This Mom, Once Homeless, Now Helps Families in Need With “Houses of Hope”

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a special series, Moms Who Wow Us, where we partnered with Good Housekeeping, Redbook, and the Today show to honor everyday heroes ahead of Mother’s Day. You can read about all the moms we’re celebrating here.

In 1991, Je’net Kreitner never thought she’d find herself homeless. She’d attended college on an opera scholarship, studied theater, and was working in the entertainment industry. She was also happily married with a son. But things took a turn while she was starring in a show, ironically titled “Homeless.” The lead character she played was a street addict who had grown up being abused, and it resurfaced memories of Je’net’s past.

As a child, Je’net was abused by family members, including her father. After speaking up about it, she lost her family’s support, along with her job and marriage. “I ended up running away to Salt Lake City, Utah, to open up a heavy metal club with a man I’d met at a music convention,” Je’net recalls. “He seemed to understand me when no one else did.”

The relationship became violent — and it took Je’net about three years to get out. During a trip to another music show on January 24, 1994, Je’net and her son were thrown out of the man’s van with nothing but two suitcases and $20. “That night we slept in a phone booth,” she says, “the peak of my homeless experience until I finally got help.”

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As of this year, Grandma’s House of Hope has helped more than 10,000 women and served more than 2,000 meals to families living in hotels.

While on the streets, Je’net received help from strangers, including her now-husband Patrick. This unwavering support inspired her to start a nonprofit of her own: Grandma’s House of Hope, which “aims to empower the invisible populations of Orange County.”

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Kreitner trick-or-treating with children from Grandma’s House of Hope.

The idea came to Je’net and her husband once they realized they were already opening their home to as many as 10 women in need on any given day. They were also packing food bags for hungry children living in local motels, among other volunteer work.

Today, the program provides shelter, basic necessities, and services to women, children, and families living in extreme poverty or that are affected by human-trafficking, domestic violence, or serious illnesses. Since 2004, Grandma’s House of Hope has rescued more than 2,000 men and women from the streets, and provided more than 2 million meals to families living in hotels.

“Our mission is to empower the invisible,” Je’net says. “I still remember that moment when my husband first saw me. And I want women and men to know that I see them too.”

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