She lived in a comfortable apartment and never had to worry about hunger. Her son was in school, her boyfriend had a good job, and she finally had the time and freedom to pursue a job that made her happy. It didn’t feel like the brink of homelessness.
Then, her relationship ended. The apartment wasn’t in her name, and her job would only give her scattered shifts and limited hours. Vanessa Smith found herself with no steady income and nowhere to go. That was a year ago.
“It’s hard to bounce back,” she said. “Every day seems so long.”
Her car became a makeshift home and her only means of employment. She was working as a caregiver, helping seniors run errands, buy food, and visit their doctors.
“I’d found my passion,” Smith said. “My mom died of lung cancer, and I wasn’t able to help. That job let me help others instead. I got to make them a little happier.”
Smith’s son went to live with his father, and Smith spent the long stretches between shifts bouncing from one homeless shelter to the next, or searching for places that would let her park her car and sleep overnight. If her hours at work increased, she could have quickly saved enough to afford a small apartment and put her bout with homelessness behind her. Instead, a traffic accident totaled her car in June. She lost her job, but she said her old employer would hire her back if she had reliable transportation.
“If I had a vehicle, I could get back on my feet,” she said.
In the meantime, she pushes through long and empty days. She sleeps at shelters when she’s lucky in the nightly lottery that divvies out bunks. Other nights, she camps near the creek, hoping to avoid trouble with police or anyone else.
“I feel awful here,” Smith said. “After the way I’ve been mistreated here, I can’t look at SLO the same way.”
Once she achieves some sort of stability, Smith hopes to reunite with her son and will consider leaving the area. ∆
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