Rebuilding a life from homelessness

Silvia Encinas and her daughter, Natalia, relax on her birthday.

Silvia Encinas and her daughter, Natalia, outside the Loudoun County shelter where they're staying.

A few months back, we introduced you to Silvia Encinas, a single mom living in a homeless shelter in Loudoun County, Virginia. Silvia’s life has tracked the tough economy. She lost her job, then her home. She and her daughter have been homeless for three years. We’ve decided to check back in with her. 

The first time I interviewed Silvia Encinas, back in August, she teared up a lot. So I was braced for sadness when I picked her up for this latest interview. 

But Silvia looks good. Last time I saw her, her hair was stuffed carelessly into a ponytail. Her shoulders slumped. Today, her hair is braided carefully. She’s smiling. The homeless shelter doesn’t allow reporters in. So, we pick up Silvia’s daughter, Natalia, from school and head to a quiet cafe where I get a surprise.

It’s Silvia’s birthday. She only tells me because I ask how old she is. Silvia is starting her 28th year, on an upbeat note, even when talking about the stress of homelessness. Stress that’s made a fair amount of that carefully-braided hair fall out.

“Definitely some stress but there’s a solution – I think, hair loss stuff," she says. "It’ll grow back.”

And Silvia may have solved her homelessness problem, too. She’s been offered transitional housing. An apartment for two years -- the catch: It’s in a different town. So Natalia would have to switch schools sgain.

“I would love to stay in a house for two years and not keep moving back and forth," she says. "Because that’s just confusing, to move back and forth like, every three months."

They could both use some stability. It could help Silvia find permanent work. She was just hired as a cashier at Target, but it’s a temporary job. Ultimately, Silvia wants to become a realtor. She and Natalia both have big dreams. When I ask Siliva what she wants for her birthday, Natalia chimes in.

She says, “An education – an education!"

Silvia adds, "To buy my master's degree."

Silvia has to get her bachelor’s degree first, then she wants to buy a house again. To get back to where she was before the financial crisis hit. 

I drive Silvia and Natalia back to the shelter. Hoping the next time I see them, they’ll have taken a few more halting steps toward a better life.

About the author

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

Silvia Encinas and her daughter, Natalia, relax on her birthday.

Silvia Encinas and her daughter, Natalia, outside the Loudoun County shelter where they're staying.

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