In Their Own Words
Our clients inspire us every day with their tireless determination, hard work, and resiliency. These are just a few of the faces of LifeMoves and their experience returning to homes of their own.
I Can Be a Father Now, Not a Homeless Ex-con
I’m no longer an addict. I’m no longer homeless. I’m no longer incarcerated. I’m achieving my goals and being a dad again.
Crisanta worked hard to support Mia and give her a joy-filled childhood, but Crisanta was struggling with addiction and depression. When building tensions at home finally came to a head, she made the difficult decision to move out, temporarily leaving Mia in the safety and comfort of her extended family.
But the separation from her daughter only compounded her mental health struggles and built a strong desire to ease that pain. Unable to balance her two jobs, she ended up living out of her car for six months. During that time, she was able to visit with Mia during the day, but Crisanta quickly saw that this wasn’t sustainable. She was suffering in the absence of her daughter, and she wanted to build a secure, happy, and stable life for them together.
Initially, Crisanta had doubts about going to a shelter – she had never stayed in one before – but the visits with her daughter reignited her sense of purpose, pushing her to find the best place where they could both stay. In July 2020 Crisanta and Mia arrived at LifeMoves | First Step For Families.
With the warm welcome and support of LifeMoves staff, they quickly settled into a routine, making grocery trips, following COVID-19 safety protocol, and spending time outside whenever possible.
“This was somewhere where I could restart, regroup, [rethink] things and push forward,” Crisanta recalled thinking during her first months at First Step. “It’s hard and lonely sometimes, […but] it really feels like you’re around people who are in the same boat as you and there’s no one here to judge – it makes you feel welcome.”
Crisanta and her case manager check in regularly, reviewing housing logs and job openings, as well as communicating about her mental health and wellbeing. Meanwhile, 4-year-old Mia enjoys playing with the other children at First Step For Families, working on projects with the children’s services coordinators, and zipping around her room during remote activities like virtual dance classes.
In October, Crisanta and Mia joined other families staying at the site for a socially distanced outdoor Halloween celebration (including a full on-site pumpkin patch) hosted by LifeMoves staff. Mia picked a bumble bee costume from the site’s closet of brand-new outfits, and she buzzed around from station to station while Crisanta carved a pumpkin and mingled with her fellow parents.
She made incredible progress to overcome what once felt like insurmountable challenges, but Crisanta is still working towards her biggest goal: giving Mia a home to call their own. She misses her family, especially her mother, and Mia wants to see her grandmother and cousin more regularly.
During her time at LifeMoves, Crisanta has been able to save her money, which will allow her to eventually afford her own place. Equally as important, she has found a renewed sense of self, built confidence in her abilities and her position as a role model and caretaker for her daughter, and fostered her own personal and professional passions to pursue.
While she prepares Mia to start preschool, Crisanta is attending classes of her own so she can finish her GED. Her long-term goals include owning and operating her own boutique, residing permanently in her hometown of San Mateo, and connecting regularly with her mother and family again. Motivated by her own progress and having her daughter at her side, Crisanta knows that they will only continue to rebuild and find their way back to a life full of hope, support, and love.
Since he was 19 years old, Jeff struggled with drug use and his deteriorating mental health, experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression but never seeking treatment. He lived at home with his parents, but eventually, tensions came to a head, and Jeff’s parents wouldn’t allow him to live there anymore. “I was doing drugs. My family didn’t want me at the house, so they kicked me out, and I never went back.”
That moment was a catalyst for the next 20 years. Jeff succumbed to his addiction and made increasingly self-destructive choices, spending time in and out of prison. But after almost two decades without a home or job, Jeff resolved to change his course. His probation officer referred him to LifeMoves and, in May 2020, Jeff moved into Julian Street Inn (JSI).
“Jeff came to JSI with a negative self-image. His entire identity was shaped around his background, his criminal record, his addiction, and just general dissatisfaction for the world and how he exists in it,” Fannie, Case Manager at LifeMoves, recalled.
The transition to staying in a shelter was difficult, but Jeff was determined to improve his life. He diligently followed his case plan, applying for any job listings he found and saving his money. While he met some suggestions with resistance and frequently got discouraged, Fannie responded with patience and firm encouragement.
“Fannie and I butted heads; we’re both stubborn. But she called me out on stuff, and it did help.”
Despite setting aside a considerable amount of money and showing progress in his return to stability, Jeff had doubts about whether he was ready to support himself. “It was challenging because I suffer from anxiety and depression, fear of the unknown. I didn’t want to leave JSI until I knew I had a stable, permanent job.”
