How I Went from “Normal” to Homeless

…and the valuable lessons I learned from the experience.

Originally published in the Medium publication, The Ascent. If you’re a member over there, I sure appreciate claps as that’s how we’re paid. (You can do 50!)

Photo by Ussama Azam on Unsplash

It was a long and tumultuous journey that led to me living in a semi-functional 25-year-old Camry for the end of 2017, and much of 2018.

It was also wildly unexpected.

I’d graduated college with a decent GPA, had a semi-impressive career in marketing, threw charity fundraisers, volunteered and held positions on non-profit boards, cared for my people, and made sure they knew it — I had trouble managing sometimes, but did alright and was giving life my all.

If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not catch you.

And, up until my late-20’s, I seemed pretty healthy. I knew I’d had a cacophony of seemingly random issues my whole life, but they didn’t interfere with things too much and were basically hideable.

Then, in 2009, I attended a get-together that left many of us with H1N1, or the “bird flu.” (I didn’t have the wherewithal to get to the hospital, but several of their cases were confirmed.) After that harrowing experience, the aching body pain never went away; and while I’d always seemed to be more exhausted than those around me, it got much worse.

Unfortunately, I’d have been screwed even if I’d missed that pandemic, as there were already several other health issues going on.

In my 7-month “bed,” feeling like hell. (Image via Instagram.)

Physiologically, I was a walking timebomb.

For one, I was born with a B12 deficiency, which was prolonged by a homozygous MTHFR mutation. This means that my nervous system was slowly demyelinating, losing its protective cover, and causing random issues throughout my body.

Some of these are kinda funny in retrospect, like my not being able to taste salt very well, which led to me using it excessively. (In my teens, movie theatre coworkers once pranked me, dumping a “ridiculous!” amount of salt on my popcorn while I was away — I didn’t even notice. Mmmm.)

Others weren’t funny at all, and still aren’t.

These issues mostly had to do with mental health (and unhealthy coping mechanisms), but those issues had another massive factor — undiagnosed autism.

I wouldn’t know it until 2020, but I’m a great example of what’s presently called, “the female autism phenotype,” which can present in any gender. Though there are many differences in this presentation, the key difference is having a better ability to adjust to social situations by doing something called masking, essentially faking normal; which helps cope in the short-term, but also creates a host of mental and neurological health issues.

I have another mutation that makes me high-risk to pandemic flus, so the physical trauma of H1N1 certainly played a role, but that aching pain I had, often diagnosed as fibromyalgia, is common in women with autism.

I finally got my fibro diagnosis right before homelessness, about a year and a half after the B12 deficiency was diagnosed — them telling me, “132 pg/mL is very low, you’d have been paralyzed within a few months and dead within a year.”

Home sweet home. (Image via Instagram.)

By my B12 diagnosis, late 2015, I was already basically on bed rest, but stabbing myself every day with a form of B12 called hydroxocobalamin — after learning the hard way that the cheaper, more common, cyanocobalamine can lead to panic attacks, yikes — was leading to many of the random symptoms to drop away.

Things were starting to improve, but since I was missing key diagnoses, I didn’t know what I needed to do to heal. I regularly overdid it, which would result in weeks of make-you-cry pain — but I had no idea that’s what was happening because the symptom flares can come up to 5 days later. Plus, it’s also really hard to tell when I’m pushing it, and the weather is a huge factor; which took over a year of seasons to sort out on my own.

It was maddening. (To be honest, still is. Fibro is no freakin’ joke.)

I was in that bed for about 20 months.

I wish I could tell you that’s how long it took me to get better, but that’s how long it took me to lose the bed.

I did everything I could to earn, but I just couldn’t keep it up. I’d get more productivity hours as time progressed and my intensive wellness regimen did its thing, but that first year I had a marketing client that could afford just 9 hours a week; and I was repeatedly overdoing it trying to do that and keep up with life, my never-ending UI case (that looked statistically bleak due to my being young-ish, 33 when I applied), doctors appointments, prescriptions, etc.

When you’ve got very limited storage, organization is key. (Image via Instagram.)

