Michelle Richards is not unlike many other women in the Santa Clarita Valley.
She works a full time job, enjoys taking her two elementary aged sons out for ice cream and goes to church twice a week.
Unlike most other women in the valley however, she has been homeless for four months.
Richards is employed by the Sunshine Canyon Landfill, where she works nine hour days doing traffic control and manual labor. With the increased cost of living in the valley, Richards can’t afford to pay rent even with her income.
“You work hard for the money,” Richards said. “I’m tired of the struggle. The struggle is no joke.”
Richards’ sons live primarily with their grandparents and father, though Richards has custody of them and is free to spend time with them whenever she can. She said she wishes she could spend more time with them and feels bad she cannot treat them and take them out as often as she would like.
“You can’t deny your kids,” she said.
Richards shared that she recently used a part of her paycheck to buy her son new shoes, which she said made him proud of her. She said she struggles between getting a second job and never seeing her boys, or maintaining her current job which allows her some time to spend with them.
She previously worked doing in-home care for the elderly and said she would like to get back to that working in that field.
The mom of two said she does not let her circumstance hinder her faith, and said she prays while she’s digging dirt at the landfill.
“Let me keep praising you, God,” Richard said she often prays while working. “Don’t let me give up.”
Of all the services offered for homeless people in the valley, Richards said the most helpful change would be to lower the cost of rent.
“You can’t get in anywhere in this town,” she said.
Giving back to the community
Rodney Parker was forced to leave his construction job after he had heart surgery. Parker said he was devastated because of the loss, as he loved his line of work.
“I had that much energy and love for what I did,” Parker said.
He said he is eager to get back into the labor force, but is having a hard time finding somewhere willing to hire him. Parker said he thinks it would be beneficial for the state to start a program where homeless people can get paid to do community service by picking up trash on freeways or working on acres of land.
“We could give back to the community,” he said.
He also said he thinks shelters should be open 24 hours a day, the shelters should be larger to house more people and there should be funding to give homeless people transportation to get to shelters.
A reason for everything
Jason Knowles lived with his family until both of his parents and sister passed away, leaving him without a place to go. He is the father of 12 children, and said he cannot stay with their mother after a disagreement, so he is unable to see them.
“I just want my kids,” Knowles said.
He will sometimes stay with a friend in Lancaster, but said he knows that is not a permanent solution. Knowles said most times when he tries to get into a shelter, the elderly and people with disabilities are admitted in front of him and the shelter fills up before he can be admitted.
“They discriminate,” he said about the shelters. “They say, ‘You’re strong, you can sleep on the street.’ I don’t mind.”
Despite his circumstance, Knowles said he believes everything happens for a reason. A former construction worker as well, he said he looks forward to being employed again.
“Just give us a job,” he said. “I like to work.”
More shelter from the rain
Lori Broadway was recently put on the street a few weeks ago after spending time in a shelter. She said she was politely asked to leave after the shelter workers found scissors in one of her bags.
Broadway has been homeless for nearly three years and said she enjoys spending her days greeting passersby.
“It’s my joy,” she said.
Though she is without a home, Broadway said she likes interacting with people in the valley, who she said have been consistently kind to her.
“There’s a lot of good people in this community,” Broadway said. “I’ve never heard a bad word from anyone.”
Another opportunity for socialization, Broadway said she likes to attend church every week. She said the pastor will visit her often and the church members provided her with a pink bicycle to help her get around. Her arm is currently in a sling because she fell off the bike, but she said she can ride it well otherwise.
Broadway said she thinks money for homeless people would be well spent providing storage space for their belongings. Currently, Broadway keeps her bike locked to a bench and keeps her belongings hidden under a blanket in the basket of the bike.
Just recovering from the winter storms, she said she would also like more shelter from the rain.
As of 2016, there were an estimated 316 people who were homeless in Santa Clarita and 46,874 in Los Angeles County, according to the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.
On Twitter as @ginaender