the most in her life – her children, twins Heather and Sara Read, 32, of Miami, and Jessica Read-Feeley, 31, of Yarmouth. “I really just had the clothes on my back,” she said.
From that abyss, Dalton was able to find herself. Hers is a story of redemption, one that happened here on Cape Cod, where she moved to be closer to her youngest child. Dalton credits a number of organizations that starts with Housing Assistance Corporation (HAC) and includes Cape Cod Hospital and Duffy Health Center, among others, for providing a light at the end of what had been a dark tunnel.
None of this was easy. In fact, Dalton admits, the most difficult moment of her life was the day she walked into NOAH, HAC’s homeless shelter in Hyannis. It was the first time she had ever entered a homeless shelter during her seven years of homelessness.
“It was the most horrific and terrifying and traumatic decision I have ever had to make,” she said.
This type of reaction is one that Greg Bar sees frequently in his capacity as the shelter manager. “Nobody wants to be there,” he said.
Finding Comfort at NOAH
Despite that initial hesitation Dalton grew to find comfort at NOAH, through its staff and Bar’s guiding hand.
“It is a non-judgmental zone,” she said, emphasizing the importance of having this type of atmosphere in what can be a stigmatizing environment. “They were compassionate to people and loving, and it really made me feel better.”
And she returned that positivity to those she took shelter with at NOAH. “I’d walk in there and the first thing I’d say is, ‘It’s all about the love!’ and they would start laughing,” she said.
Dancing to music – Sister Sledge and the Pointer Sisters were favorites – and watching movies became ways for Dalton to bond with those at NOAH who all shared similar experiences of life on the streets. And it created a sense of home when she had long been without one.
“Tracey always had a brightness about her,” Bar said. “She was bright intellectually, but she also had a bright disposition and she was eager to improve her situation.”
And eventually she did, landing a rental apartment in Orleans through that town’s housing authority after spending several months at NOAH and navigating the mountain of paperwork that comes with subsidized housing.
“It looks like something out of the Bahamas,” Dalton says of her apartment which has given her not only security, but hope. This is her piece of paradise, here on Cape Cod.
Today she has turned her life around to the point she is helping others. She volunteers with the Eastham and Orleans councils on aging, the Wounded Warrior Project and she maintains her sobriety by attending regular AA sessions.
Most importantly, she has reconnected with her three daughters, and is the proud grandmother to four healthy and happy grandchildren.
Dalton shared her story of success with HAC staff and supporters at its annual meeting earlier this month as proof that no matter what the circumstance “you can rebuild your life,” she said. “Now I have a new soul.”
She is just one example of many, Bar said, that homelessness is not permanent, noting that when he previously served as a housing search specialist in HAC’s Individual Services Department he would help find homes for at least 10 people a month who had been in similar situations to Dalton. “We hope that everybody comes to that point and we do what we can to get to that point. When somebody has lost hope you ask, ‘How do you help them find hope again?’” he said. “It is a question we are always trying to find the answer to.”