“Homeless people are different from me; I could never be homeless.”
For many people, that’s the first thought that runs through their mind when they see a worn-out stranger with a cardboard sign on the side of the road; that’s what they imagine homelessness to be like. But homelessness has many faces. Faces that are more familiar than a stranger sleeping at a bus stop or panhandling near the highway. 1 out of 3 Americans are only one paycheck away from experiencing homelessness. It’s more than likely you know someone who has almost been homeless.
“I don’t know how to be homeless. This is my first time being homeless. I looked at myself and thought, this can’t be what homelessness looks like.”
Those were the first words that Toccara said to me. Rather than relaxing or sleeping in, she sat down to talk with me on her one day off work this week.
With a smile, she tells me how grateful she is for the support, understanding, and sisterhood at Halle Women’s Center. Even though she struggles with anxiety, Toccara is hopeful and always looking on the positive side of things. Her journey hasn’t been easy: she was physically and sexually abused most of her life, found herself pregnant as a teen, and had two strokes before turning 30 years old. She reminds me that she is not defined by where she’s been, and she’s the one who will decide where she’s going next in life.
“I’m not any less of a human being than you or the next person. I’m trying. I’m human, we all are, regardless of our circumstances.”
Toccara moved with her mother and brother to Arizona from Michigan in the fall of 2018. In Michigan, she worked as a CNA at Spectrum Healthcare. Her plan was to continue working in the healthcare field when she arrived in Arizona.
“I thought it would be easy to transfer my CNA license here from Michigan, but apparently it’s not.”
In the meantime, Toccara was hired to work remotely for Amazon. The job supported the cost of rent for herself and her family, but it wasn’t enough to make ends meet. Living in an apartment where they paid rent weekly, her mom told her that they wouldn’t have enough money to live there much longer, and that they all needed to be looking for new places to stay. Thankfully, Toccara found the Diane and Bruce Halle Women’s Center.
“I didn’t know what to expect living at a homeless shelter. I thought it was going to be a mess; dirty and scary. But I didn’t know where else to go. When I came to Halle, I definitely thought I was in the wrong spot.”
She explained her situation to a few people at work, letting them know that she would be moving into a women’s center called Halle. They stood by her and offered support.
During her first week at Halle, Toccara spent time at the New Day Employment Center searching for jobs in the healthcare field. Before her first week ended, she had six interviews lined up. With offers from all the interviews she attended, she narrowed it down to three to move forward with. She accepted a full-time position working at a local nursing home.
“I love working with people and being able to help them. I have a special place in my heart for working with elderly patients.”
Her dream of becoming a nurse stemmed from the admiration she had of her grandmother’s career in the field. It served her well as she spent time with her grandmother on dialysis. Though her grandma passed away in 2015, Toccara knows how proud she would be.
As she continues to pursue her dream of being a nurse, Toccara is looking for permanent housing. Having a full-time job at the nursing home and continuing to work part-time for Amazon has helped her start saving. She wants to find a place that will not only accommodate her, but a place that has room for her son, who is still living in Michigan, to come visit.
“I’m ready to stop living paycheck to paycheck. Done with not knowing if I’ll have a place to sleep. I want to create and leave something for my son. He should never have to know what it’s like to not have a home.”