Lived Experience of Homelessness
CHERYL SHANKS was born in San Francisco in the Potrero Hill projects, grew up in the Richmond district, and graduated from George Washington High school. She worked at a daycare facility and in her early twenties got a job as a teacher’s assistant, She worked for the Head Start program until she was 38 years old.
In 2000, she lost everything. Her husband started using drugs on Polk Street. She felt alone and depressed, and when a friend offered heroin, she took it. Cheryl lost her home and lived on the streets at Turk and Hyde.
One day, she was arrested. "God takes care of us in funny ways. I went to jail for two weeks for a sting that was going on." This jail time was followed by recoveries and relapses with drugs until she found the non-profit, Hospitality House. "I came to the Hospitality House and the Healing Well every day, and it kept me clean. From there, I got a shelter bed and then a place for myself. Now that I have a stable place to stay, I’m performing again, like I did in my twenties. I just did a show at the Bayview opera house. I recited my father’s poems, to keep them alive for him."
Drawing on her experiences, Cheryl is organizing a dialogue between native San Franciscans and workers in the technology sector to develop up solutions for the city. "There are a lot of people out there that care but don’t know what to do, and I want to connect with them. Most people in California are just a paycheck away from homelessness, and they don’t realize that. I want people to understand we need to take care of each other because any one of us can become homeless. Just look at me. I was a professional teacher, and it happened to me." Cheryl was profiled in Stories Behind the Fog.