It started with a choice.
A choice to get herself into a homeless shelter; a choice to come to terms with her alcoholism; a choice to enroll in school and a choice to open her heart, release the anger, and let compassion fill the voided space.
Today, Lisa Striedinger, 50, is a peer counselor for Community Integrated Health Services, a behavioral health agency serving Lewis County, and an advocate for people experiencing homelessness.
But it wasn’t that long ago when Striedinger was in the shoes of those she now helps.
In 2016, Striedinger was at her lowest point, she says, still trying to grapple with the death of her mother and was fighting against alcoholism, anger issues and homelessness.
To understand how Striedinger reached that low point in 2016, you have to go back further.
A native of West Seattle, Striedinger was raised in a household where alcohol was simply the norm. She recalled her 14th birthday party — a kegger in her back yard with about 50 people, and of course, the alcohol provided by her parents.
Then, “In ‘94, my mom wanted to move, so we drove here — to Borst Park — and she laid under the trees and drank a bottle of wine,” Striedinger said. “and she goes, ‘I want to live here,’ and I said, ‘okay, mom. We’re going to live here.’”
For employment, Striedinger worked jobs around Centralia as a bartender. In a 13-year period starting in 1996, she worked at bars all around town, even working her way to an assistant manager role at The Olympic Club.
But her work — though it provided her a means to live on her own terms — would prove to be a double-edged sword.
“Being a bartender, I wanted to be on the other side (of the bar),” she said. “I kind of evolved to the other side in a very bad way.”
However, there was a silver lining to Striedinger’s employment as a bartender: it was where she met her husband, Steve Hubbard, who she has been married to for 20 years. The two would fight through thick and thin to stay together during tumultuous times ultimately to see a light at the end of the tunnel.
“She was just drop-dead gorgeous and a happy person, so I wanted to get to know her,” Hubbard recalls of his first encounter with Striedinger.
But Striedinger’s personal troubles had just begun. In 2005 she was convicted of a felony and spent three years in prison.
Striedinger tried to make the best of her time in prison by taking as many classes and leadership roles that were made available to the inmates.
She remembers one of the workers at the prison telling her she should become a peer counselor when she got out. Striedinger recalls replying; “You know this is a prison, right? They won’t even let me cut hair when I’m out.”
At the time she didn’t think much of it, but little did she know it planted a seed of thought in her head that would one day flourish.
When Striedninger was released from prison in 2007, there were signs of hope Hubbard said.
“She wanted to stop drinking. She wanted to get her life back together,” Hubbard said.
But in 2013, after the couple managed to get by, Striedinger’s mother passed away, which caused the already fragile thread holding her life together to become undone again.
Striedinger spent a few years down and out in the wake of her mother’s death — 2016 is what she characterizes as “the beginning of my homeless journey.” To Striedinger, it felt like the beginning of the end — her family wanted nothing to do with her, she suffered from alcoholism and anger festered inside of her — but in fact, it was the beginning of her upward trajectory.
As Striedinger remembers it, she was living out of her car in the Walmart parking lot when a social service worker had recommended she check out a homeless shelter.
There was reluctance to go, she had grown up in a world where you were taught to not trust “the system,” but nevertheless, she made the choice to go.
From that point on, things began to fall in place — In 2016, Striedinger began treatment for her alcohol addiction, applied to go to school and was able to work a construction job that enabled her to move into an apartment in Napavine.
By January of 2017, she was enrolled in school at Centralia College studying chemical dependency and taking anger management classes.
Going to school and taking anger management classes, Striedinger says, saved her life.
“(Anger management) taught me how to feel, how to cry, how to be in a relationship, fight or flight — I was never taught any of that,” Striedinger said. “Going to school I started to learn about myself and that I wasn’t screwed up and I said, ‘Okay, I really want to help people.’”
And so Striedinger made the choice to be an advocate for people experiencing homelessness. She started her 501(c) nonprofit organization called Friends Without Homes which she says looks to connect the homeless population to the resources available to them.
It was through her nonprofit work that led her to a meeting with Community Integrated Health Services’ CEO Marc Bollinger. She was simply looking for advice on how to be more effective in her work and to discuss a potential partnership. Bollinger saw someone who would be an ideal candidate as a peer counselor.
“I listen to a lot of people complain, just complain with no solutions,” Bollinger said. “She didn’t come across that way at all. It was more, here’s the situation, this is what I need help with, I’ll do all the work, I just need a path. And that’s a very different approach than a lot of folks that I talk to, especially when you’re talking about the most vulnerable population.”
Bollinger added that with Striedinger’s lived-experience of being homeless and the credibility she has with the homeless population has given the entire agency a new access point to reach people in need.
For Striedinger, it is merely what she was made to do.
“Being able to reach out to people experiencing homelessness, I’d do it for free, I told them before they hired me, but they said they had to pay me,” she said with a smile.
For more information on Striedinger’s nonprofit, Friends Without Homes, go to https://www.facebook.com/worthsavin/