He attended therapy and leaned on staff for support. Jeff became close friends with one of his dorm mates who, after starting a new job himself, referred Jeff to the same company. Jeff started as a temp making n95 masks, and, after six months of hard work, he was hired full-time.
Having saved close to $3,000 and confident in his stable employment, Jeff moved out of JSI in January 2021 and into a shared room in a sober living environment in Santa Clara. He has been sober since May 2018, and he remains grateful for his job, continued friendship, and time at JSI.
“Just being productive really helped,” Jeff shares. “[Fannie] got me to do the things I needed to do and helped me become a better person – it means a lot to me.”
Jeff looks forward to his independence, spending time with his girlfriend, and moving into his own place soon. He reflects on his more than 20-year journey: “Homelessness isn’t the end; there’s always a way to get out of a situation if you put the work in. [LifeMoves] helped me so I wasn’t stuck in the same rut I was in before. It’s always possible to move forward.”
Lisa began to rely more and more on alcohol and she suddenly found herself alone and without a home – even her mother who lived close by in Burlingame wouldn’t speak to her due to Lisa’s struggles with alcohol. Eventually, she moved into a shuttle bus which she parked in front of a friend’s warehouse.
After 1.5 years, Lisa again found herself without a home – the warehouse owner couldn’t afford the rising rent and her shuttle bus was immobile. She gathered the last of her life savings and her aging dog Molly and purchased an RV where she would spend the next 2 years of her life.
“I lived in my motorhome on the street – no electricity, no water, and I would just imagine how having a home would feel. My dog was getting old and I wanted her to have a comfortable place as she got older.”
Finally, good fortune and hope struck. Lisa bumped into LifeMoves Case Manager Victoria Asfour who was meeting clients at St. Vincent de Paul during breakfast service. Lisa was exhausted and knew she was finally ready to put in the hard work needed to secure housing.
“I said to myself - Lisa, let’s flip the script. Let’s try something different because this isn’t working.”
Lisa was extremely committed – she met with Victoria twice a week to search for housing, create budgets, and fill out rental applications. She had a strong desire to give back to her community and spent time doing art projects with children who would volunteer at LifeMoves | Vendome. Due to her frequent walks with Molly, Lisa quickly realized that there were many apartments for rent that weren’t visible online – only advertised via signs in front of the building. Victoria and Lisa started driving through neighborhoods, writing down phone numbers from “for rent” signs and tirelessly calling landlords.
“Vickie just didn’t give up. She was right here and held me responsible. I needed that discipline and it felt good. I needed a schedule.”
After only a few short months of working with Victoria, Lisa received the keys to her own one-bedroom apartment. While overwhelmed at first, the weight of living on the street and constant worry slowly faded away and was replaced by a sense of security and peaceful, purposeful days.
I’m artsy – I’m into crafts and arts. I paint. I’m very creative and my dog keeps me busy, I walk her every 2 hours or so as she’s getting older. I’m able to accomplish things every day. Right now, I’m into painting chairs. I’m proud of them! I didn’t know I had that artistic skill because I didn’t have the opportunity.
It’s been two years since she moved out of her RV and into her apartment. She’s organized, she has bank accounts, she has electricity and running water. Lisa now makes sure to accomplish something every day, whether that be exploring her newfound artistic side, taking care of her aging dog, or seeing a friend, she enjoys having a sense of routine and a sense of purpose.
“Every day I wake up grateful that it could be done. I was the last person that I’d thought could have anything to put a smile on my face for. All these years out there in the street, I always thought “me, it’s not going to happen.” But you know what? It did. It changed my whole world around. I have a smile on my face every day, I won the lottery – that’s what it feels like. If you want it bad enough, you can do it. I am so grateful.”
Yenny and her husband have always worked hard to support their family. But when they moved to California, they found it difficult to pay for a place to stay. They rented a hotel room at first, but they eventually ran out of money and the family had to start sleeping in and living out of their car.
Eventually, they were referred to LifeMoves, where the whole family quickly got to work. Yenny worked diligently with her case manager, she and her husband applied for work and started new jobs, and their children resumed schooling.
Then COVID-19 hit. Yenny recalled the devastating impact on her family: “My kids couldn’t go to school anymore, and my hours at my job got reduced. I no longer had anyone to take care of my kids. My husband also lost his job.”
But they never gave up – Yenny’s husband immediately began searching for a new job. He quickly found stable employment, allowing the family to save enough money to move into their own home.
They now live in Hayward, where Yenny is happy to be home taking care of the kids and supporting their studies. The family is taking this new experience one day at a time, building little by little, with hope, courage, and a lot of hard work for their new chapter.
