In 1984, Teretha moved into the National City apartment building she would call home for 39 years. There, she built a life, raising two children, working diligently to sustain herself and overcoming everyday struggles.

But in 2022, that stable home suddenly disappeared and, at the age of 65, Teretha found herself in a struggle with homelessness tangled with rapidly declining physical and mental health conditions.

“I never thought I would end up in this situation,” Teretha said. “When I was out there, I met so many people with stories like mine.”

Like Teretha, thousands of Americans fall into homelessness every year – after losing jobs or being battered by physical or mental health challenges.

Teretha slept curled tightly in the cramped back seat of her 2004 sedan, aggravating her already painful arthritis. Her joints constantly ached, her knees and ankles swelled and it became hard for her to move. Surging stress and California’s dry heat brought on a debilitating heat stroke that landed her in the hospital for more than two weeks.

“When I got out of the hospital, I had to go right back to that situation, so the symptoms returned,” she said. “My anxiety was so high that I slept during the day when I felt the safest, and that took a toll on me.”

Hailing from Mississippi, Teretha and her family moved to San Diego when she was 11 and created a life in the seaside city.

At 26, she moved into an apartment complex in National City, as a single mother. She raised a son and daughter and worked an array of office and custodial jobs for local education organizations. Eventually, her son moved out of state and her daughter started her own life.

At 65, Teretha had retired and was living on a tight Social Security income when she lost her home.

With limited family aid and a desire to remain in her hometown, she ended up living out of her car – staying at retail centers and library parking lots, side streets and taking advantage of San Diego’s safe parking program. She spent more than half of her monthly income renting storage units to keep her lifetime of belongings safe.

After nearly a year on the streets, Teretha was introduced to two groups that combat homelessness in San Diego – PATH and the Alpha Project – by another person using the safe parking program. The services helped her search for a new home.

That, in turn, led to a call about availability at National CORE’s newest affordable housing community, Nestor Senior Village.

“I was wishing and praying about it and when it actually happened it felt surreal,” she said. “I was overwhelmed, happy, but I was also calm because I knew that God would eventually get me out.”

Teretha moved into her fully furnished studio apartment at the end of January. She enjoys being able to walk across the courtyard to meet with her case manager. She regularly attends Hope through Housing Foundation’s potlucks, holiday celebrations and arts and crafts activities.

She said her health also has improved – noting that her joint pain has eased, her knee and ankle swelling has subsided and she has recovered her movement.

“The staff is so helpful, I feel safe here,” she said. “I enjoy having my own space again where I can cook for myself, shower, sleep comfortably and stretch!”

Teretha is looking to use this opportunity as a steppingstone – she’d like to eventually find a larger apartment so she can reclaim all her cherished possessions.

“This is a new beginning for me,” she said. “Nestor Senior Village has given me hope and life can only get better from here.”