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

October 2, 2015

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.

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