A former COTS’ client, single mother of two, and graduate from Sonoma State, Lupe Gonzalez, took time from her busy day to tell us about her story, her time at COTS, and where she is today.


Lupe came here in 2014 with her daughter and started school at Sonoma State. She was able to find a small studio in Santa Rosa and work two jobs: one at Sonoma State and one at the food bank, but she was commuting a lot.


After months of the long commute, she thought, “Okay, this is not working” and began looking for a place to live that would be closer to Sonoma. When she finally found her dream place, she sent all her savings in for a deposit. Unfortunately, it was a scam. “I lost pretty much everything. I learned my lesson from that, but I went through a little meltdown where I was hospitalized.” Lupe recalled.


At the time, Lupe was also going through a divorce with her ex-husband who was struggling with his mental health. She held onto hope that the relationship would work out but also wanted to stay away from that situation. “I wanted to be better. I am the first one in my family to go to college. When I started school, I had all these dreams and ambitions.” I thought, “I’m going to get it done. And even though I’m a single mom, I’m going to do it!”


After getting scammed and hit by a depressive episode, Lupe and her daughter ended up homeless for three months. Sometimes her daughter was able to stay with a friend, but there was not enough room for both of them. Lupe often had to sleep in her car. During this time, she was able to make things work and shower at Sonoma State until she found a room to rent. Unfortunately, the room was located in Santa Rosa again, which meant her commute would increase. The room was not a safe space for long as the landlady often criticized Lupe’s parenting styles and proved to be invasive into their business. Lupe made it work for three months until Sonoma State got her a hotel for a couple of months. This was good, but it was still just temporary.


Through a co-worker of her ex, Lupe was able to find a living room space for rent that would only cost around $300. In this space, Lupe and her daughter were able to sleep safely and had access to the bathroom. Soon after moving in, problems between the current residents there started. This left Lupe and her daughter in the middle of arguments and back in an unsafe environment with less and less space as another person moved into the house. “Living here was not going to work out. We were homeless again, and I was struggling.”


While Lupe continued her search for housing and her education, her ex-husband challenged her for full custody of their daughter. “I was worried about doing what was best for my daughter.” I thought, “Is she going to be better going with her dad? Is she going to be better with me?” He was not mentally stable, but I was homeless. Seeing her struggle, Lupe’s then-boyfriend at the time offered her and her daughter a space to live with him and his family. They moved in and were happy as life progressed. Her daughter was safe, and Lupe and her then-boyfriend were able to get a job at the same location and commute together each day.


With her housing situation seemingly sorted out, Lupe finally won full custody of her daughter and learned she was expecting a second child. Her victory celebration was cut short when a switch flipped in her then-boyfriend, and he became abusive. During her pregnancy, Lupe endured mental, physical, and verbal abuse while trying to protect both of her children. Afraid of losing her family, she went into survival mode.


After her beautiful son was born, she and her then-boyfriend decided to give their relationship one final shot while living on their own in Petaluma. The first year was good, but then her boyfriend quit his job because he was not getting promoted. While he was unemployed, Lupe paid the bills, worked, and cared for her children. Luckily, he was able to find employment again and started working in their apartment building. He was earning a lot of praise for his work, but behind closed doors, he became abusive again. The verbal abuse expanded to her daughter this time though and that was the final straw for Lupe.


Because she already had trauma from previous experiences, she became very protective of her daughter. Lupe took action and called the cops. CPS also got involved by offering the couple therapy. It was in a therapy session that Lupe realized her then-boyfriend was not going to change. Lupe decided she wanted to leave him and started making a plan with her social worker to move out. He was very angry, but Lupe and her children were out of the apartment. While she waited for shelters to respond to her applications, Lupe and her children moved in with a coworker and then her ex’s brother- anywhere they could find space and stay together.


Around October 2018, Lupe moved into COTS with her two kids. During her stay, she applied to many apartments, saved money where she could, and planned for their future. It was hard living with other families and sharing spaces in the shelter, but COTS gave her the essentials and resources to keep moving forward.


In February 2019, Lupe received great news – she had been approved for an apartment. While Lupe was grateful to have an apartment, a job, and a car, she was working in Novato and her new studio was in Santa Rosa. Her long commute began again. As she began renting the studio, Catholic Charities stepped up and provided help through rental assistance for the first year. Then, Lupe got rental assistance for another six months through the Secret Santa Program. As her assistance was about to expire, Lupe received a call from Eden Housing. She was approved for a more sustainable living situation.

In 2021, Lupe began renting the apartment she and her children continue to live in today. It is a three-bedroom place that allows each of her children to have their own space. But even as days turn into years of housing stability, Lupe says she still can’t relax. “I still can’t feel like it’s mine. I’m always like on edge. I’m always afraid I’m going to lose it.”


Even while working, Lupe has struggled to pay rent for a few months, and it takes her back to her state of survival. Her fear of returning to a shelter with her kids swirls in her head. She worries that while she was able to get into a shelter last time, she may not have the same luck again. Lupe spoke about her thoughts of quitting during particularly difficult times, but “no matter how badly I have wanted to quit, I have always gotten up.” When she is at a low point, Lupe says, “I remember the moment I got a call from COTS saying, ‘Hey, we got a spot for you’ and how their support during and after leaving the shelter, changed everything for us. COTS gave me the hope I needed to keep going!”