This story is part of HuffPost Impact's 12 Days, 12 Cities, 12 Families series, highlighting Americans who have persevered to overcome incredible challenges and the nonprofits that helped change their lives. Check back tomorrow for the continuation of this series.
Andrena Seals, a single mother of four, is trying to stay optimistic despite the fact that her family may be homeless again in less than a month. Optimism has been Seals' armor against the homelessness and joblessness she's faced since she was laid off as a property manager in June.
She never imagined finding herself in this situation. After divorcing her husband several years ago, the former competitive body builder moved her kids into an apartment building in Hawthorne, Calif. that she managed for a property company. She had a salary and an apartment and was looking forward to expanding her career as a massage therapist, when everything got turned upside down.
The building Seals managed, which changed hands every few years, was sold to a new company who didn't need her to oversee it. With some scrambling over the next year, she was able to manage some other properties and move her family in with her sister. Then, on June 1 of this year, her management contract ended and the 49-year-old found herself homeless and jobless.
"Shortly after that, I went to the Salvation Army," Seals describes. "They're like a 911, they take you in immediately. I had not had enough money saved -- my family members lived in Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I had not made any longevity preparation and I was only receiving child support."
Andrena Seals and her children.
For the next three months, Seals and her family lived at the long-term Salvation Army shelter and she considered her options. She had thought that her past professional knowledge in athletics, security, massage therapy and property management would lend her plenty of options as she searched for a new position. But despite her experience and an infectious laugh, she was turned away because she was "overqualified" for most of the positions she applied for.
"I Could Be Easily Trained To Do Any Job"
While she continued her search for jobs, volunteers at the shelter suggested she visit Chrysalis, a center dedicated to job training, guidance and placement for homeless and hard put residents of the greater Los Angeles area. Seals soon found herself making the two-hour commute, three days a week, to take classes and meet with her employment specialist, Jack Lahey.
Lahey works individually with Seals on resumes, goal-setting and practicing interviews. "We meet about once or twice a week and go over everything and strategize," Seals said. "Jack has always let me know that communication is number one. I didn't see the essential need for communication skills until I came here."
In the past few months, Seals has beefed up her resume-writing skills and learned how to use more advanced computer programs. She describes motherhood as a "commercial break" from her professional aspirations, so she's been working hard to meet her goals of sending out 10 job applications a week. Eventually, she wants to go back to college and open up a preschool with a small restaurant that will serve children good healthy, food and teach them proper table etiquette.
When you ask her where she'll be in a year, she says, "I see myself inside a three to four bedroom apartment, fully furnished. I see myself cooking for lots of people, like I used to." Before she can get there though, Seals has some more immediate problems. After moving out of the Salvation Army shelter, she was able to use housing vouchers to move into a motel in Santa Monica that cut down her commute to Chrysalis and let her kids stay in the charter school system they had attended previously. But at the end of December, the vouchers will expire, leaving her family homeless once again.
"I'm on waiting lists for apartments in buildings with low-income units in several places in the area, but there's a two to six year waiting list," Seals says. Her biggest hope is to find a job in the next month to stabilize her living situation.
"The most challenging thing for me, is that with all the credentials I have, still being told I'm overqualified is hard to swallow. I know that I could be easily trained and that I could do any job."
A Month Away From Homelessness
Also, she says, she's had learn how to change the way she talks to her kids. "I've had to get used to telling to my children 'not now.' When it comes down to toys, gifts, what have you, I wont tell them 'no,' but 'not now.' Refocusing their attention has been hard, but it's been a major verbal adjustment to show them we're being provided for in a different way."
"Soon" is what Seals is working for. Soon she'll have a job, a home, somewhere near Santa Monica and close to UCLA "where my kids will graduate from," she says, only half-jokingly. Soon, she'll expand her massage business and go back to college. Soon she'll have a paycheck, and more importantly, a savings fund to draw on, "just in case."
"You never know whenever the rug will be pulled out under your feet," Seals says. She's spent a lot of time talking to other people at her former shelter, at Chrysalis and she's realized that there are a lot of people like her treading the line between being "okay" and ending up on the street. But few people take the time to look past the stigma of homelessness. "It's something anyone can do. If you give of yourself, you'll be able to receive an experience you'd never find any other way -- to really understand another human being."
Seals has been overwhelmed, to say the least, by her family's misfortune. She's looking to bridge the gap between the present and the immediate future. Will she have a home for her family? Will she have a job to provide for her children? Chrysalis is trying to help her answer 'Yes.'
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