Carla Jones (right) was one of Dr. Jean Kennedy’s students before becoming homeless. The story Carla tells is a reminder of how any one of us could end up living in a homeless encampment.

Crossroads with Carla

Life is a journey that has the power to take us places we may never expect to end up. Many people may take a look at homelessness and conclude it to be one of life’s issues that they will never have to personally experience. The reality, however, is that many of us within the Central Valley, and around the United States, all have the potential of losing the lives we have worked so diligently to build.

Recently, Fresno’s Dr. Jean Kennedy, alongside community volunteers and students from UC Merced, visited downtown Fresno. Their mission was to hand out water bottles to as many homeless people as possible.

As Dr. Kennedy walked through the streets, calling out to all homeless people who might need or want water, she suddenly heard a voice call out to her. A single white female, who was obviously homeless, began to shout, “Dr. Kennedy! Dr. Kennedy!”

Baffled that someone within Tent City actually knew her by name, Dr. Kennedy simply stood there as the woman came charging forward with both arms outstretched. The woman, who later identified herself as Carla, approached Dr. Kennedy and gave her a hug. Still perplexed, Jean began to wonder if the woman simply knew of her from one of her previous visits, in relation to the water project. After their initial embrace ended, Carla looked at Dr. Kennedy and asked her, “Do you remember me?” Rather than fumble for possible scenarios to explain their connection, Dr. Kennedy simply asked the lady to refresh her memory. Carla simply smiled and said, “I used to be one of your students.”

Carla was kind enough to share her amazing journey from hard worker to homeless woman.

The story apparently began when Carla made the decision to leave school, once her health began to decline. She obtained a job as an in-home care provider, but once her patient/friend died, an evaluation concluded that Carla was legally too disabled to continue working in that field.

Her license was subsequently pulled, which took Carla to another job that paid much less money, as a cleaning lady for a commercially advertised motel chain. That job, however, was short-lived when Carla’s health proved to impede her ability to perform. The abrasive disinfectants and solvents emitted fumes that aggravated Carla’s asthma. The cumbersome cleaning equipment she was expected to drag up and down stairs was far too heavy for a woman to carry who already had a pre-existing injury to her lower back.

Upon turning to government assistance, Carla was informed that she was indeed too disabled to work, yet not disabled enough to receive disability. Because Carla was too young to qualify for Social Security, she began receiving $30 of monthly cash aid and $200 of monthly food stamps. Those supplements, unfortunately, don’t compensate the expenses of rent and utilities. With no options left to sustain any type of viable lifestyle, and no support system from immediate or extended family, Carla slowly slipped into an existence on the streets.

Carla now resides in a homeless camp that she describes as “very hard and very dangerous.” In an exclusive, video-recorded interview, Carla was willing to reveal the gruesome details of the daily obstacles she faces as a homeless woman in America.

Carla explained that “there are people who bother you all the time, like sexually bother you all the time. They think your house is theirs, and that it’s an open market, meaning whatever is inside the tent is theirs, and that they can help themselves whenever they want to. The law doesn’t really help us out here, so we’re basically left to fend for ourselves.”

Carla’s story is America’s necessary reminder that we’re all one injury away from not being able to provide for ourselves. Even when we seek education, work hard to maintain our lifestyles and bend over backward to do everything that society has always told us would secure our fate, we’re still incapable of achieving the guaranteed success that we all seem to desire. So the next time you encounter someone like Carla on the crossroads of life, you may actually be taking a look into your own future.

  • The Community Alliance is a monthly newspaper that has been published in Fresno, California, since 1996. The purpose of the newspaper is to help build a progressive movement for social and economic justice.

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