But in 2003, a tragic work accident left him permanently disabled. His neck was severely injured, third and fifth vertebrae crushed, and his hip broken. Ronald gradually regained mobility, but the emotional and psychological impacts remained. He stopped working, left his home, and fell deep into drinking.
Ronald started traveling to Reno, staying night-to-night in hotels, drinking, and partying. The days became a blur – "that's the point I can't remember," Ronald admits. "I didn't have my own place for about four years." He found himself back in the Bay Area, riding the bus around local neighborhoods and catching sleep when he could. His drinking had become intense and debilitating.
Then Ronald met Victoria (Vickie) Asfour, Case Manager at LifeMoves (now Program Director of the Homeless Outreach Team). She introduced herself and gave him her business card.
"I put it in my pocket and left it for five months or so," he admits. "Then one day I decided, I got tired of the way I was living. So, I called [Vickie], and everything started changing."
With Vickie's help, Ronald started Alcoholics Anonymous. He attended meetings, saw Vickie regularly, and made great progress. But his path to healing, improvement, and self-sufficiency was far from easy.
"Vickie knew I was drinking when I stopped showing up and started making excuses. She would just drive around, find me in bad condition and say, 'I think it's detox time.'"
Heavy alcohol intake took its toll on Ronald's body. "I was drinking myself to death. I was drinking holes in my stomach, and I started throwing up blood. [Vickie] found me one day, and she rushed me to the hospital."
"She saved my life. The doctor said that had I been out there for another week, I'd be dead."
After he was released from the hospital, Ronald resolved to get back on track, prioritize his health, and quit drinking. With determination and hard work, Ronald got sober, and saw both his physical and mental health improve. Vickie invited him to events at LifeMoves | Vendome where he reconnected with old friends and befriended the Vendome staff.
"I had a couple of friends that were living in the [Vendome]," Ronald shares. "We're all doing well – that's what's so good about it. We all hung out together on the street, and we all turned our lives around."
Ronald managed to save enough money to afford a place of his own, and, with Vickie's help searching and applying for housing, Ronald finally moved into his own apartment in South San Francisco.
In December 2020, Ronald celebrated his two-year anniversary of being stably housed.
But his life, stability, and certainty for the future were upended after a workplace injury in 2018. Even after he recovered, medical restrictions prevented Lyvell from returning to his position, and it was challenging to find a more suitable role within his organization. The process continued unresolved for months.
"I had to depend on the money I had saved, but I fell behind on my finances due to the fact that I couldn't work and had an unresolved workers' compensation case. Essentially, I was put on hold."
After losing their home, Lyvell and Lyric initially stayed with family, but the compounding stress of a pandemic, sheltering together, caring for his daughter, and getting back on his feet strained these relationships. He and Lyric moved into a hotel, but Lyvell knew that he needed to find a more suitable environment for his daughter – at this point, his savings were almost fully depleted.
He called local helplines, but quickly found out that as a single father, many programs wouldn't allow his daughter to stay with him. Determined to stay together, Lyvell kept trying – and in October 2020, he and Lyric found LifeMoves | Redwood Family House.
"It came right on time," Lyvell says of the referral to LifeMoves. "I felt like I wasn't going to have anything to give my daughter in terms of shelter or food. We didn't have any options, so [LifeMoves] was a lifesaver."
He and his case manager, Miguel, came up with a plan to work toward regaining self-sufficiency. "I needed some kind of foundation – a routine – and [Miguel] helped me get started." They went through a housing plan and steps to financial security, which provided useful, applicable knowledge for Lyvell while continuing his employment search and settlement of the workers' compensation case.
Lyvell loved spending time with Lyric when he wasn't working towards his goals – watching her grow and participating in the virtual activities that LifeMoves provides to parents and their children.
After months of hard work, rebuilding his confidence, saving his money, and caring for his daughter, Lyvell was able to afford a place for his tight-knit family of two. They now live comfortably in Hayward, and 4-year-old Lyric will start kindergarten this year.
Lyvell accepted a new role at his organization, but due to COVID-19, the start date was postponed. In the meantime, Lyvell is attending a class to access work-study opportunities and build his resume.
"We were experiencing homelessness for about a year. After a while of going between family's homes, being out on the street, sleeping in vans and hotel rooms – it feels really good finally being here in our own home."
”Being here at LifeMoves, I've never felt more secure and in place with my life... even though I have rules and a case plan, I feel like I'm running my own show and marching towards what I want.Crisanta
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