“Plain and simple,” she said.
Gulbrandson, 56, is one of the 40 men, women and children currently staying at the shelter this holiday season. Originally from Wisconsin, Gulbrandson previously lived and worked in Washington state, but back in April she dropped everything and moved to Johnson City to help her niece, who was battling cancer.
“I’m a four-time cancer survivor, so I know what she was facing. When you have no family around, it makes it that much more difficult,” Gulbrandson said. “It’s a lot warmer here, so I’m looking to stay. I like it here better.”
But the move has not been all that easy for Gulbrandson; right now her only job is ringing the kettle bell for the Salvation Army, and for the past 45 days she has lived in the shelter. In early November, she was very close to moving out into an apartment, but an unfortunate incident hit and she lost part of her deposit.
“That took me back even further. It’s too difficult to save up on a limited income, approximately $800 for the first and last month’s rent and the deposit for the electric. In the meantime, you’re trying to live,” she said. “You just keep getting slammed, over and over again and you end up here.”
Gulbrandson broke her back and her neck about six years ago and has been on disability; she has a college education and is an ordained minister, but still the job search these past eight months has been challenging.
“The jobs are few and far between. Even for part-time work at McDonald’s there’s a line ahead of you,” she said. “I’ve got a college education and I can’t get a job. Some kids out here have no schooling or are illiterate and trying to get a job. Pretty soon it comes to a point where they give up and start breaking the law, the only thing that does is make their situation worse.”
Capt. Nick Garrison of the Johnson City Salvation Army, called the situation a vicious cycle.
“If you don’t have an apartment, you don’t have an address to get a job and you can’t get an apartment without the job,” Garrison said.
Gulbrandson called the situation a Catch-22, but added the service organizations, such as the Salvation Army, have been really helpful to her. Garrison said Gulbrandson is in the nonprofit’s transitional program where they will work with her for up to two years, to help get her on her feet and into more permanent housing.
“The service organizations help, if you’re willing to get out there and do your own work. They’ll give you the tools, but it’s up to the individual to pick that tool up and use it,” she said. “If you don’t use that tool, whose fault is it that you’re still on the streets?”
Gulbrandson said she is working to move into an apartment and hopes to be in one “very soon.” She tries to be an inspiration to other people in the shelter, by talking to them when they’re down and out or offering a helping hand if need be. Gulbrandson said despite her struggles, she is optimistic about her future and says her faith in God is what keeps her going from day to day.
“I know God has brought me here to this time, to this place to do something. Whatever God wants me to do, I’ll do,” she said. “If someone puts a stumbling block in front of you, you can either jump over it, walk around it, tunnel under it or kick it out of the way.”
The Times-News Rescue Fund provides people like Cynthia Gulbrandson a chance to celebrate the Christmas holiday with a special meal.
Tax-deductible donations may be sent to: Times-News Rescue Fund, P.O. Box 479, Kingsport, TN 37662.