“All I have is hope,” said Allison James, who has been living in an RV parked on a street in Santa Clara for almost two years.
James and her 17-year-old daughter, Alexandria, are homeless, living on stubborn hope and the kindness of strangers, such as food deliveries and Christmas gifts from the Salvation Army.
Their RV doesn’t have electricity, so James keeps only the food items that don’t require cooking. The rest, she shares with other homeless in the industrial neighborhood.
“I never knew what it was like for people to be cold. When you live on a fixed income, the cost of propane is too much. Besides, the fumes make you sick. We use robes, covers. We heat water with solar — the sun.”
“You wouldn’t know that I was homeless if I didn’t tell you,” said James, who looks for public places to recharge her mobile phone every other day.
“People think we’re all drug addicts, but that’s not true. There are families who had bad situations and traumas in life that brought them to this.”
James is African-American. Her husband is of Mexican and European ancestry. Both are native Californians. When they married in 2014, her husband was disinherited by his father, who was against their inter-racial marriage.
They were living in a house in Santa Clara owned by her husband’s father, who died three months after their marriage. They were evicted and “bounced around in motels” for about three years, depleting their savings.
“With all the frustration of losing everything, not knowing where to get the next meal, our marriage was going down,” said James. “We didn’t understand what homelessness does to people.”
She and her husband had a violent confrontation that led to restraining orders against him. He is on probation now and goes to domestic violence counseling.
“The trauma one feels in life ruins homes, relationships, jobs,” said James.
Her husband has been living in his car for three years. He bought the used RV for James and her home-schooled daughter.
Homeless shelters (if room) weren’t a viable option. Restrictive hours didn’t fit with work schedules.
“You can’t move forward in your life. I don’t have money for work pants and proper shoes, transportation, childcare,” said James, a chef and a cook who hasn’t worked since the pandemic.
She qualifies for CalPERS and SSI benefits, which are reduced when she does work.
“I called housing authorities, trying to get people to rent to me, but there are so many walls. Landlords don’t have the trust or ability to rent to people like me,” said James.
Fear for her daughter’s and her safety is always in the back of her mind.
“But I don’t feel so afraid now. I’m more in tune with myself and set small goals,” said James. “Jesus, God, makes me feel better about myself. He’s looking down on my homeless nest.”
In a recent blow, her mom, living in southern California, died June 13 from COVID-19.
“Even though it may seem that we’re in the darkest of times right now, remember, God is there always,” said James. “That’s what I do.
“I pray for a smile from God for myself and for other people because it’s very, very hard out here. I pray for a smile from whatever my day brings. I dream of helping somebody.”
“It was good for me to let this all out. It’s good for me to talk about it,” said James. “It’s not good for me to have a happy face for the world all the time.”
Update: Those who would like to help James and her daughter may send support to her mail service: Allison Jenial James 2464 El Camino Real # 129, Santa Clara, CA 95051.