Shit, just going to the grocery store very often led to public meltdowns that meant recovery days of no productivity and horrendously intensified symptoms.

I had a handful of good health days that coincided with an event or visitor so got to go out into my old world a few blessed times (usually aided by self-medicating with wine) — but the vast majority of my days, I was all alone in my isolated apartment, all day, all night. (Homelessness aside, I’ve basically been in lockdown since 2016.)

I regularly went several months without seeing a friendly face, or even talking to someone on the phone.

The idea of ‘peopling’ was nearly always just too much. Plus, I didn’t have very many friends in my newish city; most of the people who loved me were back home in Alaska, hundreds of miles away.

So, it was just me and me, alone in that apartment.

Me and me, trying to heal. Trying to get through physical therapy. Trying to remember to take too many pills that did too little. Trying to navigate systems that very literally make my head feel like it’ll explode. Trying to stay on an intense allergen-free plant-based diet on a teensy budget.

Trying not to cry all day, every day.

And trying like hell to avoid homelessness.

On that last one, we didn’t succeed.

The Bottom Falls Out

Three years later, seeing this still makes my body clench and my heart ache. (Image via Instagram.)

Though more (very part-time) clients teamed up with donations from friends, acquaintances, and total strangers, as well as my very patient landlord, to keep me homed for nearly two years — I lost that studio apartment in the summer of 2017.

I’d been told by several health professionals that moving from rainy Portland, Oregon to a drier and hotter climate would help my condition, so it seemed serendipitous when a friend I hadn’t seen in well over a decade offered to let me stay with her in Los Angeles county.

This outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, had been.

That climate advice was spot-on, and my symptoms decreased dramatically in the hot summer weather; I don’t believe I’ve had to use my walker even once since the move, which I’d been largely dependent on. However, living in someone else’s home had the opposite effect on my undiagnosed autistic brain, and I went into what I now know is autistic burnout; leaving me holed up in my dark, quiet, A/C-free room most of the time.

The housing situation ended a week or so after I climbed out of that then-mysterious mental hole, and a couple of days after I was directed to Skid Row, where I discovered the public housing waitlist was 11 years — and there was a lottery to even get on the list.

Once it really hit me that it’d finally happened, that I was really homeless, my mental health became dangerous to my safety. Having lost my mother to her own hand and fearing the same fate, I checked myself into a mental health ward for the second time since the health crisis started. (But that’s another tale.)

And when my 72-hour hold was up, my 7-month misadventure in homelessness really began.

A Whole New World, Sort Of

From unable to leave home, to no home to go to. (Image via Instagram.)

In spirituality, we often say the phrase, “in the world, but not of it.”

Homelessness is kinda like that.

The outside-looking-in sensations of living with undiagnosed autism were infinitely multiplied by being in the same spaces as others, while also not being like everyone else in it — having a secret likely get me scorned, shamed.

I used face cleansing clothes and dry shampoo to help keep me looking like I belonged in our society, but I’ve never felt more like an outsider. (And I’ve felt like an alien my whole life, so that’s pretty bad.)

Though warmer, this outsider feeling extended to my night in a homeless shelter, where I learned just how privileged my upbringing, my life, was.

Every shelter I called was full, which is normal — if you haven’t caught on by now, our safety nets are broke, really effing broke — so I was lucky to get a spot in one. It happened to be Thanksgiving, which felt like an extra blessing, as I’d been fearing the holiday all alone. I was overwhelmed with the sensory environment, being around people, and my usual symptoms; so I mostly just listened as they talked.

Some shared their relief for a night off the streets, talked about how rough it can be. Many had been in-and-out of homelessness since childhood, so this was a pretty normal experience for them. I thought about my experiences of financial struggle growing up, which weren’t even in the same league. Things were scary sometimes, and it did have a long-term effect on my mental health; but I always had a roof over my head, I always had nutritious food to eat.

It helped set a grateful tone for the experience, after all, at least I had a semi-functional 1993 Camry to sleep in — providing shelter, storage, some privacy. Many of these (kind, funny, truly alive) women didn’t even have that. Plus, coming from a community where people were generally having an easier time financially; I had people helping me along, helping ensure I wasn’t literally sleeping on the street.

