Financial aid can’t come soon enough

Brenda Brown,

I became homeless the night of June 30 this year. Most of what I own is in a 5×5 storage unit and I’m living in my car for now.

I had been renting a room in a house for $570 a month. But then I fell short of the rent, my financial aid and loans were late and the owners decided they wanted to remodel their home. I’m trying to remain mentally sound and remind myself continually that my circumstances do not define who I am as a person. It is a constant battle within my mind. Surely I am not the only homeless person who feels this way.

One of the first things I did when I became homeless was speak with Student Services at Cal State East Bay, where I’m a student, but there was no quick answer for somebody waiting for their financial aid. I was given a list with several referrals to homeless shelters and food banks. I spent the next several days pursuing many of those options, although several of the addresses provided were outdated. Looking for resources for the homeless is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Sleeping in a car is hard on my body and makes me feel vulnerable. I decide this sleeping in the car thing is for the birds, so I decided to check out some of the shelter referrals.

Turns out, looking for a bed in a shelter is more of a job than shopping for a new apartment. Looking for an apartment goes like this: You make an appointment, you view the place and if you like them and they like you, you fill out the appropriate paperwork, make your monetary deposits and prepare to move in. Finding a shelter space is different, especially if you are single with no children. I didn’t try the battered women’s shelter because I am not one.

On July 14, I called the Hayward Emergency Shelter and spoke with a lady named Taylor. It was about 8:30 in the evening, and she told me no beds were available that night. She gave me several other numbers to call.

I then called San Leandro Shelter for women and children spoke with a lady named Anna. She first asked if I had kids, then told me there were no beds available. I asked her if I had kids would there have been? She told me no.

I then called Salvation Army shelter, who told me, “Families only.” The nonprofit Family Emergency Shelter Coalition in Hayward also told me, “ya gotta have kids.”

I kept dialing. I then tried Tri-City Homeless and spoke with a man, who told me to call back between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. the next day. The following day I called again to only have another man tell me to call the next day at 11 a.m. I feel like I’m competing to be the 20th caller to win a prize on a radio show or win the lotto; the prize being a place to simply stretch out and get some real rest. I called several other numbers, but to no avail. A homeless shelter in Livermore told me to call back weekly.

While seeking a place to eat on a Friday afternoon, I went to check out a church for free food, but there was nothing going on there. Then I went to a Salvation Army facility in Hayward at 430 A St. that gives out food for free. A lady there handed out groceries, which I couldn’t use because I don’t have a kitchen or refrigerator. I got the feeling that maybe I didn’t look “homeless” or “hungry” enough to receive help. She gave me a list of dates in July and August that I could come get groceries, then gave me two pre-packed bag lunches and sent me on my way. The sandwich bread was hard on one side and the tuna fish or “mystery meat” could have easily been pet food, but I was hungry so I ate it. I searched for a homeless person to give the other sandwich to, but it got old so I just threw it away. The oranges in the bag were old and inedible. I was grateful, yet disappointed.

By the end of the week, I finally received my financial aid and student loans for the summer quarter, but it’s nowhere near what I need to cover rent or even a hotel room, so for now I will continue sleep in my car as I seek a space in a shelter. It’s now been more than 20 days and nights.

I can now understand how homelessness can contribute to mental illness. If I don’t matter to me, why should I matter to anyone else? I can understand clearly how a lot of the homeless population gets to that mindset of giving up hope. I pray to God that He has other plans for me and how I deal with this obstacle before me.