The blowout at the Aliso Canyon oil field in Porter Ranch became one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S history. It lasted for 108 days from October 2015 through February 2016. This large uncontrolled natural gas leakage was escaping from the Canyon’s underground storage facility in the Santa Susana Mountains near Porter Ranch, Los Angeles. Thousands of residents in Porter Ranch evacuated after suffering from headaches, nosebleeds, dizziness, skin rashes, and even cancer. SoCalGas, a gas company that primarily provides natural gas in the region of Southern California, resolved this catastrophe after spending months in vain attempting to seal over the leak and relocated about 8,000 families due to the rampant health issues.
A young girl, Kariana, known as Kari by her family and friends, was one of the 8,000 people who had to be evacuated. Kari comes from an upper-middle-class family who lived in a big house in Porter Ranch. While the accident was taking place, the family decided that it would be best to evacuate the area because of the unsafe air quality. They had no choice but to leave. At the time, conflicts between parents led to them separating. Her mother took Kari and her siblings to a hotel where she searched for a more permanent place to live.
“The DWP or government paid for everyone in Porter Ranch. The department moved families into different hotels. I was moved to Hilton with all expenses paid by the department. We stayed there for about four months and it was so nice. After the incident was brought under control, everyone returned to their homes, but we were unable to because the owner of the house wanted it back.”
For the next three months, Kari was in a temporary holding at a very private women’s homeless shelter with her mother and siblings.
She remarks, “I do not know anything about the shelter because it was so secretive. We were only able to get in so easily because my mom knew the people who ran the shelter.”
Kari describes the surrounding as, “...a house that was quiet and clean.” Kari recalls the time when she had to share a room and a kitchen with another family. There were chores that were to be fulfilled daily. But Kari later realized that she was in a shelter specifically for women whose lives are in jeopardy because they were either being followed, tracked, or likely to be attacked. women’s homeless shelters are often hidden because they tend to harbor those who are mainly subjected to domestic violence.
According to the National Law Center and on Homelessness and Poverty, “Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness nationally. Indeed, one out of every four homeless women is homeless because of violence committed against her.”
Kari’s family was qualified to take refuge because her mother placed a restraining order on her abusive father. They were known as a mother with children who have fled from the abusive husband and has nowhere else to go.
It was not a surprise to her that their presence was to be kept in low profile because of the specific rules that were set in place.
There were certain hours placed where the homeless were granted permission to leave the house within a 20-mile radius. The residents were denied access to be transported by cars but advised to take the bus, instead. Possession of electronics was prohibited. The security was very tight and the secret combination for the front gate changed every day. The address to the house was undisclosed and was only told once to its residents. Kari knew that her stay would be temporary so it was not long before the owners discovered that Kari’s family was not endangered, and they were asked to leave the premise. They were also withdrawn in order to open spaces for other women on the waiting list who desperately needed protection for their lives.
Kari celebrated her 12th birthday during her one week stay at the second women homeless shelter. This too was a private location, but residents were required to be employed.
She said, “For those who were there for a certain time and get a job, you have to take ten percent out of your weekly paycheck to give to the shelter. If you are having a hard time finding a job, the shelter will help find a job for you.”
Kari remembers her surroundings being, “...very dirty and small and loud...Sleeping was very uncomfortable because there was plastic under the beds to avoid lice.”
There was one bathroom for two families to share. Even though she was granted access to electronics, she was advised to refrain from exposing the address.
She describes her experience as being overall, “...very boring because we were not allowed to leave...there was nothing to do. My overall experience really wasn’t that bad but it felt awful.”
As of today, Kari lives in an apartment in downtown Los Angles by the help of her grandmother. Kari’s grandmother had connections because she works with the apartment owner who is in charge of granting financial aid. Instead of paying the full seven-thousand dollars, Kari’s family only pay two-thousand dollars in rent.
As time went by, Kari discovered how difficult it is to get into a homeless shelter. People perceive those who dwell in homeless shelters as hapless; but in truth, they are very fortunate to have a roof over their head. Even though Kari’s family did not face financial struggles, it was difficult for them to find a place to live.
Kari reckons, “Being homeless and surviving really depends really on who you know. It doesn't matter if you don't have money...it’s just connections. My situation was bad but others were terrible. I consider myself lucky because my mother and grandma both had connections in order for me to have benefits such as cutting the line from the waiting list and receiving financial support. Without any resources, doing it all your own is worse than having no money.”
Kari says, “There was always an open space in the shelter that I was in, but I think they are either reserved for emergencies, people who are willing to pay more, or for those that have connections with the shelter.”
She adds, “At least I am not dead. People pity the homeless but the homeless don't pity themselves. They don’t have time to worry about the situation they're in because they're too busy trying to figure out how to get out of it. What makes homelessness such as a big problem is that there are too many who don't have help. Homeless shelters seem welcoming and easy to get in but it is actually really difficult because every shelter is different depending on who they cater to.”
When asked whether her view on homeless changed after the reflection of her own experience, she answers, “It did not change my perception on the homeless, but it changed how I view everybody and the world. When someone is in a bad situation, I don’t automatically think it's their fault. My experience brought me not to judge people as much but to keep an open mind about other’s situations.”
The crisis regarding homelessness will decrease if local communities take action in contributing to increasing the number of shelters with permanent housing. The eligibility process should reduce its strict standards and have easily accessible resources such as the information of shelters.
Kari’s story is a reminder of how easy it is to become homeless. The reality is that it is something one cannot control nor predict. If an individual is unable to help themselves nor have any assistance, then they do not have a choice but to be left homeless.