The face of homelessness in Oakland, woman escaping abusive relationship living in SUV

Laura Anthony Image
ByLaura Anthony KGO logo
Friday, February 7, 2020
Satonna Ballard from Oakland, Calif. stands next to her car on Feb. 6, 2020.
Satonna Ballard from Oakland, Calif. stands next to her car on Feb. 6, 2020.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Oakland's Satonna Ballard has learned. It's never good to stay in one place, too long.

"I drive a lot," she said as she stood in an East Oakland parking lot. "I drive to far away places only because I'm looking for opportunities to find my way out of the drama."

Ballard is just one of the more than 4,000 people currently living without a home, in Oakland.

RELATED: Despite two jobs, Oakland woman lives in her car

For five months, the 47-year-old has been living in her car, an SUV, one she prides herself on keeping immaculate.

"I have to keep things neatly and in order for me because I've been a neat freak almost all of my life," said Ballard.

The divorced mother of three grown children, Ballard began living in her car last fall after moving out of an abusive relationship.

"I was in debt with a house. I'm in debt without a house. There's no difference," said Ballard, who went on to say she doesn't fit the stereotypes that some have about the homeless. "I'd tell them that not everybody is on drugs. Not everybody is drinking."

And despite having extensive experience as a social worker and a security guard, among other jobs, steady work has been hard to find. She also can't go live with her children, because each of them has similar challenges.

Ballard told us she has a few preferred spots, parking lots like this one near the Coliseum that are regularly patrolled by Oakland Police, and frequented by others who's only home is also, their car.

RELATED: New Oakland program designed to keep people housed

"You're constantly up, always watching your surroundings. It's hard. This is not easy," said Ballard, who told use she always sleeps in the front seat of her car, and almost never for more than an hour at a time.

"My seat is worn out because I constantly stay in it. I stay constantly in that seat."

Ballard did do some driving for Uber and gets occasional on-call work at the Port of Oakland, but she said she's penalized if she makes too much money.

"If I work one day, I don't even qualify for my unemployment, which is not barely anything to live on," she said.

I need a job," Ballard went on as tears filled her eyes. "I'm not irresponsible at all, so this is very difficult to be drowning in debt and nobody, nobody has given me an opportunity to work full-time with benefits."

Ballard told us she's thought about leaving the high-priced Bay Area, but without a steady income, she doesn't have the resources to move on and off the streets of Oakland.

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