From homelessness to hope

When Enola Kirk remembers being homeless, she fights back tears.

“I don’t ever want to be homeless again. Never, ever. It’s terrible. You never know what’s going to happen when you go to sleep and what you’re going to find when you wake up,” the 66-year-old said. “You’re watching everyone going to work and you’re sitting on the park bench and asking, ‘Why?’”

For the last year, Kirk has never had to ask why.

At an age when her peers are retiring, 66-year-old Kirk couldn’t be more grateful for her receptionist job at a Menlo Park nursing home, which she found through the Family Service Agency of San Mateo County.

Today, she will be among three adults and seven high school students who have triumphed over adversity honored at the agency’s 13th annual Winner’s Breakfast, which is co-sponsored by Oracle. It is the first time adults have been included among the honorees.

Kirk is just one of about 19,500 seniors, kids and families served each year by the Family Service Agency of San Mateo County, which offers child care, senior employment, support for the frail elderly and family loans.

Kirk, a former accountant and frequent temp worker, had struggled with permanent employment for 20 years. Twice she had landed on the streets, but both times her daughter had taken her in.

But when her daughter lost her job and her Foster City condominium went into foreclosure, Kirk had no place to go.

A year ago, she went to the Family Services Agency of San Mateo County for a hot meal and was referred into the senior employment program.

The staff helped her polish her résumé and brush up her interview skills. She entered a four-month internship as an executive assistant to Susan Houston, the agency’s director of senior services, before landing her current job.

And after bouncing around between county shelters for a year, Kirk recently moved into a room of her own in a Menlo Park home.

“I saw such a change in Enola from the first day we met,” Houston said. “She was discouraged and despondent and wasn’t feeling real good about the world. I’ve just watched her bloom.”

A homeless count released by the county last year revealed that more than 6,600 people living on the streets or in shelters. About 5 percent of them are 60 or older.

tbarak@examiner.com

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