Tawnya is a veteran, mother and a former paramedic and security guard.

“I walked into work and was handed a pink slip,” she said.

Now, she is experiencing homelessness.

She has been coming to Wellspring for a year.

“There are days when I don’t eat all day, but I know in the morning that I can get food,” she said. “Just coming through these doors and sitting in the back corner – that is enough relief and meditation for me – it helps me get through the day.”

Tawnya has worked since she was 15 years old.

In college at Fresno State University, she dreamed of becoming a doctor.

“I’ve always been a healer,” she said.

But, after serving as a field medic in the United States Air Force, she happened upon a family.

“Once you start getting a family, you learn to set your own needs aside,” she said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get some benefits from the powers that be so I can get a roof over my head.”

She has some health issues that she says keep creeping up and is struggling to navigate the bureaucracy of her Veterans’ benefits as well as General Assistance for her disability.

“Most people don’t know that we have some Vietnam veterans who have yet to receive any benefits after 40 years,” she said. “Rumor has it that all of our files are in a basement somewhere.”

She said that her biggest barriers to employment include transportation and her appearance because she doesn’t always look the cleanest.

Being homeless brings her to tears.

“It just hurts and brings me to tears at times,” she said. “You have people out there yelling, ‘You should get a job!’ I do want to get a job, but they don’t realize what it takes. They just assume that all of us are drug addicts or alcoholics. What they don’t realize is that there are a lot of people who are drug addicts and alcoholics, but they get those issues after becoming homeless. They started using drugs and drinking to become numb to escape everyday life. I’ve chosen to read books – that is my escape.”

What sort of books do you read?

“Mystery and detective books,” she said. “When you read, you lose track of everything. I can see why these guys chose drugs and why they drink and I don’t blame them one bit. They get arrested and guess what? That is a shower, that is a meal and that is a bed. They cycle through the system.”

“Everyone is so afraid of us and they all think that we are just trash, but we are not,” she said. “We are someone’s brother, mother, sister and mom and sometimes that one person stopping to say, ‘hi’ can make all the difference in our day. I did a survey one morning, I was walking from Wellspring to the spot where I was going to try and get breakfast. I came across 34 different people and to each person I said, ‘Morning.’ Out of the 34 people, only 2 people responded back to me.”

“This past Sunday, I went to do what they call ‘flying a sign’ – you hold up a cardboard sign and you are basically asking for money. I do that as a very last resort, but I hadn’t eaten since Saturday morning. This man was coming out of gas station and he had purchased a beverage inside the store and left it on top of his car. I motioned as he was coming out of the driveway – waving my hands and pointing at it – and he gunned his engine like he was going to run into me and then yelled at me and said, ‘Move your piece of trash ass out of the way.’ I jumped out of the way and his raspberry ice tea fell to the ground.”

Tawnya stopped flying her sign when she earned three dollars – enough for a hamburger and a soda.

“A lot of people think homeless people are greedy,” she said. “But, most of us only ask for what we need.”

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