China’s Story

My life was filled with all sorts of adventures. I loved being with my students. I was a college professor for many years, teaching literature and writing at universities on the East Coast. I was up for tenure but when I got passed over, I ended up walking away from teaching altogether and coming out to California.

I had some family and friends I stayed with initially, but things didn’t work out with them and eventually I ended up homeless, something I never expected. You’re a college professor. You’re a writer. You have status. And then you’re homeless?

Homelessness is like being hit on the head with a 2×4. That feeling of “what just happened?” is constant. You never know what is going to happen next or what is around the corner; it is absolutely exhausting. The moment I got into my new home I slept for days. My body was so tired of constantly being on guard, and the safety my new home brought me was a feeling I hadn’t had in so long. My body just collapsed.

After three months on the streets, I came to the Loft and they took care of me like I was their auntie or mother. I didn’t know why but they were there for me — physically there for me — and that helped. I knew everyone was just downstairs and I felt secure. I had good healthcare and counseling and I was able to start building up my courage and self-esteem.

When you become housed, that brings its own set of challenges. It is like the culture shock you experience when you come back from a trip abroad. Getting back to housing is so foreign and yet it feels like it should be familiar — even making coffee feels like rocket science, which is so disorienting. I had to relearn so many skills that I lost because priorities shift when you’re living on the streets. Your focus is on the present. Once I had a safe place to lay my head at night, I had to relearn, step by step, basic skills that I hadn’t used in years.

When I got to the Loft, for example, I was losing everything. I couldn’t keep track of my phone, my wallet, any of my belongings. It drove me crazy! So, I started there. I worked with my case manager, Cody Kryst, and soon enough I was not losing my belongings as often. Then, I developed a daily schedule, which was something I hadn’t had in years. That consistency allowed me to deal with some of the more difficult steps: healing my wounds and building up my confidence and self-esteem. I finally was able to reconnect with my identities as a woman, a writer, and a successful college professor.

The security of having a place to be safe changed everything for me. I couldn’t have gone from being homeless right into my own place, I would have been back on the street in three months. But because I had a place to land, I had space to heal. And that’s what the Loft was for me; it wasn’t a place where homeless people just sleep and shower. For me, this was a real home, even in its fleeting role in my life.

And now I have a permanent place to call home.

I’m starting to go through my own writing again, seeing what’s in my portfolio and starting some new pieces. A couple of my old students recently found me and asked me if I’d work with them on their scripts. And I was recently invited to join the board of Housing Matters, which I gladly accepted. I’m proud I’ll be able to use my experience of being homeless to give something back.

What I’m really looking forward to is helping more women who are going through what I went through, and letting them know it’s ok to take help. I want to show them when they use all these tools, they’ll start to find themselves again. And once they do that, they can do anything.

This story was collected in November of 2020 by Andrea Feltz, Community Conversations Program Manager