“Y” is a college educated, single mother with a 9 year old vibrant, intelligent and polite son. She moved up from Santa Barbara a couple of years ago to be closer to relatives and with the hope of giving her boy “something better.” In the beginning, she was able to pay rent, however, her situation changed, and, as she was looking at the prospect of becoming homeless, simultaneously, she developed serious health issues.
After leaving her living situation with relatives, Y was looking at needing to live in her car with her son. She reached out to Sonoma County but was told that living in a car did not constitute an emergency situation. She had other folks ask her why she just didn’t get a job to earn money and pay rent. Her health issues prevented that from happening. The doctor’s were not able to diagnose her condition at first, and she was spending her days going back and forth to clinics, needing to use a car that was unreliable at best. Her health continued to deteriorate and there was a time when she thought she may not make it. Just as she and her son were about to get a place at a shelter, the doctors diagnosed her condition and told her she required surgery. To have the surgery meant she would lose her spot in the shelter. Y now had to figure out what to do as her son wouldn’t be able to stay with her at the hospital. Y’s mother, who was renting a room in a house, talked with her landlady and she Ok’d for the son to stay with her. Only then was Y able to schedule her surgery knowing her son was being taken care of.
After her surgery came more obstacles as the hospital would not release her without a safe environment to return to. Although there are shelters that provide hospital beds for folks recovering from surgeries, they were not set up to move a bed to a more private area where Yessenia’s son could be with her. They said that with Y recovering, she was not able to care for herself, and they were not equipped to look after her boy. Her mother, once again, talked with her landlady and got permission for Y to stay with her in the one bedroom she was renting. What was supposed to be a week, turned into a month for Y to feel back on her feet.
Afraid that she and her son wouldn’t have a place to go, Y started calling around to different Sonoma County resources. Getting blocked time and again, she kept asking who else she could contact. Starting to lose hope, she finally found someone who was able to get her and her son into a hotel, fully paid for through Sonoma County. They were able to remain in hotels until she found the apartment they are now living in.
While living in Santa Barbara, Y supported herself working in a high end physician’s office. She never imagined that she would become homeless. She had her own misconceptions about what it meant to be homeless or even what a homeless person looked like. She discovered that there were more people like her experiencing homelessness, not being able to make enough money to afford rent. She said knowing other people were going through what she was there was a sense of there being comfort in numbers. It helped her not become panicked or so overwhelmed that it prevented her from moving forward.
Her son was her top priority and providing stability for him was her only focus. As she wasn’t able to provide stability through housing, Y made the choice to keep her son in his same school, even when they were schools closer to where they were currently staying. Him being able to go to the same place, seeing the same buildings, and with familiar faces of teachers and friends, would provide a level of structure and predictability he needed.
Y is so grateful to have a home. She said she had apartments while in her twenties, but those were just places she kept her stuff and paid rent. Being able to provide an apartment for her son, is the first time in a long time where she’s felt she has a home. In the beginning, before Inspired Spaces Foundation furnished her home, she still felt like she was holding her breath; that it wasn’t real. After her home was furnished, she felt at home the first time she and her family sat down at the dining table for a meal. It was when she realized that she didn’t have to do the dishes prior to eating, that the place felt like hers. (While she was in a more communal living situation, she would need to make sure dishes were done for the next people to be able to use them.) Y is now experiencing little things that most of us take for granted; being sick and being able to stay in your pajamas and watch Netflix all day; doing the dishes when you want to; having your own bedroom. Y’s son now has his own bedroom, something he hasn’t had since he was in kindergarten. He is now a 4th grader.
Another thing that was so difficult when homeless, was her son’s father’s ability to have meaningful visits with him. When living in the hotels, they were only able to spend time together in parks, at the mall, or grabbing a meal and a movie. No real privacy and seemingly rushed time together. Now, with a home, the father is able to spend quality time with his son.
Y and her son have had a rough couple of years. However, their experience that was important, traumatic and overwhelming all at the same time, has left them appreciative of what they have and with who helped them along the way. Y realized that someone did not have to walk a mile in her shoes to show compassion and want to help. She knows that she wouldn’t be where she is today without the kindness and help from others.