(As told at the Human Rights Day event held in front of Fresno City Hall on December 9, 2010)
I didn’t exactly come from a warm and loving family, as much as I hoped for one. I left home at 18 years old. Not by choice, of course. I left Fresno and ended up homeless in Riverside County.
Life became more and more challenging every day. It was heartbreaking to know that I had got myself into a situation that I didn’t think I could pull myself out of. I struggled for the first six months or so. It felt like my mind and body were still fighting.
It was beyond exhausting. Trying to keep myself fed, clothed and sheltered was something I had taken for granted until the moment that I lost everything. While I was homeless, a shower was a thing of the past. Something worth so much, and yet so small.
I had gone to an all-women’s shelter to seek help. They said they were all full, but they could help me by letting me use their address and an answering service for job search contacts. I was following up with them for call backs and vacancies at least three times a week. They gave me food and a jacket, and I kept checking back but they were always full.
I had gotten enough money from asking people for change to get a decent tent. That was my home, my shelter. Every night was terrifying for me. I was petrified that I was going to be raped or worse. If anyone approached me at night while I was alone I would get vicious and brutal to scare them away. I was so sick and tired of being too scared to sleep, so I went to this memorial site in Riverside. It is called Mt. Rubido, a large mountain that was a five-mile walk to the top. There was a large cement platform at the top of Rubido that I finally called home.
Everyday around four o’clock in the evening I would start my hike back home so I could get there before dark. In the morning, I would pack my tent away and hide all of my belongings in the little crevices of the mountain and put rocks in front, so what little things I had would not get stolen.
There was a church in downtown Riverside that fed the homeless twice a day. I would walk down the mountain and eat breakfast and lunch. Keeping clean was the most degrading thing. I would go to a gas station or restaurant and sponge bath in the sink. Almost every time it was cold water. Some nights I would take a bath in this big water fountain across the street from City Hall and the police station in Riverside. I was surprised I never got pneumonia or hypothermia.
I found this place in the Riverside Mall that would pay you money to watch videos on different products and take surveys. Every day after that I would take as many surveys as they would let me. This place saved me, in many ways. I was going on a year and seven months when I saw this sign at Victoria’s Secret, “Help wanted for temporary work.”
I immediately took the money I made that day taking surveys and bought myself a blouse and some slacks. I went to the mall bathrooms and got myself as cleaned up as possible. I went back to the store and asked for the manager.
I filled out an application and the manager asked me some questions. I took an on-phone interview and got the job. I cried so much in joy, because I knew this was my big break. I could finally get stable, be able to take care of myself and have a real home.
I worked there for five months and saved enough money to transfer to the Fresno store. I got a small apartment with some old friends. I was finally able to give myself the life that I deserved. Seven years later, I am a happy and successful mother of my four-year-old son, and have a wonderful and loving family of my own.
I haven’t looked back, until now. The opportunity came to me just recently to make a speech on my struggles and my story. It is very important to me to let people know that it is an awful and horrible experience. I would never wish it on my worst enemy.
It is possible to get out of homelessness. Sometimes I used to feel that hope and strength were the only things keeping me alive for those long two years. Throughout this experience I have found that the struggles we go through in this world can be overwhelming and cloud your mind, making things more difficult than they already are.
Everybody needs hope, but some people don’t have hope. Their lives have been so hard or tragic that they have lost their hopes and dreams. Let’s give them hope! Hope for a change in life. Hope that someone even cares. Hope for help. Now, more than ever, everyone is going through a hard time. It doesn’t have to be this way. We can come together and make a difference. Even if it is a small difference, small things can turn into something big. Something like a simple bathroom, or even a Port-a-Potty. Something small like garbage cans and running water would be well appreciated, I am sure. Not only would it help the homeless, it would help keep the areas cleaner.
To anyone who is homeless, or might find themselves homeless at any point in time, just hang in there and keep fighting the good fight. Stay strong. You can make it out alive. Just believe, and know that you deserve to give yourself a better life than what you are living now. Keep hope in your heart, and don’t give up!