But, the attitude of gratitude can only go so far — it was still the hardest seven months of my life.

My days were spent trying to improve things, often working until the array of bodily symptoms and mental fatigue would start to make me cry. I didn’t have an unlimited internet plan on my phone, so most of my time at night was spent lying down in the back seat of my car using meditation and visualization to take myself to a more peaceful place.

Of course, many other nights it was just crying, feeling terrified, and wondering how I’d ever get out of that mess.

I always put the window shade “funky side in,” in hopes of being more discreet. (Image via Instagram.)

I’d eventually pull myself out of homelessness when the symptom relief of warmer weather coincided with a referral for a job working for someone who was incredibly understanding about the accommodations I needed, which wound up leading to regular writing work.

And in the summer of 2019, nearly four years after I originally applied for disability payments; I was awarded about two of those years, anyways — allowing me to repay loans that helped me survive, get a working vehicle, and finally move to a place that’s a bit more compatible with my extensive sensory needs.

I’m still disabled and life still has its challenges, but even 2020 had nothing on living in my semi-functional car whilst broke and horribly ill.

It’s been almost three years since it ended, but I’m just starting to feel like I’ve moved on.

It was both traumatic and eye-opening.

It changed me.

It changed me in negative ways, like increased C-PTSD symptoms; but it also changed my view of the world, my level of consciousness in regard to what really happens in our society, and my perception of what I can handle, what I can overcome. (Plus a real random one, just ‘cause life’s lessons can be like that.)

5 Lessons from My Homelessness Experience

My masking behavior is clear to me in the caption, which stings. This was a torturously dark night: an actually very broken foot, and a broken car — I was wrong about the low bill too. (Image via Instagram.)
  1. I’m a bit of a badass. When you have an invisible disability, people are constantly questioning the authenticity of your condition, as if they’re thinking, “It can’t really be that bad.” (Without the #spoonie community all the gaslighting may have driven me off the edge.) It’d gotten to me, just as all the years of strife before had gotten to me. I felt meek.

    Then, while homeless, I fell and shattered my foot, but walked on it for 10 days because it hurt less than the rest of my body — so I figured I was fine.

    That’s f**king fierce. (Fibro fighters and autistics are fierce in general, and society has no clue.) And I stayed pretty darn positive too, I remember a drug store employee commenting on how I was smiling despite needing crutches and thinking, “You have no idea what else I’m smiling through right now.”
  2. There are heroes and helpers everywhere. There were so many times I hit obstacles that seemed completely insurmountable, but people continuously helped me out.

    My home/car died repeatedly and a few people fixed it for cheap, one even doing it for free; and when I lost the apartment, friends, acquaintances, strangers donated enough to get the $500 car itself, then helped keep me in gas and internet-giving coffee purchases, as well as connecting me with creative work and donating occasional hotel stays that helped revive my spirit and get a good night’s sleep.

    Despite being so far away from the people who care about me, despite it being a physically solo journey — I didn’t go through it alone. As the woman who created the great Fred Rogers would say, when faced with scary things, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”
  3. But people who leave piss on public toilet seats are the scum of the earth. That’s it, that’s the lesson.
  4. There are two Americas. And, even though it was still really effing hard, I’d been living in the comparably easy one. When you’re living in the easy one, things can “seem fine” for folks, but this is a result of the other America being overlooked, ignored, and full-on lied about. If you’re still in the easy one, please try to learn from advocates what it’s really like for people in poverty, and please call others out when they say disparaging things about those who need help.
  5. There aren’t safety nets, not really. I thought there’d be some kind of program to help disabled homeless folks find stability, someone who could help me find an adjusted place in our society. But the homeless center heralded as best resource in LA county was more like a massive mostly-empty waiting room outside of mostly-empty offices that offered pretty normal apartment listings, and a communal shower. I couldn’t even get mail there.

