Teresa Owens was just 13 years old and living in Torrance, California, when she boarded a train to Sacramento. Traveling alone, she carried in her bag just a toothbrush and a few items of clothing. Owens, now 24, recalls arriving in the city she had no personal connection to and had never before visited. “I just picked it because I recognized the name.”
After stepping off the train, she headed downtown. “I found a place in the downstairs of a parking garage by the jail. A lot of homeless sleep there. The first night I didn’t sleep at all,” says Owens. Yet over days and weeks, the people she met in the bowels of the parking garage grew into a sort of family for the young teen. “We took care of each other.” She made the garage her home for the next several months, stealing food and clothing to survive.
Owens had come to Sacramento fleeing a chaotic home life in Southern California. Her parents—her mother was born in Havana, her father hailed from Mississippi—had been childhood sweethearts, but the family had come upon hard times. The family moved often because of evictions and unstable employment. Arguments were frequent. When the couple split in 2001, Owens lived with her mother and five siblings.
Owens remembers when she was 9 and the family was residing in a hotel. “We would get dropped off by the bus, and my mom used to always meet us at the bus stop. But one day she wasn’t there, so we walked home. The door was unlocked but nobody was there. So we waited and waited and waited,” says Owens. Her younger siblings grew hungry, so Owens made them some eggs, catching the small kitchen on fire. The children managed to put it out themselves. “But nobody came and checked on us for like a week.”
Her mother, who had become addicted to drugs, was eventually reunited with Owens and her siblings but was unable to provide a stable home life for her children in spite of experiencing periods of sobriety. The turmoil in the home weighed heavily on Owens, who eventually took matters into her own hands.
“I got tired of it,” she says. “My mom was really struggling. She was taking all her anger out on me. I got tired of all the mental and physical abuse.” With no other family to turn to, she made the decision to leave and start a new life in Sacramento.
Living on and off the streets for several years, Owens’ life took an unexpected turn. She was hanging out with a friend who needed to go to Wind Youth Services’ drop-in center to get help obtaining a government ID card. What Owens found there gave her hope: a warm meal, clean clothing, bus passes, compassionate staffers who wanted to help her find employment and housing.
Read the full story in Sacramento Magazine here.