Shreveport, La (KTAL/KMSS) — Looking at Debbie Sams, you wouldn’t guess that she’s hiding a secret from many she meets.
“I was employed with the U.S. Post Office for 25 years,” she said confidently when describing her past.
She was less confident in describing her present.
“I have been able to keep a roof over my head until recently,” said Sams. “In the last two months I have been living out of my car.”
She’s homeless and she sharing her story to let you know how quickly it can happen.
For years she owned a home in a pleasant Bossier Parish neighborhood. It’s were she raised her family as a single mother.
“After I lost my job at the Post Office, I made a bad decision and filed bankruptcy,” said Sams. “Because I got behind on my mortgage payments.”
Things snowballed from there.
“Going from a $20 something and hour job to minimum wage, I couldn’t keep up with the payments,” said Sams. “I filed for unemployment. It was denied. I appealed it. It was denied. So I had no income.”
She spent eight weeks at the Shreveport Bossier Rescue Mission. Later the Salvation Army shelter.
She showers daily at Hope Connections.
She has no history of drug or alcohol abuse in the past 33-years.
“This has been an eye-opener for me,” said Sams. “I was not financially responsible with my money.”
Unfortunately Sams is far from alone.
The most recent ALICE Report from the United Way of Northwest Louisiana says 53-percent of people in Caddo Parish and 46-percent of people in Bossier Parish are one missed paycheck away from being in a similar situation.
“You’re a pay check away, from losing everything,” said Sams. “And I know a lot of people are in that position.”
Larry Otwell, the Head Pastor at the Shreveport Bossier Rescue Mission sees it everyday.
“I mean it’s that quick,” said Otwell.
According to Otwell, financial hardship is the core problem facing countless people who come through the Rescue Mission.
“We got a lot of families, mothers here that have left abusive situations with kids and stuff. And a lot of it, when you get to talking to them, stems from financial burden,” said Otwell.
Otwell’s ministry and mission have helped thousands, but the reality is, their services cost money.
After a two-week emergency period they have to charge people to stay.
“It’s $150 a month,” said Otwell.
Other facilities we explored around town can cost up to $10 dollars a day.
SNAP benefits are allowed to be used to pay for program fees at the Rescue Mission.
“Teaching people how to budget. How to live within their means. We case manage them every week. Teach them financial literacy,” said Otwell. “Everybody knows there’s a start and a finish to coming in here.”
Sams went through the Rescue Mission and decided to go it on her own. She sleeps in different place all around town. Rarely the same location for too long.
“Places that have security cameras. That are lighted,” she said. “That I feel that I am secure in.”
She’s in a training program now, getting her back into the work-force.
She’s hopeful her night spent in her car will end soon.
“I don’t want a handout. I’m just asking for a hand up,” said Sams. “Like the general public, your thinking homeless people are there by choice, but they are not.”