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How One Local Woman Found The Courage To ‘Soldier’ On—And Ultimately, Salvation In Saratoga (Updated)

In her latest column, homeless advocate Lisa Mitzen profiles Amanda, a survivor of abuse and homelessness, who discovered true happiness in the Spa City.

In April 2018, Amanda was honored to be named a 'soldier' by the Salvation Army.

In this semi-regular column, I’m trying to shed a more positive light on the “people without homes” in the Saratoga Springs community. And I truly believe that we can, collectively, find a solution to the ongoing homelessness problem here. Previously, I profiled two people without homes—Grace and Kevin—and I would now like to introduce you to Amanda.

Update: On June 8, Amanda’s mother and sister reached out to saratogaliving.com, claiming inconsistencies with Amanda’s story and portrayal of them while living in North Carolina. This section of the original story has since been excised. saratoga living reached out to Amanda’s mother, who told us that, while she believes that Amanda remembers things differently from her, “I’m very proud of who Amanda has become.” Amanda’s sister also reached out to saratoga living and echoed her mother’s sentiments. 

When I first sat down to interview 32-year-old Corinth native Amanda, she greeted me with a warm smile and friendly handshake. But it quickly became clear that the story she was there to tell me wasn’t a happy one—at least, at first. Amanda had lived a life of neglect, sadness and abuse, the type that most of us can’t even begin to fathom.

Before she even got out of elementary school, Amanda’s life was turned upside down. At the tender age of nine, she was molested, and as a result, became an unruly and rebellious young woman. She only made it through the ninth grade at Corinth Central High School before dropping out and ending up in a group home in Glens Falls. By the age 16, Amanda was out on her own. She drifted around and was, at times, homeless, but most of the time, had friends to live with and odd jobs to keep her busy and off the streets.

Being abused at such a young age not only affected Amanda’s emotional state, but also the way she forged relationships with others—especially, men. During her teenage years, she had countless toxic and violent relationships: men threw pans at her, punched her, choked her, kicked her and one even threw a knife at her. This was her “normal.” At the age of 19, she found herself in a particularly bad situation and needed a fresh start. Reluctantly, Amanda reached out to her mother for help. She was living in North Carolina at the time and insisted that Amanda come live with her, so she packed up what she had and headed south.

After a stint living with her mother, Amanda bounced around North Carolina. “I was young, dumb and wanting to find stability in a man,” she says. “I guess I fell into my mom’s shoes for awhile.” At 22, Amanda believed she’d stumbled on a world that provided her with both stability and happiness, despite its overwhelmingly negative connotations. “I met a guy and he said, ‘Bring me $80, and I’ll show you how to make money,’” she remembers. “From there, I learned how to sell crack.” Her first night at the crack house, Amanda sold all the drugs she had been given in under two hours and made $375. She was proud of herself, she tells me; she’d finally found something that she was good at doing. She ended up moving into the crack house, so she could focus on selling the drug full time. For those wondering, Amanda says she tried cocaine when she was 18, but that it wasn’t for her. And never tried to smoke crack. So the fact that she wasn’t a junkie made her an even better dealer. She’d live there for five years before falling hard for another man. She stopped dealing, and the couple moved into an apartment together. She was a happy for a time, but unfortunately, the relationship eventually turned violent, and once again, she found herself in a bad situation. North Carolina had turned out to be another dead-end: Every relationship she’d had or decision she’d made seemingly turned into something unhealthy, violent or abusive. “I basically became numb to it all,” she says, sadly. She was in need of a fresh start.

Nearly a decade after fleeing to North Carolina, Amanda returned home to Corinth, only to continue down a path of self-destruction. There, she met Richard, whom she began another toxic relationship with. If she denied him money to support his marijuana habit, he’d beat her. They became homeless as a result of his spending habits, and would sleep in bus stops, on benches and anywhere they could find temporary shelter. They’d go to the drop-in center at Shelters of Saratoga and stay at Code Blue Saratoga on cold winter nights. Richard was easily agitated and would pick fights with other guests at the shelter. His anger was spiraling out of control, and Amanda knew it was time for her to move on. So one day, terrified, she ended her relationship with Richard. Later that night, when she she sought shelter at Code Blue, she was afraid of running into him, but a staff member assured her that she’d be safe there. And she was. “Code Blue is a safe haven that saved me from dying on the street,” says Amanda. “People there listen, and they understand what you’re going through without judgement. Some of the people there may drink and do drugs, but it’s not all of them. Some of them are just down on their luck and just don’t know where to turn, but it gives them a place to sleep when it’s cold.”

Eventually, the tables turned for Amanda. She was able to get back on her feet again and found a stable living situation at a local motel. She’d get breakfast at the Salvation Army and started attending mass there as well. Amanda found solace at the Salvation Army. And although she readily admits that she’s made many mistakes in her life, she credits her time at the Code Blue Shelter and Salvation Army as having helped her learn how to love and respect herself. In April 2018, the Salvation Army honored Amanda, making her a “soldier.” (Salvation Army soldiers are members of communities throughout the US—450,000 in total—who pledge allegiance to the doctrines and disciplines of the organization.) Around this time, she met Edward and began her first healthy relationship ever. They share a love and a mutual respect that Amanda didn’t know existed. That July, Edward and Amanda were married, and they’re living in their own place with two children. They’re both employed and paying all of their own bills. “I’ve upgraded my life 100 percent from where it was,” says Amanda, with a smile.

Despite her recent good fortune, Amanda’s keenly aware that her situation could be anybody’s. “I just want people to know that it doesn’t matter who you are, how rich you are or how powerful you can be, you can always fall on your knees,” she says. I think we can all agree that it’s not about how far we’ve fallen, but how we get ourselves back up. And most importantly, how we can help lift up others around us.

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