Patience and Determination: How Jill worked her way out of homelessness

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Santa Monica is committed to finding solutions for the city’s homelessness crisis. In searching for solutions, we find it’s invaluable to listen to the stories of those that have experienced homelessness firsthand. That’s why we sat down with Jill one afternoon.

Jill is still reckoning with the years she spent in homelessness. Talking to her, you get the sense that she may never get over the shock that it happened to her.

Jill was supporting herself when an unaddressed mental health problem reared its head, and she was soon left without a job or place to lay her head at night. She says that time was marked with feelings of pain, shame, fear, and humiliation. And even though she’s been housed for five years now, she says the PTSD of the experience still lingers today.

Navigating a Way Forward

Jill’s transition out of homelessness began when a friend whose couch she was staying on handed her a list of shelters and resources for people experiencing homeless. She got in touch with one of the agencies listed – OPCC (now known as The People Concern) – and they were able to get her an emergency bed at Daybreak Shelter. She spent the night on a cot among dozens of strangers in a large room. The lights didn’t even turn all the way off at night. Needless to say, she didn’t sleep well. But it was a first step.

Many steps would follow before Jill found herself permanently housed – like procuring a Section 8 voucher and meeting with case workers, doctors, and others involved in homeless rehabilitation. The process was, at times, overwhelming. She concentrated on trusting in a higher power and simply taking one step at a time.

And she waited. For over a year. That was perhaps the most frustrating part. Even after all the steps had been completed, she just had to wait for an apartment to become available. Eventually -- one did, and it just so happens to be so close to the ocean that she feels like she went, in her words, from a “park bench to Park Place.”

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Saying ‘Hello’

Today, Jill says ‘hello’ to everyone she comes across in Santa Monica, and she makes an extra effort to say ‘hello’ to those people who are experiencing homelessness. Having been homeless herself, she knows the feeling of being looked past and ignored simply because of her housing status – how people avoid eye contact and turn away. She remembers how dehumanizing that felt. She hopes that by simply saying ‘hello’, she can help counteract the sense of alienation and separateness many people experiencing homelessness feel. She hopes that by saying ‘hello’ she can help restore to them a sense of their own personhood.

A lot of times, she doesn’t stop at saying hello. If someone is willing to talk, she’ll talk. She’ll tell them about her own experience with homelessness. She’ll tell them how to get connected to services. She’ll even volunteer to go with them to take that first step to get help. It’s like an individual grassroots advocacy effort, extending a hand to whoever happens to be standing in front of her.

Jill encourages others to say hello too, as long as they feel safe in the situation. She says a little compassion goes a long way.

To learn more about The People Concern and their volunteer and donation opportunities, click here.

You can also keep up with what the city is doing in regards to homelessness at weare.santamonica.gov. While you’re there, check out the Homelessness Toolkit – it’s packed with practical resources for the entire community — whether you’re at risk of losing housing yourself, or you just want to know what to say or what to do to be part of the solution to this regional crisis.