    I appreciated the showers, don’t get me wrong, and the humans there were wonderful; but the way “our federal safety nets” had been described to me all my life, I thought, you know, there was something to catch us when we fell. It’s not true. Our programs are archaic, under-funded, and frankly seem to be on the verge of collapse.

    If something happens to you and you proverbially fall, even if it’s not your fault, odds are that the government — whom you’ve given 30% of your life’s income to — will not be there to catch you. That is a toxic societal myth, and retelling it has very dire consequences for our most vulnerable people.

Sending you good vibes in dealing with whatever scary thing life’s sent your way, may we all find and be the helpers in this world.

A happy day, homed at lasssssssst! Thank you for reading, hope your day’s a goodie. (Image via Instagram.)

How Tarot Cards Saved My Life

Meg Hartley for Ravishly


CW: graphic suicidal thoughts

I love the tarot. This deck of 78 archetype-based cards has been a guiding force in my life for a few years now. I start each day by drawing two cards for guidance, and then further consulting the deck sporadically with specific questions in mind. 

Last fall, one of those specific questions saved my life.

Let me back up a bit: this has been quite the year. In addition to current homelessness and health debacles, I’ve been to the mental hospital twice. My mother died from suicide 20 years ago, and I have clinical depression — something I’ve described as “suicide thought storms.” It’s something that I shamefully managed on my own with meditation and cannabis for over a decade, but couldn’t handle alone any longer once my body became excruciatingly painful due to fibromyalgia and severe B12 deficiency, which nearly killed me in 2015. (Because it can do that.) 

In the spring of 2017, about a year ago, I had to check myself into a hospital for several days because I feared that I wouldn’t survive the night. I had just gotten a denial of Disability payments, a hope I’d been clinging to far too tight, and felt utterly without hope. And it happened all over again last fall, hopelessness to the point of very literally wanting to give up. I moved to California between the two incidents (for my health) and was staying with a friend from college. Two days before the second time, I had gathered that they were going to kick me out — and I didn’t know anyone for hundreds of miles. 

I was going to be homeless. 

The thought was too much; it had been so hard for so long. I just couldn’t do it. I decided to kill myself. I rather peacefully accepted that I couldn’t take it any longer. That it was finally time to end all the pain and struggle once and for all. 

I was going to take all of my Amitriptyline pills and never wake up.

But for some reason, I gave myself a tarot reading before taking them. I’ve been doing my readings for about four years now, ever since a professional blew my mind with her accuracy and helpful wisdom. They’ve helped guide me through the hardest times of my life, keeping me hopeful before my diagnoses — during all of the terrifying cancer tests, all of the painful waiting. And then through two years of near-complete isolation when I was too ill to leave my studio apartment without help. Being able to connect to my inner wisdom in such a clarifying way gave direction to my intuitive feelings, enabling me to use them, rather than just ‘having feelings’ about potentials.

Once again, they came to my aid again last November. I laid out a Celtic Cross and for the “What lies above” card, the best possible outcome for my lethal plans — where I expected to see the “Death” card — was the four of swords reversed. 

The four of swords is a resting man that appears dead. When a card is reversed, it refers to the negative aspects of the card. A common interpretation for this one: a coma. The other cards also laid out the situation with great accuracy and told me nothing of mortality or endings, but instead to work harder and be more realistic. That might sound like a downer of a read, but I found it to be empowering — if something is my fault then I have the power to fix it! This positive thought flew through my mind, then was quickly drowned in the river of mental despair.

But it was enough. 

The flash of hope spurred indecision about my fatal plan, getting me to Google to see if I actually had enough pills to do the job; and it turned out that I didn’t. I just would have wound up with severe brain damage or…in a coma. Without a gun, which I feel like I should be legally prohibited from purchasing, I didn’t have any way to do it with a guarantee. I fell asleep, eventually, desperately trying to think of other ways I could successfully do it in the morning. But when I awoke the depression had lifted to survivable, thank god.

About 36 very rough hours later I again checked myself into a mental ward for my own safety, homeless, but not without hope.

My Chronic Illness Left Me Broke And Homeless, So Meditation Is My Medication

Meg Hartley for Ravishly

(Photo courtesy of the author.)
(Photo courtesy of the author.)

