When she was ten years old, Gabrielle Vachersse wanted to be a veterinarian. She loved animals, and the idea of being a source of aid to the things she loved really appealed to her. She had a pet cat, at the
time; now, years later, she still remembers a particular day when her cat went off to the veterinarian’s office and returned home neutered. She remembers asking her grandmother what happened, and her grandmother’s response — “It’s okay, they just took away his boyhood” —
and she remembers crying very hard about this, that she might one day
have to perform the same act on any number of pet cats. Later that day, she decided she would not in fact become a veterinarian. She would instead become a nurse. Her mother warned her that nurses aren’t always gentle with their patients — sometimes they have to give shots, and the patients cry out of pain. “I can handle that,” Gabrielle said.
Four years ago, early into her pregnancy, Gabrielle lost her job as a retail manager; soon afterward, her partner developed a chronic back injury, and he lost his job as well. They stayed with various friends and family members for a while, and eventually had to move into a shelter. Had just one of them become unemployed, she is certain the other would have been able to support them both, at least temporarily. It was the coincidence of both of them losing their jobs within a matter of months, she says, that brought them to the shelter.
At the shelter, staff could not help her find housing in Boston; back then, she thought of this as yet another unlucky turn of events in her life, but she no longer believes in luck. She’ll go out of her way to say this. Instead, she thinks of what happened as unfortunate. It was unfortunate that the shelter couldn’t help her secure permanent housing locally, so she took matters into her own hands, studying the various policies and eventually finding housing for herself and her family.
Now Gabrielle works as a housing advocate for others experiencing similar difficulties. Dozens of individuals and families have found housing as a result of her efforts. Depending on whom you ask, they are lucky, or fortunate, to have met her. It’s rewarding work, and she finds it comes naturally to her, as she understands what it’s like to need the kind of help she can now offer.
Gabrielle also has a daughter, Abigail, who goes to Horizons for Homeless Children in Roxbury during the daytime. One of 175 children enrolled at HHC, Abigail spends her days in a safe and stimulating environment, busy with activities, books, and friends. When asked what she would like to do when she grows up, Abigail says she would like to be a sister to somebody. The sisters in the room warn her, it isn’t always an easy job, but Abigail can handle that.
Gabrielle Vachersse lives in Roxbury with her daughter, Abigail, and Abigail’s father, Ernest. She is preparing to enroll at Bunker Hill Community College, where she will study to become a neonatal nurse. Abigail turns four years old in November. At a summer picnic hosted by HHC recently, she was able to touch an alligator’s tail and she allowed a
pet snake to crawl around her neck. Neither of them scared her.