Cheryl is Wellspring’s songbird. When she isn’t singing at the neighborhood center for women and children, she sings gospel at Harmony Church.

“Gospel music is my life,” she said. “Gospel music is a joy. It’s a nutrient, a necessity like minerals and vitamins because it helps you to keep going like the Energizer Bunny. You’ve got your vitamin As, your vitamin Bs, your Ds, Fs and your sharps so gospel music is like a good meal.”

Often sporting elaborate hats with gold lame or green hair caps beneath them, Cheryl dresses in layers.

For the past 10 years, she has been homeless. One day, she arrived at Wellspring with her blouse tied around her head and observed, “Anytime a woman starts making a hat out of a blouse, you know it’s time to get housing.”

Her knees ache – crunching and snapping as she gets up and sits down. Soon, she says, they will need fluid drained from them.

Cheryl has lived on the streets of San Francisco and Sacramento. The streets in San Francisco are rougher, she says.

“I was so sleepy one night, I got ready to sit down on some steps – didn’t even sit down, I started, I attempted to and I got a ticket,” she said.

The ticket was for $450.

“Homelessness is terrible,” she said. “I wish that everyone could experience being homeless at least one time in their life so that they could see what it is like. If they could experience it one time, then maybe they would reach out to help somebody.”

 What is it like to be homeless as a woman?

“It’s scary,” she said. “That’s what it is like. It is very challenging because you’ve got people out there who sometimes think that you are out there prostituting. They think that they can just pick you up during the daytime or night.”

 How do you protect yourself?

“My self-defense is God,” she said.

“Most of the time, I have an Our Daily Bread book of prayers and I tell them, ‘This is all I have.’ ” Even though sometimes they refuse it, I say, ‘Do you want to come and hear me sing?’ And they say, ‘Where do you sing at?’ I tell them, ‘I sing at this church on Second Avenue, it’s called Harmony.’ They say, ‘I don’t go to church.’ And I say, ‘Well maybe one of these days you will be out on the road passing by and you might hear me sing.’ ”

Recently, four men harassed Cheryl over the course of one night.

“As a homeless woman, I took some guys for a walk,” she recounted.

One man approached her in Oak Park and asked her for sex. She started walking and told him that she was going to meet a friend. She walked down Broadway, heading towards the Convention Center and clinging to the safety of the bus route in the dark of the night. The man tired of walking and left her partway into her walk. When she arrived at the Convention Center, another man tried to steal her coat. There was a police officer who luckily came to her aid.

Cheryl walked by the Spaghetti Factory en route to Sutter Medical Hospital to catch the bus back to 34th Street. Here, two more men approached her.

“They said, ‘I want to be with you,’ ” Cheryl recalled. “I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘You can come home with me.’ I said, ‘No.’ They said, ‘We can go to your house.’ I said, ‘We can’t go there either.’ I didn’t tell them that I didn’t have one. One guy said, ‘I’m going to follow you home.’

But there was a bus driver — he said, ‘Come on girl, you don’t have to walk any further.’ I said, ‘Are you going anywhere close to 34th and Broadway and he said, ‘Yes Ma’am.’ I got off and went to a church and sat on the steps till daylight.”

“My knees told the story the next day because they were swollen up big and I could hardly lift them, but maybe that was because I was so cold” she said. “If I had better clothing maybe I could have stayed warmer.”

Cheryl has been coming to Wellspring since it opened.

“Wellspring is sort of like fresh water on a hot, thirsty day,” she said. “If there wasn’t a Wellspring sometimes I don’t know where I would grab a meal. Wellspring is just a joyful place. It is a safe haven. I look forward to coming here in the morning, not just for the food, but also to see the faces of the children.”

 How has your life changed since Wellspring has become a part of it?

“Prayer first and coming here second has really changed my life,” she said. “To me, this is my social life. Coming, here I am exposed to creativity and responsibility. It is encouraging to be here:  I can be helped and I can help others. I’ve become more prayerful and realistic”

“On the weekends, sometimes I just come by Wellspring to walk by the door and look and be inspired,” she said.

She wrote, “There Will Always Be Wellspring,” and sings the song on quiet and busy days at the Center. When she sings, everyone pays attention:

 There Will Always Be Wellspring!

In the morning busy, busy, busy

preparing food that’s great

for those of us

who are early or late

There will always be Wellspring!

Forgiving, full of trust, love

kindness, joy, humility, patience

is what it takes,

along with faith, regardless of the season of life

There will always be Wellspring!

Children, tots, babies, queens, teens, youth

young adults, and seniors, of course.

There will always be Wellspring!

Volunteers, CEO, staff, women and men reaching out!

Check us out!

There will always be Wellspring!

Guest and volunteer Sylvia dancing to Cheryl’s song.

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