Natalie Breaks Homeless Cycle, Joins Air Force

At just 19, Natalie has already been homeless off and on for five years. “I’ve had a different living situation every three months for several years,” she said.

Natalie grew up in Santa Monica with her parents and two sisters. After her father lost his job, Natalie’s family became homeless, and she and her sisters were sent to Texas to live with their grandmother. “Unfortunately, she was a hoarder, and the house wasn’t in any condition to live,” Natalie said. “So me and my sisters all went our separate ways. Since I was 14, I’ve been on my own.”

Natalie switched to an alternative high school so she could graduate early. She finished school at 16. “I traveled all around, stayed with different people, different places,” Natalie said. “Being homeless, not having parents, my support was friends, and then men—boyfriends—at a very young age.”

A 16, Natalie moved in with a man she had been dating. She became pregnant. “I found out he was cheating on me, and we were having a lot of problems,” she said. “This just wasn’t the life he wanted. He didn’t want a baby, and he didn’t want to settle down. He moved out with another girl. I haven’t seen him since I was three months pregnant. I don’t know where he is. I know he’s in and out of jail.”

Natalie’s son Caleb is almost 2 years old. The two of them returned to Los Angeles after Christmas last year before finding the mission. “My mom and I talk every several months and she actually moved in with me here at the shelter,” Natalie said. “She left a month in and got back with her boyfriend. I decided to stay.”

Natalie arrived at the mission in January. “I didn’t have anything when
I got here—no job, no car, no childcare, no money, nothing. By the end of the month, I had my license. Then I got a job and a car. I’ve been able to save a lot. There are so many expenses you don’t have to worry about here—diapers and laundry …. Where can you save 80 percent of your checks? Where else could you do that?”

The first month was tough, but good, Natalie said. “It was a time to fall apart and build yourself back up again. It’s hard to not feel like a failure as a parent. It’s hard to not let these things set you back. Resilience is the biggest thing this place builds. You learn to push through a lot of things.”

Natalie said she wished she would’ve known about the mission years ago. “I haven’t had any direction in my life, and this place has given me that,” Natalie said. “This has been a long, exhausting journey and this is the only place I’m not scared to let my guard down. I’ve had to live in a lot of places where I had to sleep with one eye open. When you’re a 14-year-old girl, you can’t trust anybody.”

Natalie left the mission in late March to join the Air Force. After meeting with a recruiter, she developed a plan to get care for her son during basic training and tech school. “It was a really solid plan for her and Caleb,” said Christine, Natalie’s case manager. “He can live with her on base and have a great education. She was in JROTC (Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps) in high school and had thought about doing this for a long time.”

Natalie is looking forward to a career in engineering. “This place has been the biggest help for me, the biggest stepping stone,” she said. “I’m so grateful for that.”