I’m currently homeless and have been for a month now. My body stopped working right a few years back due to fibromyalgia and injury from severe B12 deficiency (cause that’s a thing), and long story short — maintaining a job when you’re calling in sick all the time is very hard, impossible even, and getting on disability usually takes years, if it happens at all. It’s real sticky-wicked to have your body become unpredictable and tortuously painful. And the financial mess that comes with it creates one hell of a situation. 

So here I am. Homeless.

I often wake up with the sun as it pours its first light into the backseat of my 1993 Toyota Camry. On these days, like today, and the three before, it takes a very long time to actually get up. My body feels like it weighs hundreds of pounds, each bone crushing the one under it as I slowly unfold myself from the fetal position. I go in and out of consciousness as I try to get up, too awake to really sleep, but too sleepy to really wake.

Eventually, I gather myself into a sitting position and reach into my bag of clothes that live in the passenger seat. Even though the windows are usually too foggy for anyone to see me, getting my pajama shirt off and my sports bra (can’t handle underwire with my new bod) on stresses me out every single time. 

Once I’m dressed and have wrangled my hair into a top knot, I pull my tarot cards for the day and do a short meditation on them. Today was The Magician in reverse, reminding me to focus my energies on the things that I want to bring into my life, like a book deal; and not the things I don’t want, like ill health and no place to live. The second card was The Star, directing me to stay hopeful. 

The first order of daily business is to empty my bladder and charge up my devices: my phone, my tablet, and my vaporizer — which I use for medical cannabis. Whether in a library or a coffee shop, the latter makes me nervous every day, just as much as potentially flashing a passer-by. I’ve yet to have a single person visibly notice, and if someone were to recognize my lil’ PAX vaporizer, it’s probably just because they use one, but it’s nervous-making nonetheless.

I get as much as I can get done in these first few hours while charging my devices. 

My nervous system pain is reset by sleep, with morning being as good as I’m going to feel, and the pain getting worse as the day goes on. This really sucks on days like today, where it starts out so horrible. Bonkers days like this are for finding home/job leads and for creative work, the kind of work that gets me closer to a book deal. The days where my head’s on a bit tighter are for any freelance client work I’ve got, errands, applying for jobs I have no idea if my bod will let me perform, and other reaching-out oriented fuck-up-able items.

When my pain levels get to near-crying, I pack it up and head back to the little neighborhood that I’ve declared as “home.” It’s a residential area with a busy street going through the middle, lined with all kinds of various businesses. This means that there are all kinds of random cars parking in this area, so it’s not the kind of neighborhood where a newcomer would be noticed. It’s also well-lit and seems very safe.

My view.

I try to get there before people start getting home from work. My car is very loud and my out of state plates further make us stick out, so I like to sneak in early before everyone’s out walking their dogs and chatting with the neighbors. I hop into the backseat and lie down, covering myself with one blanket and plopping the other, more fluffy blanket, on my middle — hiding my face from anyone walking by, aided by a little sun-blocker shade on the sidewalk-facing back window. I also have a larger shade covering the windshield — the store only had a conspicuous zebra-print one, so I make sure to put it snazzy-side in.

Most days I just lie in my backseat for hours and hours at a time, just as I did back when I had a bed — too overwhelmed with pain and other symptoms to do anything else. 

I feel lucky that I have such a rich internal world. Though I still battle clinical depression and other more typically unpleasant thought patterns, for years before this health debacle stole my external life, I worked with mindfulness and meditation to create a sanctuary-like headspace. My mind is now much like an amusement park: there are definitely some funhouse mirrors up in there, and a quite-terrifying horror house in the back, but the bulk of it is quite amusing indeed.

Once the neighborhood settles down for the evening, usually after several hours, it’s dinner time. I have a genetic mutation that requires a special diet: no gluten, no dairy, and as organic as possible. Breakfast consists of a handful of brazil nuts, and my lunch/dinner is jerky and snacks like snap pea crisps and trail mix. Dark chocolate is always involved, often eaten in conjunction with bulk-section gummy bears or bites of an apple. This deliciousness, combined with a couple of episodes of The Good Wife, is often the highlight of my day.

