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Homeless woman describes life in the SCV

Posted: November 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: November 26, 2012 2:00 a.m.
 

Editor’s note: Earlier this year as the Santa Clarita Valley’s only homeless shelter prepared to shut its doors, The Signal profiled a member of the local homeless community. Now, as the winter shelter prepares to reopen Dec. 1, we offer another glimpse into the life of a local homeless individual. At the request of the woman interviewed, we have changed her name.

Brightened by a clean, rose-colored cotton shirt and with a few silver wisps escaping her taut black bun, Sue doesn’t look homeless.

With swollen, sun-darkened hands she slices into her meal at a Denny’s in Canyon Country. She compares it with food she has recovered while Dumpster diving.

Punctuating tales of deprivation with dark humor and a chuckle, Sue asks, “Can I get another chicken fried steak to go?”

Her low voice is strained as the Santa Clarita Valley native describes the heat of the parking lot pavement as she, her boyfriend and her dogs waited out the 100-plus-degree summer days in their car.

Forcefully rubbing her arms, she recalls waking up that morning in early November on the floor of a tent, aching from the unforgiving rigidity of the ground.

A friend let the couple and their dogs live in a tent on his property for a while, she says. But his wife didn’t approve, and she had just days until she would have to go back to living in the car.

“But I can hardly even sleep I’m so worried. It wasn’t supposed to be like this,” Sue says.

Growing city

Sue went to Saugus High School, but her family pulled her out of classes at age 16 to work in the onion fields. They needed the money.

Though she later attended Jereann Bowman High School, Sue left a few units shy of graduation to cater on construction sites throughout the Santa Clarita Valley.

From the window of her food truck, she watched local agricultural fields develop into a new city.

“I worked all my life out here. I lived all my life out here. This is my home,” Sue said.

Moving from job to job, Sue spent almost the entirety of her 52 years working in Saugus until her disabilities became too severe. She settled into a mobile home in Saugus with her family. But family problems drove her out, she said.

For years, Sue said, she endured verbal harassment and abuse from her family, subjected to a constant stream of name-calling or cold isolation.

Barraged by her mother’s shouted criticism, blame and resentment, Sue couldn’t complete simple daily tasks without feeling worthless, she said.

Abandoning her home last January was a sacrifice Sue was willing to make.

“I left because I had a broken heart. I couldn’t do it anymore,” Sue said.

But she didn’t expect the year of moving from parking lots to a tent and back again.

“I thought it would be a lot easier to get help from the government,” Sue said.

$756 a month

Sue and her boyfriend live on $756 a month — a combination of Social Security and disability benefits, Medi-Cal, Medicaid and food stamps — along with whatever he can make working odd jobs.

Together, they can afford a car, car insurance, a cell phone and a storage unit. But they can’t afford rent in the Santa Clarita Valley.

“Rent is about the same amount or more as what I get from Social Security,” Sue said.

Though her boyfriend collects an irregular income, he cannot find a full-time job without a permanent address and a regular place to shower, Sue says.

And she cannot work, she says.

Pulling a neatly folded doctor’s note out of an envelope, Sue described her ailments, including diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“I’m supposed to be on oxygen. I’m scared to be by myself. My boyfriend takes care of me. (My health) is a serious situation,” Sue said. “I just need a place where I can put my head down and rest.”

Because of her status as a single homeless person, Sue doesn’t qualify for a local motel voucher or subsidized housing program. She’s too young to stay in a senior living center, and she refuses to give up control of her money to qualify at a convalescent home, Sue said.

She also refuses to give up her two dogs, which would allow her and her boyfriend to stay in the local winter homeless shelter.

Speck on the surface

Sue and her boyfriend currently take showers at a truck stop in Castaic, paying $10 and gas money to wash about once a month.

Stroking her hair, Sue recalled being harassed by a customer behind her in a supermarket line. As a string of insults and curse words were heaped on her, she became acutely aware of the time that had passed since her last shower.

“People belittle you everywhere you go,” she said. “I’m tired of being kicked around.”

“I’ve been so angry about the situation. We’re not in this situation because we’re lazy. We just don’t have a place to go. We are screwed in every way.”

Sue said she knows of about 25 other individuals in similar situations.

“I’m just a speck on the surface,” she said. “There are a lot of people my age walking the streets.”

“They feel lost. There’s no hope for them,” she said. “They’re people, too. We’re all human.”

 

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