Homeless in California -by Sharon Nelson
I remember when I walked in from a nice warm sunny day on Venice Beach California. I saw my two roommates sitting at the kitchen table with somber looks on their faces. I went in making a joke saying - cheer up it's not that bad. In which they both looked over at me in unison and one of them replied -it is, we have to move in thirty days. The landlord's selling the house. I knew there was no way of contesting this. For we all knew he could do it. We just never expected him "to do it", and so soon!
As days flew by it was time for all three of us to gather up the last of our things and leave. We all said empty goodbyes with half hearted promises that we would keep in touch. I walked out with my last small box of belongings and packed it into my already stuffed Volkswagen. I got in my car started driving without any plans or a purpose. I kept telling myself things will be alright, ignoring the sheer panic embedded deep in the pit of my stomach. I stopped and purchased a bottle of Merlot, then drove back to Venice Beach. I parked my car, fished my wine opener and a glass a well as some fruit out from the hatch back. I walked out a ways by the ocean and just sat to ponder over my plight.
The first issue I needed to tackle was shelter. I had only eighteen hundred dollars to my name, and that would not be enough to satisfy first month"s rent plus deposit in the state of California. But, it would be enough for food if I budget frugally, I decided to sleep in my car if need be I made a pact with myself to "only" use money for gas and cost effective meals.
My next step was calling eight hundred numbers to shelters. This was something I found difficult for me to accept. I could feel the tears stinging the back of my eyes. But fighting against them, swallowing my pride I walked to a nearby pay phone. And started to look through the battered phone book attached with a chain to the divider of the booth. With pen and paper in hand, I jotted down all the eight hundred numbers. On my fourth call I started a conversation with a nice lady on the other line.
This facility was closed; however, she took calls to disperse information to people who called after business hours. She was so comforting sharing sporadically her own misfortunes as to how she at one time lost all her possessions in a fire. She suggested that I apply for Transitional Housing. And the stipulations were you had to have potential, a goal, and a plan. She assured me I had all three. I thanked her dearly and ended the call with new found inspiration and determination.
That night I decided to stay in the Venice Beach area, it was the type of environment that fit my situation. As I watched the sunset on the horizon I was overwhelmed with feelings of melancholy. I moved my car and parked it in an area that provides twenty four hour lighting with the police walking the beat from time to time.
The next day I awaken early. I knew the next steps where networking the phones with the wealth of information I was given by the nice lady from the night before. I called a transitional facility close by and others. I was told the protocol was to come in and fill out and application, as there was a waiting list. Again, I felt that same familiar feeling of panic rising up in the pit of my stomach. The thought of filling out applications with a waiting list was depressing. But I soldiered on and ended up filling out four applications in all. I was surprised at how professionally ran the establishments were.
Not only was it professional, the services they offered I thought I wasn't hearing correctly for instance -
1. - They asked no rent for a long as you stayed there (the goal was to encourage residents to save enough money to get started on your own).
2. - You saved (mandatory) a portion of your earnings for at least six months.
3,- The facility provided the residents w/food, bus vouchers/tokens/tickets, vouchers for taxis, as well as clothing and all toiletries. Also, included were the use of computers/printers for job placement and resumes'.
Rules: A- Everyone had to honor the 10 p.m. curfew, unless you had a pass from staff to stay out (which that was earned).
B- Zero tolerance for fighting/violence.
The establishment (s) were better than I ever expected or imagined. After my appointments I needed to get a P.O. Box because, when they contact you it's by mail, not phone. I also needed to shower daily and decided to join a gym. I would feign that I was interested in working out. This way I could use the facility to rinse off and I felt safer/securer verses other unsavory means.
I joined a few libraries by getting library cards. This way I could eat time and scan through the new papers/computers looking for employment. This was difficult at first to take on my situation on an emotional level. But, I would think back to that conversation I had with the nice lady telling me of how she had a beautiful opulent house in the hills and lost it all in the fire. She lost more than I could fathom. In speaking to her I remembered feeling her strength through the phone. I vowed to wear her graceful temperament, for there was nothing angry about her and I found that admirable.
The days accumulation to a month (s). I was sitting in my temporary home (the library) and was accessing my progress. It had been exactly thirty days or just a little over. I was still sleeping in my car. However, I had a place to shower, "the gym". and if push came to shove, I could utilize the homeless shelter for a hot meal, and toiletries. I also noticed that dreaded feeling of despair and panic stopped hindering me and that was a good feeling. I felt confident!
Finally! In checking my P.O. Box., I received a letter saying I had been accepted for a room in a Transitional Housing Facility! I was to come in on the above date to get the ball rolling. I was ecstatic!
I stayed in the Transitional Housing for a year. Where I met some lovely ladies with whom I am friends with to this day. Becoming homeless was difficult and oh so scary! But, when I sat down and address the most urgent needs first. This gave me plans and goals to achieve.