My tablet’s battery usually bunks out before my bodily energy reserves, but sometimes it’s the other way around, either way leaving me with several more hours before I finally pass out despite the pain, with the help of several prescriptions. My second round of just lying there is more meditation-oriented, and I work to focus and calm my mind, sometimes getting lost in beautiful and timeless breaks of stillness; but other times I fail, getting lost in memories and my own stories about them.

Eventually, usually, sleep and I meet.

And then I do it all over again, hoping that today will be the day that I find a way to make an income with my body behaving like this.

Today will be the day that I find a place to live. Today will be the day that I find the action that propels myself and my situation forward. 

*Editor’s Note: We here at Ravishly want to help Meg in anyway we can. If you’d like to help Meg, too, you can tip her via

Being Homeless in Long Beach

Meg Hartley for Long Beach Post
DEC 15 2017 8:15 PM

I never thought I’d really become homeless. Even in my last months in my apartment, as I was months late on my rent at the time, I still didn’t think I’d end up here, not really. Even after my landlord couldn’t take it anymore and (very politely) evicted me, I was still sure something would happen before it got this bad.

In the fall of 2015, I almost died from B12 deficiency, which is something I had never heard of. It’s often thought of as an old-timey illness that we don’t get anymore, like rickets or scurvy. It used to be a highly prevalent cause of death and paralysis. I have a couple of genetic mutations that make me predisposed to nutritional deficiency, though it probably started as a congenital condition.

B12 is responsible for the health of the brain and nervous system. Since the nervous system is located throughout the body, symptoms can manifest in many ways. Mental illness is one of the frequent manifestations of B12 deficiency. Since my levels got so low at a young(ish) age, it’s probable that my mother was deficient when she had me, passing on the deficiency. She, Linda Darlene, committed suicide in 1997—a lack of B12 likely fueling her bipolar disorder. A vitamin could possibly have saved her, a teeny little vitamin. It’s infuriating.

I was extremely lucky to get a diagnosis, and even though it took 33 years I feel very grateful for it. I had gotten Obamacare and was able to see a naturopath for the first time, who found the deficiency on her first try. At first my symptoms fell away like magic, but after several months of stabbing myself in the legs with hydroxocobalamin, my progress plateaued.

Doctors ruled out all of the other options before a rheumatologist finally diagnosed me with fibromyalgia just last spring. I had started to wrap my mind around the disease, and what I could do about it, when I was evicted.

A few doctors had suggested that I move from Portland, Oregon to a hotter and drier climate. So when a college friend offered to move to Santa Clarita with me I knew I had to take her up on it. During this time, as I focused on doing my physical therapy exercises as much as possible—which wasn’t nearly as much as I wanted—I was very drawn to Long Beach. At first it was probably due to growing up with Sublime, but I’d also do internet searches for things like “hottest beach in California,” or “the cultural Portland of California” and Long Beach would pop up over and over.

While I marvelled at how miraculously my body was reacting to the 100+ degree weather, I also balked at the sameness of the Santa Clarita area. The businesses are mostly corporate, and even the local ones felt generic. The whole place seemed to cherish it’s, to me, blandness, happy not to offend anyone, nor impress them.

I didn’t spend much time thinking about that though, as I had bigger fish to fry: I had upped my exercise time by 2.5 times and was feeling better and better, noting that my recovery time from doing things like grocery shopping was getting shorter and shorter. I still feared overdoing it though, as doing so caused flares which brought such horrific pain that I had to deal with suicidal thoughts as well.

After nine weeks in Santa Clarita, I had overstayed my welcome. This revelation came about quite explosively, ending with a very large man yelling through my door, “Get the fuck out or I’ll fuck your shit up!” I didn’t stay to find out if he meant my stuff, or my person. I left in a very dramatic and clandestine fashion, with as much as I could carry; around dawn, before everyone woke up.

