Francine is retired, but she’s not your average retiree.
Francine spent years struggling to make ends meet. She was laid off from her cashier job at a fast food restaurant, and tried her hand at housekeeping work, and even newspaper delivery.
She tried almost anything to support herself and her two children.
Francine eventually ended up homeless, and her children living with relatives while she slept on concrete sidewalks.
"I would roll up my sleeping bag, get organized before 6am, go to Denny’s and clean up. Put clothes on, have coffee, charge my cell phone. Same thing every day.”
Although she was homeless for some time, Francine found a room at a downtown SRO hotel. With no bed or mattress, she continued to sleep on the cold floor.
The chill from the floor worsened her back problems.
Francine had not heard of the Downtown Women’s Center when friends invited her to visit.
Her first time at DWC, she was hesitant, and didn’t go inside. It wasn’t until the second day that she returned for lunch: a home-cooked meal with meat and mashed potatoes.
She never stopped coming after that first hot lunch.
“I started to volunteer and help with donations, and helping with the kitchen, and the laundry, and the day beds and the showers. Pretty soon I was awarded Participant of the Month.”
For more than five years now, Francine has helped out in the Day Center almost every day. Soon after her first visits Francine obtained permanent supportive housing at DWC.
She keeps herself busy doing laundry and helping newcomers figure out how the laundry room works. Francine proudly shows her Peer Leader nametag.
She has had her stints in the kitchen and doing other chores to keep the Center tidy.
“I’m a better person now, I’m happy for once. I have my own space, I can come and go. I am a Peer Leader and I help the staff by looking out for anything going wrong.”
A Note About The Peer Leadership Program: The Peer Leadership Program helps women regain their dignity and become empowered. Peer Leaders are women who use the DWC programs, and want to give back by taking up leadership roles: preparing and serving meals, leading workshops and orientations, organizing socialization events and helping with the daily operations of the Center. Peer Leaders stand out as role models to other women, motivating them to help within the community and give back.
Photos by: Erica Kawamoto Hsu