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‘... I’m back to $72 a week’

Santa Clarita woman recounts how she became homeless — and what she must do to survive

Posted: August 16, 2008 8:14 p.m.
Updated: October 18, 2008 5:02 a.m.

Karan, a homeless woman who lives in her car in the Santa Clarita Valley, is silhouetted to protect her identity. She spent her life as a data entry and customer service clerk but was laid off. Unable to find work, she ended up on the street.

 
Looking back, Karan never anticipated being homeless in Santa Clarita.

Her situation grew out of a string of problems: The long-term relationship with her boyfriend with whom she lived abruptly ended; her medical conditions worsened and led to a stay in the hospital; she couldn’t find a steady job to support herself.

It seemed as if the problems would turn into daily obstacles: Friends can only help for so long.

Unemployment checks aren’t enough. The economy is taking jobs away, not creating well-paying, long-term positions.

With little money and no place to stay, Karan has spent the last 15 months homeless in Santa Clarita.

She lives out of a 20-year-old car and when she can, she commutes to cities all over Southern California to work temporary jobs.

Despite the difficulties, Karan, who asked that her last name not be used, has done her best to make sure she and her car don’t “look homeless.” She showers daily at the YMCA and has not turned to drugs or alcohol, what she said is a common belief about people who are homeless.

“We’re not all drug addicts, prostitutes and pimps,” she said.

In the midst of a tumultuous economy, Karan is terrified of her situation and faces everyday hurdles to make an earning and stay safe.

Karan never thought finding a job would be so hard.

“It never occurred to me that finding a job would be a big deal,” she said. “And it just started being a big deal.”

After her relationship ended, Karan said she lived with a friend in West Covina.

“I think she just got tired of helping me,” she said. “She went to work everyday and there I was.”

Living in her car was the only option she saw, a situation which made her feel like “a fish out of water.”

“There’s absolutely nothing in my background that prepared me for this,” she said. “I came from a solid, middle-class family and people worked.”

The past year is what the 58-year-old blonde-haired, lean woman refers to as her “nervous breakdown year.”

In between working jobs, Karan said she spent hours at the Worksource Center in Canyon Country and various local libraries looking for jobs and submitting resumes.

She continues to look for jobs that incorporate her years of experience as an administrative assistant at big companies.

During her job search, Karan said she had very little money for food.

“I was getting very thin,” Karan said.

At 5 feet 3 inches tall, she was down to just over 90 pounds, which she believes affected her presentation during various job interviews.

While she has found temporary jobs thanks to a temp agency and her own efforts, none have lasted.

In one instance, she took a job in October that lasted for nearly three months.

That business went under in what Karan attributes to the economy.

Things in 2008 have been somewhat better for Karan.

Most recently, she worked a temporary job for a major clothing brand and commuted to Arleta.

However, days after her interview with The Signal, she was let go of the position and her car stopped working. She is once again terrified about what will happen next.

“I’m kind of living in terror because I’m back to $72 dollars a week,” she said with a quivering voice. “Plus on top of everything else, my car is 20 years old.”

With just a car, Karan has no other form of transportation and has no money to get the car fixed.
“That is my home,” she said.

“Home” is also Santa Clarita for Karan.

While she’s only lived in the area for five years, she feels a connection to the valley because her father grew up in Newhall and her grandparents lived in the area.

“It feels like home in a lot of ways,” said Karan, who was born in Glendale and lived in Burbank and Orange County growing up.

A struggle to get by
Even though Karan has found help from some agencies, getting the assistance she needs is tough.

“I have been through our social service system,” she said, adding, “That sucked.”

Karan said she was unable to receive assistance because she lacked the documents needed. Those, she said, are packed in a storage locker, along with boxes of her other belongings and furniture that she has no use for now.

Although Santa Clarita has an emergency shelter during the winter months, Karan can’t convince herself to go there when it opens.

“Going to a homeless shelter is like really admitting where I’m at,” she said, adding that while she knows her situation, she tries to maintain her independent lifestyle for her own self-worth.

“I really do my best not to really concentrate on it too much,” she said. “Because if I sit there and concentrate on it, I just become a mess. I start crying hysterically, which doesn’t really make me feel better and solve the situation.”

But there have been small hopeful situations.

During her last temp job, Karan said her co-workers found out about her situation.

They soon stepped up by reworking her resume and helping her search for jobs.

She is also thankful for the YMCA because it provides a space for her to shower and get ready for work.

Additionally, she said sheriff’s deputies allow her to keep to herself during the night when she parks her car to get the little sleep she can.

The economy’s role
With daily reports of businesses facing steep losses, high food and gas prices, rising unemployment rates and a struggling housing market, Karan believes the economic slowdown plays a major role in her situation.

She hears of employers getting 150 resumes for one job opening.

“I am looking and I am putting resumes out there,” she said. “I’m just not seeing the jobs I used to see.”

As alone as Karan feels, she doesn’t believe she is the only one in Santa Clarita who has been affected by the slow economy.

“For one thing, I don’t think I’m the only one in this situation,” she said.

Karan hopes people will realize that there are other sides to a recession. She tries to blend in with the average Santa Clarita resident and admits that people passing her on the street wouldn’t immediately think that she is homeless.

“People do have to realize that there’s a lot of people being hurt now,” she said. “A lot more people than you recognize.”

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