Charlene: I slept and showered at Facebook. I was homeless. And pregnant.

From the genuinity of my smile, you would never assume I was homeless. At work I’m constantly laughing, talking, and goofing off as if nothing was wrong. But at the end of the day, once the sun sets and everyone disperses to their warm, comfy, homes, I had nowhere to go.

I have never truly belonged anywhere my entire life. Whether it was schools or houses, I found myself jumping from place to place, never having a place to call home. As a child, my mother and father tossed my brother and I between each other. The only substance stable in their lives were their drugs, the one thing that had a hold on their souls.

When I was 11 years old, my father surprised me by telling me we would hop on a plane to visit my sister in Texas. My excitement was through the roof, I was eager to see my big sister. Everything felt right. We had boarded the plane, anxious to lift off into the sky. My father buckled me in, stood up, and walked towards the exit. As I’m frantically fumbling to escape from the seatbelt’s constraint, confused at the situation, he turns and tells me I’m going to see my sister, but it’s alright, I would be back. As he stepped off the plane, I could never have predicted that those couple weeks in Houston would become 5–6 years of my life. He left me.

My time with my sister was horrible. There was a significant line of favoritism between her children and me. Of course I understood, they were her kids, but you’re not supposed to show any differences when dealing with children. She constantly made me feel bad about myself, and her fiance ended up being abusive, in the worst way. At one point I couldn’t take it, and retreated into the foster care system, and ended up with two different families.

The first family was wonderful. Unfortunately, after a while, they had to move, and I, selfishly, wanted desperately to remain at my school. I was tired of moving, changing. Because of that I was given to a second family, and they were not as kind as the first. They were foster parents just for the money; yes, there are people out there like that. I ran away twice. The first time, I got caught and plopped back where I started. I waited it out a month or two to make my second attempt. They never found me and I’ve been back in Oakland, CA, ever since.

My life began to secure itself then. I stayed with my godfather, who became my foundation to get me back on my feet. My godfather was that nudge I needed to go back to school, get a job, do the right thing. And that’s exactly what I did.

After that, I met my ex-husband and moved out into our own place, even raised 3 stepkids to adulthood. After a hectic, precarious, chaotic childhood, I had found peace in my adulthood. The first couple years of marriage were great, as they always are. I ignored all the red flags that stand out so prominently to me now. He ended up being controlling, abusive, insecure, jealous, and a collectiveness of trouble. Before I knew it, it came to a bitter end.

Somehow, four years later, I found myself gravitating towards him and we ended up remarrying. I had it in my mind that he had changed for the better and the second time around would be different. I was wrong. Three months after our remarriage, he was seeing someone else. Six months into it, we were separated. Then a year after, we had divorced once again.

That’s when I met the father of my son. He was someone I knew for a long time, a constant support system. He knew my family, he had been involved in my life for quite some time. We had a complicated relationship, but nothing transpired until I was single. We weren’t trying, we didn’t plan it, but I had gotten pregnant. He begged me to have an abortion, but I refused. Since I wanted to keep the baby, he was the one who left. Then I was alone, pregnant, with nowhere to go.

Before I knew it, I was in a state of uncertainty again. Moving from house to house, unaware of where home was, or what it meant. All I wanted was a place to rest my head, to properly take care of my body that was housing a newborn baby. My credit history was shot, due to disagreements with my ex-husband that resulted in unpaid debt to our previous property. As a result of his unwillingness to pay it off, I was given half the blame and no one would rent to me.

During my pregnancy, I got a job doing security for Facebook’s global headquarters in Menlo Park, but still never had a place to call home. People think, “Oh, you have a good paying job, there’s no way you’re homeless!” They think that people who work 9 to 5 or make decent money can’t be homeless. But they don’t understand that it could happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime. When 10 o’clock came, I would kind of linger around and when everybody left, I would dip out into a conference room. I slept there, showered there, even ate there, no one found me.

Finally, thanks to Homeless Prenatal Program, I was able to live in a hotel for a while. Even after I was able to have the baby. After a few months there, I applied and interviewed for Clara House, part of Compass Family Services, which was transitional housing. They are designed to assist you with whatever you need, whether it be finding a job, school, parenting, whatever. I was accepted and have been happy with my son there ever since.

They say there’s a chemical from your emotions that transfers to them while they’re sitting there, growing inside you. I didn’t want what I was going through to affect the both of us. People asked me how I was able to smile, keep a brave face throughout the times I had everything, lost everything, then tried to get everything back. My answer is him.

Shared weekly on Medium, and soon to be published in a book, ‘Stories Behind The Fog’ is a compendium of 100 stories of people affected by homelessness in San Francisco. The project was triggered by one man’s story that will be released next year in the form of a feature-length documentary:

The story has been written by @Belinda Garcia and photographed by Santosh Korthiwada in collaboration with our partner organization Homeless Prenatal.