Providing Support for Single Moms
Courtney Montano had been in Santa Rita Jail on a probation violation for five days when she went into labor with her second child.
When she arrived at ValleyCare Medical Center in Pleasanton, she asked to call her mom or the baby’s father.
“They reminded me that I was in custody,” said Montano, recalling that lonely night in late February 2015. “So I didn’t get to call anybody, and I didn’t get to have anyone there.”
Over coffee one recent afternoon, Montano’s story of substance abuse, loss and redemption spills forth in a rush — she’s told it many times to fellow recovering addicts at Narcotics Anonymous meetings and to her case managers at Concord-based Shelter, Inc., which provided housing and support as a newly sober Montano sought to reunite with her elder daughter, Layla.
“I’m very grateful for Shelter, Inc. They helped me get my life together,” she said.
In and out of jail on drug and theft charges, Montano struggled for years to kick her methamphetamine and heroin habit. Because of her drug use, Montano lost custody of Layla when she was 10 months old.
Initially, Montano saw Layla regularly. But over time, as she showed up high to visits or missed appointments, Contra Costa Child and Family Services reduced the time she could spend with Layla until Montano was allowed to see her daughter for just an hour once a month, she said.
“I tried to get clean, and I didn’t succeed,” said Montano, 26, a self-described tomboy growing up the youngest of four girls in Livermore. “I didn’t do it for the right reasons. I did it because I wanted my kid back.”
That failure, she said, made her understand the saying, “Addiction is stronger than a mother’s love.”
Montano continued to use drugs after she gave birth to her daughter, Drew. A text message from her mother — who was caring for both girls at the time — telling Montano to decide if she wanted to be involved in her daughters’ lives was the wake-up call she needed to make a change.
“I just didn’t want to be that mom that gave up on their kids. Something just clicked, and I was done,” she said.
After completing a four-month stint in a residential drug-treatment program in Pittsburg, in July 2015 Montano and Drew moved in to Shelter Inc.’s Mountain View Emergency Family Shelter in Martinez. Montano’s positive attitude and determination to improve her circumstances impressed Martie Steinmetz, transition services program manager.
“She excelled at everything; she really wanted it badly enough,” said Steinmetz, adding that Montano worked closely with a case manager and found a job during the five months she lived at the shelter.
“She’s a very hard worker, she’s an excellent mother, and she’s very dedicated to having a better life for her and her daughters, and I truly admire her for that.”
Founded in 1986, Shelter, Inc. provides housing, rental assistance, counseling, job training and other services to struggling families and single adults in Contra Costa County.
The agency has received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign sponsored by the Bay Area News Group to benefit needy residents in the East Bay. The grant is administered by the Contra Costa Crisis Center, and donations support programs of 40 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties.
In December 2015, Montano and Drew moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Shelter, Inc.’s apartment complex near the Pittsburg marina, where she paid 30 percent of her income toward the rent.
“Without Shelter, Inc., I probably would have not stayed clean,” said Montano, her slight frame swallowed up by the oversized orange T-shirt and baggy work pants she wears to her job landscaping alongside freeways.
“It was the next step to continue my recovery. If I didn’t have there to go, I don’t know where I would have gone and I don’t know where I would have ended up.”
Sherry Ramos, a case manager at the Pittsburg apartments, described Montano as a highly motivated “success story” who frequently sought guidance from counselors and overcame obstacles to get her daughter back. Montano regained custody of 4-year-old Layla in July.
“What I’ve seen in Courtney, she always puts her kids first,” Ramos said.
Last month, the family moved into a two-bedroom apartment in Antioch with help from the county’s Shelter Plus Care program, which provides rental subsidies for chronically homeless families and single adults with disabilities.
Shelter, Inc. used part of the $5,200 Share the Spirit grant it received this year to buy cookware, cutlery and other household items for Montano’s new home, according to Theresita Gonzalez, resource coordinator. The organization also reserved $2,000 to purchase mattresses for other clients because health concerns prevent Shelter, Inc. from accepting donated ones, she added.
Montano said she has not used drugs or alcohol since she entered rehab in March 2015. While she’s at work, the girls are in day care in Pittsburg. In the evenings, the three often attend Narcotics Anonymous meetings, where Layla joins in reciting the Serenity Prayer at the end of the session.
Montano believes taking her daughters to the meetings is better for them than the possible alternative — living with a mother who has relapsed.
“I have no problem with them knowing where I came from,” she said. “That I fought for them. That they saved my life.”