The aforementioned suicidal thoughts had been a frequent threat even without flares, and I was concerned, but figured I’d get my California Obamacare set up and be at a shrink’s office in no time. Unfortunately, I’m still figuring out my coverage, and my suicide risk went from Googling “Will 23 amitriptyline kill me?” to wondering, “What can I drive my car into fast enough to kill me, but hurt no one else?”

I checked myself into the nearest mental ward.

It was my second time in 2017, the first being after I received my second disability denial. I honestly used to judge people on disability, if only subconsciously, assuming that many were scamming the system, that they were lazy. I feel like we are taught by our society to feel that way. Now that I’m not only familiar with severe and chronic illness, but also the convoluted and infuriatingly slow social security system—my views have completely changed.

Getting on the California State Disability Insurance Program literally takes years, it seems as if the system is meant to discourage people. That they hope we’ll give up or die before receiving it. And if you do eventually get it, it’s barely over $1,000 per month, which doesn’t go a long way in these parts. Or Oregon. Or anywhere else I’ve lived.

In the meantime, five days of group therapy, mild tranquilizers, and lots of sleep at the mental ward helped loads. My aforementioned genetic mutations make it hard for my body to process toxins, so I react to pills, among many other things, differently than most people. Because of this, I can’t remember large portions of my time there (or my mental ward stay in Portland), and the day of my release is fuzzy at best, I have no idea how I got there, but I do know that a kind non-profit offered me a hotel voucher for the evening.

The next morning I could still feel the pharmaceuticals in my body as I headed back to the non-profit, refreshed from a good sleep and hopeful that I could get another voucher. They couldn’t give me another, and my reality hit me very hard as soon as they said no. I got hysterical again, then eventually apologized and left, headed to my 1993 Toyota Camry. And, naturally, she wouldn’t start.

I cried for at least an hour, sitting there outside the non-profit, no doubt making them feel very uncomfortable. Eventually I calmed down and ordered the tow service that my insurance company offers, luckily for free, because I had $1.82 in my bank account. They towed me to a nearby repair company and I called a couple of friends who had reached out. They tried to get me a hotel room but the hotels required the hotel guest to pay.

I was in a CVS when I realized that I was really and truly homeless, that I’d have to sleep in my car that chilly evening. I, yet again, became hysterical. An angel of a man who worked there asked me what was wrong and I tearfully told him, then he offered to buy me a $20 blanket, bringing four over and asking me which one I wanted. That softest of all soft blankets got me through the first night sleeping in my car. That, and, a makeshift pillow made from one of my headrest covers.

Once I had the “pillow” and I lied down I realized I was okay. This wasn’t so bad. I’m pretty short, so only kinda cramped. I even had an episode of The Good Wife downloaded and ready to watch. I felt so silly for making such a big deal out of it, for making all of those people suffer because I was so scared. I told myself I was just “urban car camping,” and slept surprisingly well.

The kind manager of the repair shop got my car running again for free, noting that it was just a “band-aid fix,” and he also gave me permission to park there that night. After I set up an online fundraiser for myself, I headed out to clear my head and make a plan. I wandered about a bit aimlessly, ending up in front of a store called “Buy Buy Baby.”

Something about that sign, or rather everything about it, made every fiber of my being scream, “What the fuck am I doing here?!”

By the time I got back to the repair shop, I had decided that I would leave Santa Clarita; but that I would stay in Los Angeles County, where my body liked it and where my insurance had finally become active. So I did another internet search, “homelessness in Los Angeles county.” And the first article that came up heralded Long Beach as the only city to lower their number of homelessness when it had gone up everywhere else. A little more research, and Long Beach it was.

Meanwhile, for the fourth time since the health crisis, my online fundraiser had already raised over $1,000. My friends are so amazing, as is the community in my hometown of Juneau, Alaska. I’m so bonkers grateful, there is no way that I would have survived all of this without them. No. Way.

So I headed out, no longer flat broke, on my way to Long Beach. It was a Friday night when I got here, and as I searched for parking downtown I wondered if I had made a horrible mistake. It felt dodgy even though I couldn’t place why. (An Uber driver would later tell me that it did indeed used to be dodgy, but had been cleaned up over the last decade. He said that’s what I was probably feeling, assuming that I held intuition as something real, which I very much do.)

