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Could you wind up homeless? 8 ways to keep out of Tent City

Ask any woman her secret fear–the one she hardly dares say aloud, let alone share with others–and I’ll bet it’s homelessness. The specter of winding up alone on the streets, huddled under a plastic tarp,  haunts many women. But how likely is that to happen? Dr. Roslyn Samoshi, a Honolulu-based psychologist, sat with me recently.

Depending on where you live, your real risk of homelessness is probably not equal to your fear, according to Dr. Samoshi. “Women who end up on the streets often didn’t know they had emergency options,” she says. But if you even suspect you’re at risk of homelessness, sit down today and map out your choices. Consider these:

  1. Move in with family members
    If there’s any risk of losing your home to foreclosure or eviction, set aside your embarrassment and ask family pointblank: Would you take me in?  You don’t need to extract actual promises. Your goal now is to get a realistic idea of support you can expect.
  2. Get a live-in position 
    Do you have carpentering or property  management experience? Have you remodeled, painted and performed modest repairs?  If you have decent credit and a work history, you could work as a residential property manager for a condominium or apartment community. If you have a certified nursing assistant (CNA) license, which is obtainable in less than two months, you will be in demand as an on-site caregiver. This is a demanding position; consider this option only if you have a genuine affinity for caregiving. You will need to give ironclad references.
  3. Seek emergency housing
    Find out now if your community has free or low-cost housing, income requirements, and how long you can expect to wait. Your goal is just to get a realistic view of options. If you think losing your home is a real possibility, asked to be placed on a waiting list now.
  4. Rent a bedroom
    Check websites such as for opportunities to share a home. Depending on the homeowner, you may get only a bedroom with a shared bathroom and no kitchen or “house” privileges. Or you might be treated as a full  member of the household, free to use the living room, kitchen, yard, laundry facilities. Find out exactly what you’re getting for your money.
  5. Protect your income stream An extended period of unemployment can quickly wipe out any savings you’ve accumulated.  If you’re laid off from your job, think hard about whether unemployment insurance is really the safety net you believe it is. If you’re not working, you’re not contributing much if anything to your Social Security account. Instead of drawing benefits, you can better protect your future by obtaining a temporary job. Consider signing up with a temporary employment agency. If you want to build an emergency stash, and your income is already stretched take on a second job. Positions are always available for delivery drivers, food servers, product demonstrators, and cashiers.
  6.  Be a bulldog about guarding your credit Don’t dare pay your bills late–even if you’re cash strapped. Swallow hard, then contact the issuing credit card company or lender.  Even if you can’t make the minimum payment, send in SOMETHING every month. It’s much harder for a collector to take action if you can show a consistent payment history.
  7. Speaking of collectors: don’t be bullied By law, a collector cannot harass you at work or at home, once you’ve told them to stop phoning.  If you’re over 65, you have even greater protection from creditors. If you’re forced to declare bankruptcy, a creditor cannot pursue your Social Security benefits, or your home.
  8. Ask people you know: Could you provide a reference for me? Set aside any embarrassment you may have and ask a supervisor (or a co-worker), a spiritual adviser, a long-time friend, apartment or property manager for a reference. Ideally, get it in writing now, before you need it. Please, don’t even think about providing a fake reference. Trust me: they’re easy to spot. As an added bonus: reading other’s positive remarks about you will boost your confidence.

Four myths about suntanning: Don’t tell me you still believe these.

One of the nicest things about living in Hawaii is the abundant sunshine. But I quickly discovered: the very sun that blesses the islands with blissful warmth and light also increases your odds of developing skin cancer. Skin cancer is on the rise in all of the Hawaiian islands, according to Dr. Karen Yamamoto, a dermatologist in private practice in Honolulu.

In fact, among certain groups such as Caucasian women and Hispanic men, the rise is considered epidemic. Dr. Yamamoto and other experts blame on these on these enduring myths about tanning:

1. A base tan will protect your skin.
“Completely, utterly bogus,” says Dr. Yamamoto. “Tanned skin is damaged skin, period. So if you’re lying out at the swimming pool without protection, thinking you’re putting on some kind of skin glove, you’re kidding yourself. Later, you’ll just be piling on additional damage.” If your so-called base tan was acquired from a tanning bed, be very worried. Each time you lay supine on those beds, you are significantly increasing your odds of developing skin cancer. Those UVA rays emitted from the beds are extremely powerful.

2. Skin cancer is largely a Caucasian disease.
Fair-skinned people of northern European descent are more likely to burn than other groups, but skin cancer strikes every population. Hispanics are developing skin cancer in the U.S. at a faster rate than any other population group, according to a Skin Cancer Foundation study.

3. You can’t burn on a cloudy day.
“Completely erroneous,” says Dr. Yamamoto. “You need sun protection all day, every day, year-round. Because of our close proximity to the equator, the sun over Hawaii is especially powerful.”

4. Using sunblock will deplete your body of Vitamin D.
This myth persists, according to the National Skin Cancer Foundation, because many northerners absorb less vitamin D during the winter months.  “But you still absorb the vitamin through your hair, scalp, and fingernails,” says Dr. Yamamoto. To be on the safe side, take a vitamin D supplement each day.

One Surprising Truth:

Skin cancer is usually curable.
If caught and treated in time, even the deadliest form of skin cancer can be treated successfully, according to the National Skin Cancer Foundation. Early detection is key. Check your body every month for moles that have grown or changed shape. If you’re over 30, schedule a professional skin consultation once a year. If you have a family history of skin cancer, have a dermatologist check your skin twice a year.

Wait a minute: Can distractions actually help your work?

imagesCATSDFHXWorking independently takes discipline. Everyone agrees. But now comes a study that claims interruptions–even maddening disruptions such as a nonstop ringing phone–can actually boost creativity. Okay, I’ll buy that. But how can constant intrusions help you complete your work on time? Short answer: They can’t.


Making rain.

hawaiibirdsRelocating to Hawaii wasn’t an easy choice. It meant choosing family, over  the familiar faces and places I loved in Seattle.

And my family needs to be here.

No surprise–Hawaii opened its warm skies, winds, and soft rain to us. I miss Seattle, but I love the islands.  I’m still writing and editing for my valued clients.

The world is small. My capabilities are large.

These are the days you were longing for all winter

Still to come.

Reading about the turmoil in Memphis and New Orleans–flooding, freezing temperatures–makes me feel guilty. But only for about a minute. After a long wet winter, spring roared into Seattle.  And suddenly flowers are everywhere.

Give to AmeriCares for flood relief in the South.  They’re a great organization. Very little money is spent on administration and fundraising; more than 90% of money raised goes to people in crisis.

Springtime in Seattle: Worth the wait!

View from my car window