HomeAgain has been housing those in need for 36 years, and Housing Specialist, Cassandra “Sam” Hoyer, has been with the organization for 35 of those years. She has held several positions, worked in all three shelters, and seen many changes over the years. But the most interesting journey of Sam’s life is her story of triumph… one where she struggled to find stability and a home of her own, but succeeded.
Moving from New Hampshire to Virginia, Sam arrived in Richmond in 1980 hoping to begin a new life- one full of hope and opportunity. She was on her own, with her young son, and had nowhere to turn. After some time, she was able to send her son to live with his father, in another state, as she continued to face hardship. “I knew what it was like to be homeless. I was a state kid with no family or home to go back to.”
She recalls working at a Denny’s and then a KMart, all while sleeping in her car. “I got food from fast food places between shifts when they were throwing things out,” she said.
Sam never complained; she worked hard and eventually applied for a job at HomeAgain (then known as Emergency Shelter Inc.), where she became a part-time relief staff worker.
HomeAgain operated out of an old firehouse on West Marshall Street (now Gallery5) for two and a half months. During that time, 483 individuals were served. Sam remembers that temporary shelter and the beginning days of HomeAgain. She said, “Back then it was just a bunch of cots… as many as we could fit.”
(Pictured above: Sam holds an old sketch of the Family Shelter in front of HomeAgain’s first location, an old fire station on West Marshall St.)
Sam has watched as, over time, HomeAgain has acquired a Family Shelter, a Men’s Emergency Shelter, and a Veteran’s Transitional Housing Facility. She has served as House Manager in all three locations, where she also trained staff to use computers systems, helped coordinate children’s services, and has even rolled up her sleeves to clean rooms and prepare food.
The history of the agency remains in tact in the steel trap that is Sam’s memory. She recounts shelter renovations, stories of field trips to Byrd Park, and details on older forms of transportation. “We used to have an old AT&T van that you had to double clutch,” she said laughing.
At age 62, Sam “retired” to working part-time as a Housing Specialist at HomeAgain. Now, at age 69, she is as spry as ever and frequently conducts unit inspections, helps clients schedule repairs, maintains records, and manages each shelter’s inventory and needs.
When asked if she would ever consider truly retiring, Sam replied “It’s not work if you go to a place you enjoy. It’s going to work for and with your family.” She went on to add, “I like what I do. I don’t want to leave.”
Working in human services can be difficult at times, but she expressed that working at HomeAgain and assisting clients was something she was meant for. “From my first day, it felt like home. I was doing something to help people, and I got to meet so many… I give them credit. It’s hard to admit you need help. It takes a strong person.”
She applies the same ideology as she worries about her son, a police officer in Arizona, every day. “Christopher is my only child, but that’s his calling.”
Reflecting on her life and how many obstacles she has overcome, Sam just nods and grins; “Things haven’t been easy, but I’m blessed.”
Now, she enjoys spending time with her family and coworkers. She also plays folk guitar and occasionally performs at local establishments like Penny Lane Pub.
Sam’s reasons for staying with HomeAgain for so long are linked to the work she does. “We really strive to give our clients a voice. Our society still doesn’t recognize homelessness like we should… They are people just like us. We can all be one paycheck away.”
“We work, every day, to lift people up when they need it the most.”