From the east coast of the United States to drug addiction, then rehabilitation, motherhood and a new life and career in London, it’s been quite a journey for Jenny Travassos.
That journey’s latest destination saw Travassos, who is head of prevention at Westminster City Council, be highly commended in a national award for her work in the battle against homelessness and rough sleeping.
At a ceremony in Manchester last week, Travassos was one of 11 nominees for Women in Housing’s Woman of the Year Award.
However, such individual recognition and success in her field is certainly a huge distance from where Travassos was many years ago.
“I grew up in a ‘normal’, supportive middle-class family on the east coast of the US and, upon graduating from high school, I went to university but started making some very bad decisions,” said Travassos. “By the time I was 24, I had moved to London, long having dropped out of university and life in general.
“Things started to turn around when I met my husband and became pregnant with my daughter - we knew we had to make a change to our lives and we did.”
At the age of 26 in 2004, and with her daughter two years old, Travassos pushed ahead with her next challenge.
“I volunteered at a women’s hostel in Southwark for about six months, loved it and soon became a trainee support worker,” she said. “I then became a fully-fledged support worker and found myself helping people who were in the same lifestyle I had got out of.
“When I left the charity in 2014 as the area manager for health and complex needs, I moved to Westminster City Council. Since then, I have led the rough sleeping team and now am the head of prevention.
“I’m responsible for all homelessness and rough sleeping services for the council, including accommodation for people with quite high levels of support needs.”
Her role could mean dealing with anything from people fleeing domestic violence, young people leaving care and going into more independent housing, and prevention of homelessness in the community.
“We’ve done a lot to say to people that ‘we’re here to help’,” said Travassos. “That’s so important, to have that connection between people and the council, as I know how hard it can be to start the process of making a big change in your life for the better. If we can help someone to do that, we’re doing our job.”