“L” is a strong, courageous woman, in her 70’s, who embodied grace as she told her story. She was an assistant cook and worked her way up to cook manager, for over a decade, with Sonoma County school districts. In 2015, she found herself evicted from her apartment complex, given the reason that she was using the wrong cleaning products on her surfaces, causing the surfaces to rust. Having lived there for 11 years, with no history of complaints or wrongdoing, she found herself homeless. When asked why she didn’t fight the eviction, given such a weak reason, Loretta explained that she “just needed to survive at that point.”
L said her eviction was “when it all started.” Not knowing where to go or what she was going to do, Loretta found herself in numerous shelters throughout Sonoma County for the next several years–Mary Isaak Homeless Shelter; Sloan House in Santa Rosa; 3 different stays at Sam Jones Hall; and Interfaith, 3 different times, just to name a few. Loretta had immediately applied for Section 8 Housing and was put on the waiting list.
When asked how she was able to stay motivated, and make it through each day, L replied that she really didn’t know, but would find ways. There were days that she just needed to get out of the shelter or her “head would start to rattle.” She said that driving out to the beach, or taking a trip to Los Angeles to visit her daughter were certainly helpful.
About 4-5 years ago, L was awarded an Emergency Housing Voucher. One would think that this was the golden ticket to get housing. However, that was not the case. L was not able to find a place. Even after getting two extensions on the voucher, with still no available housing for her, the voucher expired. Loretta explained that as a single adult, she was only eligible for a studio or one bedroom apartment. So, even if a two bedroom had been available and she was able to afford the rent, she could not move in. She said that this is a common occurrence and happens to many people in her situation. So, L was back on the Section 8 Housing wait list.
Up to this point, L had had a car, giving her freedom to be away from the shelters during the days and an option to not have to stay in a shelter at all. For almost a year, she participated in the Safe Parking Program in Santa Rosa. This program allows people experiencing homelessness to safely park their vehicles and have access to basic services such as food, sanitation and shower facilities. As she planned one of her visits to LA to see her daughter, she was concerned about what to do with her car. Asking one of the parking attendants connected with the program, he directed her to park her car in a certain spot and said it would be fine there. On her way back from her trip, Loretta’s case worker contacted her saying her car was being towed and impounded. Not only did she now have to worry about what to do about her car, when she returned to Santa Rosa, her case worker told her that she didn’t have a place for Loretta to stay that night. On top of that, all of her belongings were in the car. Luckily, L was able to get in touch with a friend who let her stay with her, not only for that night, but for the next 4 months. The next day, L went to the impound lot where she discovered that it would cost $1,200.00 to get her car out, plus $75.00 per day that it remained. Not having the money, Loretta was forced to give up her car and was given just a few minutes to remove all her belongings.
After spending 4 months living with her friend, L went back into shelters. Some time afterwards, L’s case worker gave her another Emergency Housing Voucher. Not surprisingly, L was skeptical that it was real, and that she would find housing this time. But, as it turned out, that voucher was the golden ticket, and Loretta got housing. She now lives in an apartment located in a beautifully landscaped complex, surrounded by trees and grass. She spends her days walking or taking the bus into town where she can go for walks, get coffee, sit outside and people watch, and go to the library.
So after 7 years of being homeless, L has been able to close that chapter. However, the judgments held by people who have never experienced homelessness, about people who are homeless, are still felt. She said being homeless was really hard sometimes. People would believe that because she was homeless, she must be a drug addict. They never took the time to look closer. Businesses would very gladly take her money, but then didn’t want her around. However, L isn’t someone who sat complaining about her situation, nor was she victimized by it. She dealt with each day as it came, firmly believing that the tables would have to turn one day. Her message to anyone who is homeless and feeling like giving up, is DON’T. Just keep going and be present, so that when opportunities come, you will not miss out on them.