Faustina Robinson, a former participant in Solid Ground’s Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, shared her story with us for our May 2011 Groundviews newsletter. For more information on Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Stabilization-Sea.
During the two years that Faustina Robinson lived in her car with her cat, there were two things that helped her keep perspective. First, she says, “I had some years in social work – as a counselor for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors. It put me on the other side, so to speak.” She asked herself, “‘What would I tell that client?’ I also heard their voices; I became the student of the people that at one time I had helped. I was learning from their experiences.”
And secondly, “I’m a filmmaker, so I was engaging my art even when I was living in my car. I took interviews of people, took pictures, I had release forms signed. I transcended into this other personality, and that allowed me to look at a larger picture.”
She says, “Living in your car, it’s very survivable – and so it can become a way of life.” During one stretch, while broken down at a highway rest area for 92 days, she connected with others who were also “camping” there. “Out of that experience developed this little community. We realized we were not alone, and we began to find ways to assist each other.”
A turning point
Thanks to her new friends, Faustina eventually found the strength to face facts: “I had been in complete denial. I kept thinking, ‘You can’t be homeless. You do have a little bit of money coming in. You can stay in a motel if you want to. You have a roof over your head. You’re really intelligent.’ I was rationalizing my way through the experience. But I was still homeless!”
However, navigating out of homelessness wasn’t easy. She says, “I had taken all the necessary steps – contacted all the social services, shelters, transitional housing. There’s always some snafu, strange policies. You have to call at a certain time, twice a day.” And with no reliable phone, it didn’t work for her. Finally, she asked her friends to rope-tow her car and park her right outside a housing agency.
She says, “I only had to do it once. I said, ‘I can’t call you twice every day, so I’m just gonna walk in twice a day and let you know I’m still homeless. And if you want me, I’m right out there on the side street!” Laughing, she says, “That got me a really quick appointment! And that was the turning point that got me off the street.”
As a person living with disabilities, Faustina did qualify for and eventually moved into a Seattle Housing Authority apartment – but her journey to stability wasn’t over. She says that by the time she contacted Solid Ground, “It revealed that I was dealing with a lot of issues I had not acknowledged. I have a history of depression. But when I was homeless for those two years, not one day was I depressed. I couldn’t understand that!
“One doctor said there are personality types that when faced with certain kinds of stress, it releases hormones that almost produce a euphoric feeling. So I had been sucking on that adrenaline rush for two years – and when I got the apartment, the first thing that happened was I crashed. There were days I couldn’t even roll out of bed. It happened so quickly.
“I wasn’t taking care of myself or my day-to-day needs; I wasn’t paying my bills. I got behind in my rent; I needed housing assistance. I was going through a number of challenges, because DSHS [was considering] eliminating GA-U [now called Disability Lifeline]. I filed an appeal, so my benefits didn’t stop – but the psychological and emotional stress of facing eviction and loss of some financial support – it had me in rare form.”
Leave your baggage at the door
After calling Solid Ground but not connecting with resources right away, an attorney at Housing Justice Project contacted our Seattle Housing Stabilization Services on Faustina’s behalf – a program that provides case management and support to people at imminent risk of housing loss. “Within a week,” Faustina says, “Sukanya contacted me.”
Working with Sukanya made a world of difference. “One, she believed in me. And she didn’t patronize me. She valued my input and respected my own experiences and perception in the matter. So I felt like I was making a contribution to my own welfare – and that empowered me.” Faustina also learned it’s OK to seek support. She says, “When I need assistance, I really do need to ask for assistance. You can’t always do it alone. And there’s no shame in that. I had been always the one helping others, and now I needed help.
“I also had to accept that I had made poor choices in some cases. But, you forgive yourself, and then you move on. Leave your baggage at the door. And it’s OK! Extend the same compassion I had for the people I was working with towards my own self so I could heal. And she helped me do that. Solid Ground helped me do that.
“I made a promise to myself: I am so fortunate to have this space, and someone helped me, and I wanted to honor the gift, the assistance. So I volunteer my time. I’ve gotten back into my writing and my filmmaking, and I’ve been working on a number of projects. I do all the media [pro bono] for JusticeWorks. And do you know, I’m doing much better now – I’m in a much better space financially, emotionally, spiritually – than I was! Sometimes when you can’t do it for yourself, it’s OK to do it for others.”
For more information on Seattle Housing Stabilization Services, visit www.solid-ground.org/Programs/Housing/Stabilization-Sea.