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From good job to newly homeless

The Loudoun County homeless shelter where Silvia and Natalia Encinas have been staying. They have to be out by next Tuesday.

Silvia Encinas uses the computer room in a Loudoun County homeless shelter to find a job.

Silvia Encinas talks with her daughter, Natalia.

Back in 2005, things were good for Silvia Encinas. She made more than $80,000 a year. She and her fiancé bought a townhouse in Loudoun County.

Then came 2009. Encinas and her fiancé break up. She keeps the house. In October, as the U.S. unemployment rate hits 10 percent, Encinas loses her job. She can’t pay the mortgage. In December, Encinas becomes a statistic again. Her bank forecloses.

“I am now trying to start over again and starting from zero," Silvia says, twisting her hands in her lap. "I’ve lost everything. My house, my car.”

As Encinas wipes away tears, a small hand pats her shoulder. It belongs to her daughter, 11-year-old Natalia. She says after the foreclosure, they moved around a lot, staying with friends. Natalia can’t remember how many times she changed schools. 

“You have to, like, try to fit in," Natalia says. "And it’s harder to make friends these days.”

Silvia Encinas was able to find some temp jobs over the past few years, but it got harder and harder. Her friends’ hospitality dried up. She and Natalia ended up in a Loudoun County homeless shelter last June.

As they sit in the shelter's computer room, Natalia checks out the web page for yet another new school. Silvia is surfing for jobs.  I ask Silvia if she’s going to vote in the presidential election. She says, of course; she backed John McCain in '08. This time, she’s undecided.

“I’m not going to say I’m an Obama fan or I’m a Romney fan," she says. "I think at the end of the day all politicians make promises that they’re not always going to -- you know, come true.”

Encinas doesn’t blame any politician for her situation. She blames herself, and she says she’ll rely on herself to make things better.

Silvia needs to get back to her job hunting, so I get up to leave. On my way out, she gives me a little tour of the shelter. It's clean and pleasant. But residents can only stay for about three months.

Silvia and Natalia have to be out by 9 a.m. next Tuesday, and they’re still not sure where they’ll go next.     

About the author

Nancy Marshall-Genzer is a senior reporter for Marketplace based in Washington, D.C. covering daily news.

Silvia Encinas uses the computer room in a Loudoun County homeless shelter to find a job.

Silvia Encinas talks with her daughter, Natalia.

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