Moving to Whittier
Donna moved to Whittier 20 years ago when her first daughter was born. She lived on Newlin Avenue across from Lincoln School. Her stepdad is the crossing guard at Beverly and Citrus “He looks like Santa Claus at Christmas,” according to Donna.
Losing a Child
Unable to financially support a second child, she gave her second daughter up for adoption. The adoption was significant because it was the first of its kind. It was an open adoption, which means Donna maintained some contact with her biological daughter. The story was published in the Los Angeles Times.
The article describes how Donna coped with losing her child to poverty: “I picture myself dealing with it better if I can just hold her and say goodbye. Even though she won’t understand, I can’t see myself surviving this without giving her a hug and a kiss.”
Donna never saw her second daughter face-to-face again after her birth but received pictures of her growing up. Her daughter just graduated from Stanford. The two are Facebook friends. “She has the most awesome parents,” Donna says.
A Sense of Pride
Still, Donna hasn’t reached out to her biological daughter in at least a couple of years. Donna doesn’t want her to know she’s homeless. “It’s not something I’m proud of,” she says. Donna doesn’t refer to herself as being homeless. She considers herself “house-less.”
“What does being homeless look like anyway? It doesn’t mean being dirty or having greasy hair. You can still be clean. You don’t have to look like you’re homeless.”
Losing a Mother, Losing a Roof, Losing a Job, Failing Health
Six years ago, Donna took a leave from her job to take care of her sick mother. After her mother passed, Donna went back to work but developed kidney stones. She had a heart attack as a result of the pain from the kidney stones. At this point, she lost her job too.
Once she recovered, she looked for a job but had no luck. Having once made $40 an hour in medical billing customer service, she was now told she was overqualified for jobs. She wants people to know “I’m out here because I have to be right now. Because no one wanted to hire me. I can work at minimum wage. Just give me a chance.”
Donna also developed pancreatic cancer. She is convinced her “house-less family” cured her cancer. “They all prayed for me, and it went away. My doctor told me it was a miracle.”
Donna gets around on a bike. “Everything’s uphill. I don’t care which way you’re going.’” Her boyfriend gave her this bike. He owed her one because he let her other bike get stolen. Donna’s had five or six bikes stolen from her.
She’s lost other property too: “If you leave your belongings anywhere it will be gone when you get back. You have to take everything with you.”
She’s not sure who takes her things but doesn’t assume it’s other homeless people. They’re her family, after all, and are even more generous than many people’s real families. “House-less people will give you the shirts off their back. They’re the most caring people I know. Anybody that’s house-less is my house-less family.”
Getting Back Up
Donna would like to qualify for Supplemental Security Income, a $771 monthly benefit for disabled adults and low-income seniors, and move to Arizona with her brother. She’s wary of making plans, though.
“I try not to make plans because plans don’t bode well for me.”
She’s tried to obtain permanent housing before but was placed on a wait list. She never heard back but admitted that it’s hard to get ahold of her since she is constantly moving from place to place and doesn’t always have access to a phone.
Beds and Bullets
Donna stays at the Cold Weather Shelter during the winter months. They call her “Bullets” there because they kicked her out for two years when they caught her with a box of ammunition she found while recycling.
She recycles at nights and makes about $8 a day, which she spends on cigarettes and coffee. The cops stop and warn her when she’s recycling, citing privacy concerns.
No Shelter, No Peace
When the Cold Weather Shelter is closed for the season, parks are her only option. “There’s nowhere else I can sleep at night where I feel safe.” Outside of parks, there are few places she can sit down and relax. Anywhere else, the police will harass her, she claims, even though she has no criminal record.
Just Say Hi
Donna feels the public doesn’t take the time to get to know homeless people like her. “People will snub their noses at me, but the homeless always say hi.”
Donna seems unnaturally happy for someone with little material wealth. Her attitude toward her current situation is a personal choice. “I decided I can either be pissed off — walk around with a scowl on my face — or I can just smile and say hi to everybody. If you just smile and say hi, pretty soon it just gets natural.”
Reprinted with permission from In My Back Yard.