From Shelter to Her Own Place: One Woman’s Journey

My name is Dominique Griffin and I am an intern here at the Coalition on Homelessness. I wanted to take the time out of my day to share my story with you, about my challenges with being homeless and being housed. 

About two years ago I was living in the outer Bay Area in Suisun City, near Fairfield, with my 14-year-old son and 9-year-old daughter. I started having trouble paying my rent, which was almost $1,800 a month! I found myself starting to get behind on my bills, and I just knew that once my lease was up I would have to go before I faced getting evicted with both my kids. So I started letting my friends and family know what was happening. I had to move, but had no clue where to go, as I was pressed for time. I had to make a choice, and fast! 

Everybody was telling me to try moving to Las Vegas. Folks said I had a chance at making it out there because the cost of living was way cheaper than the Bay Area, and jobs were more available. So I found myself—a Bay Area woman—packing up my whole life and moving out of state, eight hours away by car or 45 minutes by plane. I didn’t know a soul out there. But I did it, and my kids and I started our new life in Vegas. 

That only lasted for a year. Believe it or not, I found myself struggling more in Vegas than I did in California! You may ask yourself why, or how? Well what folks didn’t tell me was the minimum wage was only about $8.25 per hour!!! That paid for my rent of $800 a month for my one-bedroom one-bath apartment, but it didn’t cover the cost of food and clothes and everything else. Also, Nevada has a weird way of doing things and would not give me any cash aid. Because of the state’s low taxes, my son’s supplemental security income (SSI) went DOWN! To make matters worse, once I found work, the county told me I only qualified for $95 in food stamps for each month. So at that point I just knew this was not the place for me and my kids, because it was too hard to make ends meet. One of my good friends (who is now the love of my life) decided that he would help me and my kids by bringing us back to the Bay Area. 

Once I got back to Cali, I found myself doubled up in a one-bedroom apartment with two families. I knew I had to do something else, because the situation was so uncomfortable for me and my two children, so I started making calls. First, I called my CalWorks worker, who referred me to a few different places with a few different people. It was then that I heard about “Coordinated Entry,” which got me on a list for housing. 

After about a couple months of waiting, I was finally placed in a shelter-in-place hotel called the Oasis Inn, also known as First Friendship family shelter. I found so much peace and support while I was there. It was a nice sized room for me and both children. We didn’t have to share it, and since we were in a hotel because of COVID, it made things a little easier and we didn’t feel so much like we were in a “shelter.” Both kids were enrolled into San Francisco schools. I started taking online courses to obtain my high school diploma, and I ended up getting an internship at the Coalition on Homelessness. 

I was able to do all this because I had somewhere to live, somewhere to eat, somewhere to shower and somewhere to think. I had peace of mind each day and I was able to rest at night. I just recently got a housing subsidy, and my housing worker found me and my kids a nice two-bedroom, one-bath apartment. After 11 months of living in a shelter, we finally found a place to call home!

So, I’m sure you feel like this is a happy ending to my story, right? Well, I must tell you, no, you’re all wrong. The place they found me is out in Pittsburg, which is 37 miles away from the City, because my income is about $1,650 per month. It is hard finding anything in the City, and for that price I might have ended up in a studio! There is cheaper rent if you don’t mind commuting, which is what I’m stuck doing now—thank goodness for BART! But because I have no car, I’m left waking up very early with my two kids in order to get them both to school on time and myself on time to work. It’s almost a two-hour commute. 

And now that we live in a different county, I face the challenge of switching schools for my kids, which would be devastating to both of them as they love their friends and teachers a lot. So, as you see, the fight is not yet over with readjusting with the new move. I’m very happy, and I hope to keep this place forever. After the 20-month subsidy program is over, I plan on never being homeless with my kids again. Thanks for taking the time out of your busy day to read my story. I hope that my story may help in some manner with other families who have been through this or who are going through this. Let’s work together on helping to end homelessness for all.