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Charleston residents interviewed for book about homelessness

Lawrence Pierce
Melissa Carrion snaps a picture while Samantha Lutz (right) talks with Sharon Pendleton. Carrion and Lutz work for Formula, a San Diego-based public relations firm that's working on a book about homelessness in America. Pendleton, originally of Chesapeake, may be featured in the book.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In her lifetime, Sharon Pendleton has survived sexual assault and being shot at point-blank range. She's gone from living in abandoned houses and being addicted to drugs to staying clean, earning a GED, keeping a job and even owning her own business.

Pendleton is one of a few West Virginia residents that may be featured in a forthcoming book that aims to put a face on homelessness in America.

"I am clean, I am sober and I am free," Pendleton said, repeating a line from an acceptance speech she once gave at a YWCA Women of Achievement luncheon, where she was the agency's first Empowerment Award Winner.

On Saturday, representatives from a San Diego-based PR firm interviewed Pendleton at the YWCA Sojourner's Shelter for Homeless Women and Families. Representatives from the firm are going to several different states, interviewing homeless people or, as in Pendleton's case, people who used to be homeless. The goal is to publish a book with the people's stories. Proceeds from the sale of the book will benefit the shelters where the interviews took place.

The project brought Melissa Carrion and Samantha Lutz from the firm's New York office to West Virginia for the first time Saturday. They will continue with interviews Sunday at Crossroads Men's Shelter in Charleston.

The idea for the book came from the firm's owner, Michael Olguin, Carrion and Lutz said. The company has always encouraged community service but Olguin wanted to do more, they said. The staff paired off into teams and drew a state from a hat.

"Everyone really wanted to be a part it," Lutz said.

"We've been a long time planning for this, so we're excited," Carrion said.

Margaret Taylor has been the program director at Sojourner's for the past 20 years. Taylor said there are many misconceptions about homeless people. People think the homeless are all lazy or addicted to drugs, she said.

"These are individuals, just like you and I, that have fallen on hard times," Taylor said. "They want to make a difference in their lives."

Sojourner's offers educational and job readiness programs and other services to residents. About 86 percent of people who come through Sojourner's find or maintain employment, she said. Only 5 percent have to come back to the shelter after they've gone. The goal is to make people self-sufficient.

Pendleton came to the YWCA Sojourner's Shelter in the early 2000s. She was homeless, unemployable and a drug addict, she said. She credits the shelter for helping her change her life. She's been employed at a Charleston hotel for about 10 years and owns her own cleaning business. She successfully fought to regain custody of her son.

Pendleton, who wants to write her own book about her life one day, said telling her story is a way for her to help others who may be going through the same thing. People sometimes think that once they cross a line and start doing drugs, there's no going back, she said.

"I want to get hope to people that people do change," Pendleton said.

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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