Without a Home Story - Christina
I first met Christina in May 2018 as part of my Strawberries For Smiles project. She was on my path to work - usually sitting just beside a bin on the corner of Bush and Samsone Street (in downtown San Francisco) - so every 2nd or 3rd week I'd give her a box, and quickly realized there was something unique and lovely about her. I wanted to sit down and chat, but since I am always running late for my job I usually only had time for a simple "Hello Christina, how are you".
Then covid happened. I stopped giving boxes. I didn't see her anymore, because I was mostly inside, but soon I started jogging and I jogged past her near the Ferry Street Building. I wanted to stop, but I also am pretty task focussed on jogging for 30 minutes to stay healthy. On May 9, I didn't jog past. I decide I wanted to sit down and chat. She always had a happy smile about her... maybe she just really appreciated someone taking an interest. She had a piece of cardboard with a photo of her two children and talking about her heart surgery. Even as she told her sad story... somehow she had a bright energy about her. She could have hated the world. Yet she had some hope. I wanted to give her a hug, but because of covid I just said goodbye and we tapped out feet together. Next time I see her I'll ask if she has an email that we can tidy up this story and post it on Medium - somewhere where it might be discovered. I was pretty touched by her story.
Sat, May 9, 2020:
Christina wasn't always from California. She was working for "Toys R Us" on the east cost, and it makes sense that with her happy disposition she was doing really well there. Customers loved her and she was working up to assistant manager. She met and fell in love with a man at work. They had a beautiful boy and he convinced her to pack up and move to San Francisco for him to pursue his dreams. They worked their way up to an apartment, but then the universe took a turn. Toys R Us was going bankrupt and so, like many, she was abruptly laid off. At about that same time they realized she had Scoliosis. Her mother had had it too, and she had recently passed away. Her grandmother too. At that same time she became pregnant with a second child and her husband then abandoned her. She tried hard to find other work, but they all said the same thing. Because of her condition she was a "walking liability". At one place she was even escorted out because they were afraid she might sue them just by being on the premises and having fragile bones.
Tragically her son was born with the umbilical cord around his neck - the same thing that happened to my sister - and that has caused some permanent damage to him too. I asked how Covid had affected her and she says it has been pretty bad. Usually she spends more time with her kids, but instead she had a friend babysit while she went out to ask for money every single day of the week. People are less willing to give money when they realize their own jobs might be insecure and they are terrified to come within 6 feet of someone homeless. On the home front, it sounds like Christina has some friends to help, but all her other family has gone, and she could barely afford to get by on her heart surgery. Covid has also delayed her back surgery. The courts have rejected her application for disability support twice. She's trying a third time. But in truth. Christina is on her own. Asking for money is her only real option.
As Christina told me this, I noticed her hands were a little shaky, her back was probably still in pain as as she hunched over, but yet she didn't seem overly mad at the world. She is a pretty girl and she has a great smile. She smiled at me and said she appreciated all the strawberries from pre-pandemic times. I said it was just a tiny gesture, but she said she took them home and her friend and kids would open the box, eat the strawberries and loved the gesture.
Christina was articulate, alert and very much switched on. I wish I could have done a little more, but in a state with 100,000 homeless people I think she appreciates just the little gestures... people who give $10 here or there, but especially people who acknowledge her as a human being.
I told her my theory that covid should make more people realize just how easy it is to become homeless. She says most of her friends on the street imagine what it would be like to be rich. She said: "Everyone likes to imagine what it would be like to have more money, nobody looks down and thinks about what it would feel like to be homeless". It was very deep.
I recently wrote my first book - a silly first world comedy coffee table book - and hopefully I'll write another book soon. I don't want to just do comedy though. It would be nice to compile a few stories from other people like Christina. "Without a Home in San Francisco: Stories of being down on your luck in silicon valley". Maybe I would have her picture on the front cover to remind people that America still has such a long way to go to help its own people in time of need. And yet she has a radiant energy about her that made me walk away in good spirits... and an excitement about the next time I see her to say hello and tell her about this article.
Disclaimer: This is just my account of what Christina told me, so I'm sure some of the details are wrong. As a man, I'll fully admit I'm not the best listener, but with Christina I remember most of the story, except the name of her lovely children. Blame that on a bad memory. If you'd like to help, this is her on Facebook - Christina Mia Van Sise (Christina Marie Van Sise)
Christina's Story (emailed to me)
I am originally from NYC. I was working in Toys R Us times square moving myself up the line. I love children (I have 2). Back then when I was still in NYC my son Jake, my now husband Chris and I were living in a commune. I was working to get my own apartment after being homeless since I was 16. So about 7 years at this point. After some deliberation and a big incident with the ex bf I was living with at the time he drove my son and I to California after driving us around the country 4 times. When we got to SF we both had gone through all of our combined savings and the car's transmission and brakes completely broke down. We were in a bad situation. We were at a point where I could not give my son a bath and he was eating goldfish for dinner. So I called CPS on myself and voluntarily surrendered him in hopes of getting him back. We lived in our car for almost 6 months while we worked and I got my GED until we moved into a transitional living situation. My son was with a foster mother for this time and I visited him 2x a week. It was the lowest part of my life. Eventually we found a 1 bedroom apartment with Section 8 and I got my son back and we all moved into our very own apartment escaped homelessness. We were doing really good. So when my husband came to me saying he wanted to go back to Pennsylvania to try to become a famous musician with his band I said of course. Come back if things don't work out. I was transferred to Toys R Us here in Daly City and in CCSF studying to be a yoga instructor for children of special needs. 2 1/2 years later of living here in SF I was assistant manager, finishing up my first semester and pregnant with my daughter. I was also having very bad nerve pain and back pain. At my 2 month checkup after giving birth they diagnosed me with Scoliosis, which runs on my maternal side of my family. My mom, aunt, and grandmother died from complications from it. On top of having a heart condition makes it physically impossible for me to hold another job. I am supposed to be having surgery to put metal rods my spine. Ive already had 2 heart ablations (heart surgery) in October and November and I need another one since I found out that I ruptured the last one that was done. I am not supposed to have greasy foods, caffeine or do strenuous activity because I can rip open the part that was sealed with a laser. After bed rest and physical therapy after my back surgery I should be able to work like everyone else. I live in constant pain and I'm too scared to take anything stronger than ibuprofen. I applied for disability but they denied me twice because they believe my disability is too temporary and I am doing it all by myself with no help. It's just me, my son who is going to be 9 on Tuesday the 2nd and normally goes to school during the week is doing virtual school on a loaner computer the teacher provided him and my daughter who is going to be 2 on July 1st. Chris normally hitchhikes back and forth but because of the COVID19 he doesn't want to come back and get us sick. It's been really hard with this virus. Especially with Jake. He does have cognitive functioning problems from the umbilical cord being wrapped around his throat at birth. It causes him to have a bad memory, night terrors, and behavioral issues. He gets Into fights at school because of his social anxiety. So now teaching him at home has become very challenging as I do not have the skills to do so. Also now panhandling everyday I don't have the time to teach him. I know this was a lot. Feel free to use whatever you need from this. I'm sorry if its a bit jumbly. If I left anything out or you need any other info just let me know.