“IT TOOK ME A WHILE TO BE ABLE TO SAY THE WORDS ‘I AM HOMELESS’ without bursting into tears.
I had worked in the Silicon Valley corporate offices of biotech and software startups for the last 17 years and I was looking forward to semi-retirement away from the rat race. I was a single professional woman and used to supporting myself. I moved to Boise, ID in 2007 and was able to purchase a very nice home within my budget. I spent time and money making upgrades.
Also, I intended to work but I fell ill with depression and fibromyalgia which was diagnosed by several trips to the doctor. Two close family members had passed away in 2006 and I had not given myself time to deal with my loss. In winter of 2008, while the stock market was crashing down around us, I lost money I had invested and I knew I was in trouble financially.
I became a homeless woman in the spring of 2009. I lost my home, defaulted on the loan, in May 2009. According to three realtors current market appraisals my home equity was less than zero. Because if I had the good fortune to sell my home I would have had to borrow money to pay the commission! The end. $100,000 down the drain. No job. No home. In June 2009 I auctioned all of my personal belongings and was on the road with a couple of suitcases in my car.
A large part of being homeless is denial. At first I could not tell anyone or ask for help because there is such huge shame and humiliation with this and you still don’t think it’s true. For the first couple of months I felt I had been zapped with a stun-gun. I was in shock. I drove back to northern California because I had missed it so much and I stayed at the beach while trying to figure out what to do. I knew I needed to check out shelter living and I did look at services and shelters available in Mendocino and Santa Clara counties. What they offered was very minimal and emergency shelters were full. But then, by the grace of God I came to Santa Rosa; when I arrived here in July ’09 I had no car, no income and $4 in my wallet. I made phone calls to the family members I have in California and the mid-west but they were not able to help. One truth of homelessness is ‘expect to be blamed for your circumstances’. Because of the stigma of being a homeless person, your family does not want to have much to do with you. I believe that it hits too close for comfort and they would rather hold you at arm’s length – like you’re contagious. Out of sight, out of mind.
I found my way to Homeless Services Center where I was given local shelter phone numbers to call. From there I walked to the Rescue Mission in Santa Rosa where I stood in line for a meal. Also, I was to meet the caseworker that would drive me to a woman’s shelter. Standing in that line, I was so lost, and I realized my shame was greater than my fear. I prayed for God to lead me and care for me. I was admitted to a women’s emergency shelter where I was given the bottom bunk bed in a small room that slept six women. This shelter provided me with basic necessities in a highly structured environment which suited me well at the time. I was able to get my feet on the ground and find resources and sites that showed homeless, jobless women how to get help and benefit from the local programs. ‘The Living Room’ is a very efficient center run by community, church and volunteers where they provide telephones, computers, ‘how-to’ forms and instruction to access government and community programs for aid. The Living Room serves breakfast and lunch five days a week, offers support groups, and it is a wonderfully welcoming place. From here I became part of a circle that met three times weekly and worked on credit reports, self-esteem, resumes, etc. I also heard of the Sloan House Shelter and about their Wellness Program of empowering us to reclaim our lives. I was admitted to and became part of the Sloan House program for homeless women in August 2009.
Another important factor of being homeless, that no one believes unless they have been there, is the intensity of each day. I could not have imagined how much energy it takes to just maintain yourself, especially while you become more and more sleep deprived. All of your senses operate on high day and night in a state of hyper-vigilance. And there is usually so much drama going on around you – twenty women and children all trying to get their needs met and be heard. It’s very challenging to keep yourself calm and think what is best for you. The basic routine for most shelters is to be up by 6:00am and moving out the door by 7:30am, returning at 6:00pm each evening, seven days a week. The Sloan House Shelter provides an easier pace, out of the house by 10:00am, return at 4:00pm and weekends are stay home. I am so very grateful for the food, shelter and safe place to return to each day and night at a time when I was most vulnerable. Sloan’s Wellness Program conducts classes on most afternoons, subjects covering personal health and nutrition, applications for various subsidized housing programs, work related topics, relationship building, financial fitness, etc.. Community Action Partnership of Sonoma (C.A.P.S.) sponsors the Sloan House Shelter so the classes offered are current and relevant. The shelter is also blessed by the many caring, committed women and men providing time and donations.
By following their Wellness program I was able to stay with Sloan House for six months, and working with my caseworker’s assistance we found a grant that paid my rental deposit and subsidized my rent for several months. Also, because of my personal health history I applied for social security income. Every client at Sloan House meets with their caseworker regularly and outlines a plan that fits their specific needs.
As of March this year I am now living in my own apartment. Because of the support and guidance I received at the Sloan House Shelter I am building a new life that I feel secure in and trusting myself to be able to care for myself. I have new friendships and am looking to volunteer and give back to the homeless community wherever I can. THANK YOU so very much.”