MISSOULA — From assault to homelessness to broken family ties — the introduction to Tanisha Lang’s life story isn’t a pretty one. The ending, however, is pretty remarkable, thanks to the Missoula community.
“I've been here since June,” recalled Lang, beginning the story of a rollercoaster six months. “I came here from Washington because I was raped, and I just needed to change the scenery. My kids were kind of traumatized through the event, and I decided one day that nobody's going to protect them the way I can protect them, and so I needed to start my own journey and we literally left with a backpack of clothes.”
Sometimes a change in scenery takes more than a drive across state lines. If you ask Lang, she’ll tell you a real change in scenery takes perseverance and the acknowledgment that you can’t always do it alone. “All the doors slammed in my face,” said Lang.
A Honda Civic loaded with nothing more than her three kids, their backpacks, and the little she could cram here and there, Lang’s first stop in rewriting her story was the domestic violence shelter at Missoula’s Meadowlark.
“I was only allowed to stay for two weeks because there's a clause that if you're not from Missoula County or from the state, you can't really get help,” Lang told MTN News.
Affordable housing? Not available. Childcare? Only feasible if you have a job. A job? Only possible if you have childcare. By December, Lang was running low on hope, and her vehicle provided her children the only stability they knew.
“We're all each other has,” she’d tell them. “whatever's in this car, this is all we have, we have to make this work.”
Somewhere along the mess, Lang heard something that changed everything. “There’s a lot of help out there you just have to ask for it,” Lang said, remembering a conversation she had along her journey. “She's like ‘closed mouths don't get fed.’”
Vowing to exhaust every resource, she aimed to have housing by Christmas. Otherwise, she’d return to Washington.
Housing vouchers were obtained, but expired, hotel vouchers ran out, churches and volunteer organizations got to know Lang and her children on a first name basis. Despite nonstop visits to Missoula’s housing assistance programs, Lang continued coming up short until a desperate day in mid-December.
A visit to the Meadowlark for one last housing interview proved pivotal.
“They called me the next day at like eight o'clock in the morning and said, ‘Hey, we need you to view this unit, sign the lease that's on the counter, and the keys are on top of the fridge.’ And I was like, ‘shut up'."
Lang’s Christmas miracle wasn’t finished just yet. She had an apartment, but nothing more, so she created a post on Facebook asking for hand-me-downs and used goods.
“I was just like, ‘If anybody's throwing anything away or like getting rid of stuff, I can come and get it or you can drop it off. I just have nothing, literally, not even a box to sit on to eat.’”
Within hours, Lang’s post had over 900 likes and people came in droves with pots and pans, couches, bedding, Christmas presents, and open arms.
“I was thankful that I even got the stuff that I got, but when people started bringing, like, just stuff that they went to the store and bought….wow. My son even said, ‘they don’t even know us, like why would they buy us stuff?’ I told him that that’s what people do in communities like they help each other because we're all one unit. I don't think I've ever felt love like this from some of my own family members, let alone a whole community.”