Deborah grew up in Pennsylvania, where she worked as an administrative assistant at the Philadelphia Housing Authority by day, and where she sang backup for entertainer Phyllis Hyman at night, and on weekends. She was a self-motivated woman who accomplished much in her work, and also a gifted musician whose dream was to become a songwriter and recording artist.
After being laid off from work, she received unemployment as a source of income, but it wasn’t enough to sustain her. She moved into the vacant home of a pastor friend, but after a short time the home was sold, and she had a major decision to make. She could move in with her mother in Philly, or pursue her dream of a life in California. She chose the latter.
Deborah made the 3,000-mile drive by herself, even though she knew absolutely nobody on the West Coast. Upon her arrival she parked her car close to a Starbucks, so she could access their Internet. During that time she ran an online Administrative Support Service, and then worked for five years with an online teachers network, until they went out of business.
Deborah lived in her Buick Century four-door sedan from 2010 – 2018: eight years! As a result of sitting in her car for such a long period of time, she developed Lymphedema in her legs. She could barely walk.
Police pulled her over when she was driving with a flat tire. They saw the infection in her legs, called for paramedics to take her to the hospital, and then impounded her car. After 30 days in the hospital, she was in recuperative care at MLK Health Center for ten months; a period of time she refers to as being in exile.
Living in her car had provided Deborah with freedom and solitude, but inside recuperative care there were procedures to adhere and rules to follow. The whole process increased her stress, and combined with her trust issues over strangers directing her every move, she feared there would be no recovery. Stress was in control, despair was around the corner and there was no end in sight.
But the medical team contacted Lutheran Social Services, where our staff entered to assist her. A series of small steps started her off on a long journey toward a new life. We helped her obtain her Social Security Card and DMV registration. We provided her with transportation either directly, or through taxi vouchers, wherever she needed to go. Along the way there were gift cards from El Pollo Loco and Subway: small gifts that brought a normalcy back into her life.
Through the Housing For Health program Deborah was eventually qualified for Section 8 Housing, which comes with a $1,400 monthly voucher to cover the rent. When an apartment in Covina was available, we also secured a $2,000 voucher for her to purchase furniture. Finally, after more than nine years, Deborah moved into her new home on December 3, 2018.
What began as a lonely 3,000 mile drive to a city where she knew no one, eventually produced a home of her own, a stable health condition and the relief from spending more time carving out her future, and less looking back on a life that was less than she dreamed it could be.
Deborah says, “When you’re transitioning out of being homeless, you have to give your mind time to heal and transition from one state of mindset to another…LSS staff covered me in areas where I couldn’t speak for myself – no judgments….They were like guardian angels, yet they gave me room to grow.”
When an LSS staff person visited Deborah in her new home, she was thrilled to serve her guest French pressed coffee. Deborah remarked, “I’m honing in on those hospitality muscles that were lying dormant all those years in my car! I look forward to those monthly visits.”