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Checking out of Hotel 22

While I was reporting “Finding a home on Hotel 22” about the way some homeless use Line 22 in Santa Clara County as a shelter, I looked up the bus line on Yelp. I found a bunch of reviews, mostly from regular riders of the bus. 

People said pretty typical things, like “love those fast aggressive male drivers” and “bus drivers please lower the bus so I can get my bike on the rack easier.”

But the one that caught my eye was from Helen Garcia. She wrote:

“If you are traveling at night on the 22 line, the homeless look for shelter and this is the only way they can sleep comfortably. Some drivers are nice enough to put the heater on but some are rude and put the AC on late at night on cold nights so they will be cold. I was homeless once and this was my only way to sleep at night. I found this to be the safest way to survive on the coldest of nights.”

I sent her an email and told her about the story I was working on. We met up in a coffee shop in San Jose by her apartment, and she told me that back in 2006, she was homeless. She usually had a job, but her husband at the time had a temper, and that kept them out of a stable living situation.

“My ex-husband never worked one job,” she said. “So I kind of felt like I was being used the entire time. Not only being used, being abused, being you know, physically raped, mentally, emotionally, everything was just at it’s worst.”

Garcia said she grew up in a middle class family, and had to quickly adapt to being homeless. She says that one of the hardest things was learning how to sleep on a bus.

“One way that I had learned how to do this was taking my backpack and putting it to the front of myself and holding on to it like I was hugging a pillow and sleeping that way next to the window,” she explained. “It would be cold yes on the left side, but then you’d still be warm with the person next to you.”

In 2006, the Section 8 list for affordable housing opened up and she got her name on it. She said she was number 24,000 on the waiting list. And in 2009, they gave her a call to let her know she qualified for a voucher.

She’s been in the same apartment in Downtown San Jose ever since. Garcia divorced her husband, and now has baby daughter with her new boyfriend. The family is looking for a two bedroom.