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Karen Brown lived wherever she could park her van for the night.

Homelessness was a frightening new reality, one that came upon her suddenly and that appeared to have no end in sight. Not long before, she said, she had been stuck in a bad marriage. Then her husband left and the family got split up.

Her entire life spiraled downward from there, she said.

She felt lost. Her mental health declined rapidly. Everything she owned was in her van. When night fell, she parked, locked the doors and tried to close her eyes and find peace.

Winter was coming, along with the prospect of frigid nights as the temperature fell to freezing and below.

Fortunately, an acquaintance told Karen about LifeStyles of Maryland and the Safe Nights program, which offers homeless individuals a warm place to sleep at local churches that volunteer their space on a rotating basis. The churches also provide two hot meals and a bag lunch each day.

“If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know where I would be right now,” Karen said.

Once she began to ask for help, she learned about more opportunities and resources available to her. Doors began to open. She filled out an application at the Department of Social Services. Soon, she was receiving regular therapy sessions for her mental health through the Southern Maryland Community Network.

She applied for disability and was approved. Through the Shelter Plus Care program, she added her name to a waitlist for housing.

The wait seemed like forever, but eventually, Karen’s name reached the top of the list, and a home came available in Indian Head. No more sleeping in her van or shelters. Finally, she had one place to call home every night of the year.

“It felt good when I was able to get a key to a place of my own,” she said. “It felt very good.”

It’s been her home for the last four years. Along the way, she has continued to work on her mental health and she’s found peace by attending church and focusing on her faith.

She doesn’t know where she would be if not for the caring support of the people she met through LifeStyles of Maryland and other local organizations that helped connect her with the resources she so urgently needed.

For others who may be facing a similar, pivotal moment in their lives, she has a simple message.

“Keep on praying and keeping the faith. Keep going forward,” she said. “Don’t give up. Things will come together. It takes time.”