At COTS, we love to celebrate our teammates’ successes. So when HUD-PSH (Permanent Supportive Housing) Care Manager Ashley Lovejoy got into her first choice nursing program, the whole team erupted in a series of congratulatory emails. 

“I’ve always naturally been drawn to medicine,” she says. In spite of this, the journey to nursing school has not been simple, or easy. 

“I grew up on and off homeless my whole life, like my whole childhood,” she says. “When I was in high school, my family actually lived in a COTS house. So that’s how I knew about COTS, was my experience with them when I was young.

“I had a great experience with COTS and the caseworkers. They were very encouraging of me, [even when] my mom was encouraging me to drop out of high school when I had a 4.0.”

In spite of her mother’s drug addiction, and with the support of her COTS case manager, Ashley finished high school. She then attempted Sonoma State, but dropped out after taking on too many advanced classes. She got married, then divorced, worked in England and Denmark, and is now a single mom of four boys. 

After her divorce, she and her kids moved back to the States. “Within a couple of weeks of moving back here, I went back to school at the JC. And in a couple of years, I went back to Sonoma State and got my Bachelor’s in Sociology.“

Last May, her journey brought her back to COTS, when she joined the team as our HUD-PSH Care Manager. “I told everyone coming in that I wanted to work for COTS because of my history with COTS, and because I wanted to make a difference,” she says. 

Prior to working at COTS, Ashley’s love of children had always drawn her to pediatrics. But her experience working with clients in the Permanent Supportive Housing program quickly changed all that. “After working for COTS and then working with the clients that I have, building that relationship, I’ve decided I’m specializing in adult geriatrics now, because I see such a need,” she says. 

“I’ve seen with my clients, how fearful a lot of them are. [A lot of our clients are] very hesitant [to seek medical care] because they feel judged. I have one who, once he left the Mary Isaac Center, he refused to see a doctor. Any time he saw one, [he’d say] ‘They don’t care about me.’”

Not willing to give up, Ashley approached Nurse Annie Nicols, who gave her a personal recommendation for a nurse practitioner, and the client agreed to go. “Now he’s been getting medical care for his chronic conditions because of that trust he has in her,” Ashley says. “That’s part of what motivated me to go back [to school for nursing].”

For Ashley, having the Petaluma Health Center on campus has been invaluable in helping her clients. While she doesn’t know where she’ll end up after nursing school, “I would love to go back and work with the Petaluma Health Center,” she says. “My kids have always gone there, and I love the fact that they work with COTS.”

Ashley’s lived experience with homelessness gives her a valuable connection to her clients, one she hopes she’ll be able to bring with her into her nursing practice. “I can connect, and I’m able to build such trust with all of my clients now,” she says. “I’m in a unique position where if I were to come back and work with this population, I feel like I’d be able to hopefully be someone that they felt they could trust. So that is kind of my long term goal.”

When asked what her favorite thing about her job at COTS is, she said, “I love the people. Every every one of our clients have such interesting and unique backgrounds. I’ve got one that I’ve helped enroll in school, and he’s back to school for the first time in like 45-50 years, and he’s getting an Associate’s Degree. I have another one that is going to go to school to become a minister, that’s his passion. It’s really amazing to see.”

We are grateful to have Ashley on our team for the rest of her time leading up to nursing school, and when it’s time, we wish her luck on her next adventure.