I awoke the next morning after not sleeping much at all, as every little noise seemed like it was danger, even though it kept proving to just be drunken people feeling jubilant. Everything hurt as I woke and I felt dismayed at the realization that, of course, the homelessness organization I came here for was closed for the weekend. I decided to cheer myself up by checking out Naples, the lovely little Italian-inspired island with canals.

After checking out those little islands, which I highly enjoyed, I took the time to hang out at Mother’s Beach for a while. Afterwards, feeling rejuvenated, I parked my car in the residential area of nearby Belmont Shore and hung out at a coffee shop until it got dark. As I sat there I noted the 24-hour Jack in the Box across the street, for restroom needs, as well as good street lighting. It seemed pretty safe. I decided to give it a shot.

I walked out to my car and got into the front seat. I checked to make sure no one was looking, then I moved, or rather flung myself, into the back seat. It was a Saturday night, so the drunken passers-by were, again, frequent. I froze everytime a group went by, scared they’d…bother me, I guess? Is it illegal to sleep in your car? (Something I’ll Google only once I’m homeless no more.) Only one fellow noticed me and said something to his friend, who replied, “I’m sure she’s just sleeping it off.”

Monday finally arrived and I called the Multi-Service Center before heading over. The woman asked me where I became homeless, and I told her Portland, Oregon. She told me that they only help those who became homeless in Long Beach and hung up apologetically.

So, unable to go back, I went down there and lied.

After a very frank conversation with my social service helper, I left with a few shelter flyers and the shower times. He didn’t seem particularly hopeful about my finding an affordable apartment, especially since I had no income. But at least there were shelters to call home until I got my life sorted.

I called a women-only shelter and learned that you had to go there in person at 8:00AM to get on the waiting list. I did so, and a couple of very kind and very busy women got me signed up to stay there that night. I relaxed into my seat a little, excited that I could go back to bed. Nope. The shelter was closed until 10:00PM, opening only after mandatory church service and dinner.

But first they needed to have me shower and change into fresh clothes while they washed what I was wearing. They gave me choices for much needed shirts, shoes, and pants that were actually pretty cute. After the best shower ever, I left the building in adorable purple pants, a yellow t-shirt, and gladiator sandals.

After trying, unsuccessfully, to get some sleep in the meantime, I headed back down there at 6:40PM, right before the church service started. What looked like a relatively safe block in the daytime seemed straight-up sketchy at night. I wondered if I, and my car/stuff, were safer at Belmont Shore, but eventually figured that if a car was going to get robbed it probably wasn’t my hoopty from the early 90s.

Besides the smell of beer and cigarettes, I really enjoyed the service. The preacher kept interrupting himself with lines like, “Praise Jesus!” and “Halleluyah!” Most of the audience was right there with him, all wrapped up in the sermon, while others nodded off or grumbled. The room was full of people from both the men’s and women’s shelters as well as neighborhood locals.

At one point the preacher said something that particularly moved me and I noted someone nodding in agreement, just like I was, and I felt profoundly connected to them, to the preacher, to the moment. That feeling made it seem like everything was going to be okay, that I’d find my way through this mess. After the sermon, I followed the crowd towards the dining room. I wondered what to do next but heard someone yelling, “Doors of Hope ladies, up here!” I did as directed and was warmly welcomed by the other ladies at the front of the line, smiles on our faces as we eyed the already-plated dinner tables.

The dinner was quite good, as was the conversation, though I mostly listened. Afterwards we, finally, went to the dorm. Around 30 twin-sized beds filled the room, reminding me of orphanage movies from my childhood. The kind women from that morning were organizing everyone’s required showers, but since I’d done that earlier I was free to take my sleeping medicine and lay down in that tiny but glorious bed.

After a great sleep, at 6:00AM the lights went on. It was Thanksgiving day. I felt pretty good, always a nice surprise from a malfunctioning body. I didn’t know how I’d spend that day, how I’d solve my problems, or even if my car would be waiting for me outside—but I felt grateful indeed.