From Homeowner to Homeless

“I chose to share this story because knowing Doreen showed me that homelessness can impact anybody. I was thankful LifeSTEPS was available to help this resident and prevent her from being homeless once again.”
–Oralia, Director of Social Services for LifeSTEPS

The first night in her new apartment didn’t feel real. Doreen paced through each room of her Sunset Gardens apartment, unable to sleep. It had been a long time since she had experienced the security of walls and a roof over hdoreener head—a long time since she remembered hearing silence in the night so deafening. With very little furnishings inside, Doreen felt small and lost in the open spaces of her new rooms. Living homeless for several years can leave a person saddled with anxiety that doesn’t shake off once they are housed.

It was like this for Doreen and her start at Sunset Gardens would be a rocky one.

Thirty years of home ownership ended for Doreen when her house was foreclosed on—more collateral damage from the Great Recession, which included for Doreen lost jobs and lost relationships. She raised a son in that home, but even her son couldn’t help her. She went from a homeowner one day to sleeping on friend’s couches the next, and later living out of a car.

Doreen was able to take the little money she received from retirement and rent a storage unit to hold all her possessions—this unit was the only security she had left. Even Doreen’s dog Jack, a golden retriever she had for five years, couldn’t always stay with Doreen as she bounced from sleeping in cars to couches. Jack was Doreen’s entire world and she had to leave him behind.

Doreen finally got approved to move into the apartment at Sunset Gardens in May of 2016, but it took her two more months to get all her belongings moved from her storage unit in Sonoma to her apartment in Gilroy. With no money to rent a U-Haul she did it a box or two at a time. Perhaps there was something unsettling for her to move all she owned from the storage unit where they had been safe and secure for so long.

Perhaps it was difficult for Doreen to trust that she would be able to stay at Sunset Gardens? When a person has faced a trauma such as homelessness, trust in others, in self and in good fortune, often is broken. It would take time for Doreen to regain this sense of trust.

Moving her possessions over the course of two months took a toll on Doreen’s finances and her car. By August, Doreen didn’t have the money she needed to pay her rent. Unknowingly, she had, in a way, sabotaged her housing—proving once again, life was not dealing her a good hand.

Fortunately for Doreen, the Property Manager at Sunset Gardens and Oralia, the LifeSTEPS Director of Social Services were not ready to give up on her. After meeting with Doreen, Oralia found rental assistance to help pay her August rent through the Housing Industry Foundation. Oralia also worked one on one with Doreen to insure that her belongings were all out of her storage unit in Sonoma. These interventions put Doreen back on track financially. Most importantly, the support Doreen found from the Property Manager at Sunset Gardens and from LifeSTEPS helped to slowly rebuild her trust in others and in herself.

Doreen is now ready to join in community activities at Sunset Gardens—she’s meeting her neighbors; she’s smiling again. Doreen is ready to put the past behind her and begin to enjoy the new life she’s found. Jack has returned to live with her in—filling her apartment with his sweet and comforting presence. Doreen is finally at home.

House Call at the Smoothie Maker

nurse-handsIncreasingly health and housing have become much more connected. This is especially true for older adults and their ability to age-in-place in their communities. So, beginning this fall, LifeSTEPS and USA Properties Fund have undertaken a pioneering pilot program for older adults in which a registered nurse will provide on-site medical case management support for older adults. The program will begin in three affordable housing communities and will be facilitated by Kim Paulsen, a registered nurse hired by LifeSTEPS. Kim’s presence was immediately felt — and appreciated.

To break the ice and as a way of introduction upon her first visit to Vintage Woods in Fair Oaks, Kim decided to make smoothies in the community room kitchen. She had researched recipes for a diabetic-friendly version of the drink and was standing at the blender getting them prepared when a resident approached her.

The resident, Marie, a woman in her 70’s, came close to her and gently tugged the collar of her shirt down and asked Kim a simple question: “Does this look like shingles?”

Kim stopped what she was doing and gave the afflicted area a quick appraisal.

“Yep. That looks like shingles. Have you had shingles before? And, have you had your vaccination yet?”

Marie sheepishly replied that she had, indeed, contracted shingles in the past. Kim told her that unfortunately you can get shingles more than once and she should contact her doctor to confirm the diagnosis, for treatment, and to get the shingles vaccination.

“Are you willing to make an appointment?” Kim prodded. Marie agreed, promising to call her doctor and get on the schedule.

This encounter in the community room at Vintage Woods may have saved Marie weeks of painful discomfort. Shingles can spread quickly and can be very painful. Had Marie not received this quick bit of house call advice from Kim, her treatment would have been delayed.

Because Kim is a Registered Nurse, Marie quickly trusted her and shared her condition. Had there not been a program in which a licensed medical professional were on-site, this support would not have been easily accessible for her, and Marie’s condition (and discomfort) would have worsened.

When Kim returned to Vintage Woods a week later, Marie was waiting for her. With a big smile on her face she approached Kim practically before she had a chance to set her things down. “Kim, look!” Marie tugged at her collar and showed her that the shingles had begun to recede. Marie also confirmed that she would be receiving her vaccination later that week.

“I’m so happy that you are here!” Marie exclaimed. “I don’t know what I would have done!” Kim’s “house call” made a big difference right away for Marie. And the smoothies were pretty good, too!