HAYWARD, Calif. - The struggle to get out of homelessness can be difficult, as one Hayward mother knows all too well. Dorothy Dominique said becoming homeless happened so quickly, and she calls finding her way back the most humbling experience of her life.
"It was horrible," she said, "it was a nightmare, let's just be real. It was a nightmare."
The trouble for Dominique began back in 2013. She was engaged, with a newborn baby and a toddler. She and her fiancé were living together and planning for the future and then everything changed one day in November when her fiancé went to work.
"That's when they called him into the office and told him they were downsizing and they had to let him go," said Dominique
All of sudden the family couldn't pay the rent. By December, they were homeless.
"I was in denial, like oh my god, I'm homeless. It's the first time I’ve been homeless and it’s the worst time to be homeless."
Dominque said she tried to put a brave face on for her family but she admits she spent her nights crying. She spent her days on the phone looking for help. She said she was desperate to keep her family off the streets. When they found the Family Emergency Shelter Coalition (FESCO) in Hayward, she said she got lucky
FESCO found her family a place at Banyan house, in its transitional housing program. She calls FESCO her beacon of light.
"I was able to come in by luck, chance, faith, blessing, whatever you want to call it and we were able to come in towards the end of December prior to Christmas."
Finding shelter was the first step. but climbing back would take many more.
"I had a literal breakdown at FESCO, I had a full on breakdown at FESCO,' she said.
The emotional weight of what she faced, she says was almost too much to bear. But that low point, was also a turning point.
"After that break down, it was not about feeling sympathy for myself or saying why me and pitying myself," she said. "It's about me saying, okay you have this opportunity you could have been out on the street and though you were given a place with a roof, regardless of it's your roof or not utilize this time be as productive as you can be as efficient as you can and make sure you don't ever come back here."
And so they found jobs and with help of a subsidy program through FESCO, eventually an apartment that they called home
Dominique said she still struggled but instead of feeling hopeless she says her determination grew
So even when her daycare business faltered, even when she and her fiancé parted ways, she was determined to never be homeless again.
"I did weird jobs, odd jobs to just take care of the rent." then last year she found Hayward collegiate, a brand new charter school
The school’s founder Neena Goswamy said, "Dorothy is so so special we met because we were looking for more founding parents she wanted her daughter to come to our school." Dominique started as a volunteer but then Goswamy says she saw an opportunity
"Dorothy was already running a daycare, and we asked her if she wanted to expand and lead our after-school program," Goswamy said.
It's all part of the foundation that helps create this new life for Dominique and her daughters. Dominique started her own nonprofit, called Hidden Jewels Unleashed which focuses on youth empowerment. She also works with the Hayward school district and helps coordinate its black history month events by teaching theater, music and dance.
Life, she said, has changed for the best. She hopes her story inspires others who are struggling to find the will to change their lives too. "If they can find a little bit of will a little bit of light," she says, "they can find their path."