During one bad stretch when she was homeless for almost 5 1/2 years, Pamela Walls, 57, remembers how she didn’t take a shower for eight days. “I went into a gym and lied about getting into the program to get into a shower to clean up. I had that homeless look — like a deer in the headlights numb look.
“I was devastated when I became homeless in the very beginning. I didn’t know what to do. I felt really bad that I had to leave my 15-year-old son with my mother because shelters don’t take children over 12.”
So she followed other homeless people with bags to churches and other places serving the homeless with sandwiches and toiletries. First in Monrovia in the San Gabriel Valley, then Pasadena and finally to a shelter on Skid Row. She slept on picnic tables and park benches, in emergency rooms and behind buildings. She ate out of garbage cans.
“I did anything I could do to survive,” she explains. “I was afraid as a woman. It was terrible. Because I thought that I couldn’t fall asleep, because what if someone tried to rob or rape me. So I was always nervous. I would get up and walk someplace, fall asleep and get up to walk more. So it was really bad on the body. You know, my knees would buckle without warning. I had walking pneumonia and real pneumonia.”
Walls reports that she held part-time jobs, but never longer than three months. And she says she never asked people for money. That was too embarrassing.
“I drank anything that was liquor to numb the pain,” she says. “I smoked weed. I just didn’t want to feel anymore.”
After being in and out of seven shelters, she wound up at the Downtown Women’s Center and was eventually able to find permanent housing. Today, she advocates for women who are homeless.
“Homeless people are like flowers that need to be watered with encouragement and respect, not intimidation,” says Walls. “That’s just a thing that I say all the time.”