Maria Patton has called every homeless shelter in Los Angeles in the hopes that she can find somewhere safe that won’t separate her from her 17-year-old son with Asperger’s.
Patton and her son, Aaron Reed, had been living in her car in Santa Monica for about two years when another driver ran a stop sign and collided with her, totaling her car. In the month since the crash, Patton has gathered support from local Nextdoor users, who donated $2,500 so she could get a cheap hotel room and food while she continues searching for a job and permanent housing.
But with the money running out, Patton and her son face being thrown onto the street by the end of the week. Family shelters will not let them stay together because Reed is older than 12 and traditional shelters Patton deems safe enough for an unaccompanied woman and minor have long waiting lists, she said.
‘“I’ve been trying to get us out of this but I just don’t have any help and don’t know what else I can do,” she said. “Even if I started working tomorrow, I couldn’t get a roof over our head and couldn’t work a job while I’m on the street.”
In 2012, Patton left behind a lucrative job as a realtor to follow her husband from their hometown of Nashville to Los Angeles, where he had a work opportunity. They lived together in Venice for four years, with Patton working as a freelance social media consultant.
One day in summer 2016, Patton and her husband had a fight that ended in him walking out the door and never coming back. He filed a restraining order against her and served her with divorce papers.
Patton’s husband controlled the family’s money and Reed was not his biological son, meaning he was not obligated to pay child support. After the divorce, all Patton had was a small amount of alimony and the survivor benefits Reed has received since his biological father died, which will end when he turns 18.
They moved into their car, staying in Airbnbs if they had extra money or at friends’ houses while they were out of town. She couldn’t rent another apartment because her husband had stopped paying rent on their previous apartment without telling her, tanking her credit score.
Patton drove back to Tennessee to live with her parents for several months, but said she left after several months because they were abusive alcoholics. She took a job in Minneapolis and was laid off in November 2018 after four or five months. Faced with living with her son in her car through a Minnesota winter, they drove to Santa Monica and were living in their car until the crash.
Before and after they lost their car, Patton said she has sent out hundreds of resumes and has had a handful of interviews, with two more lined up for next week. But as coronavirus freezes economic activity worldwide, it will be almost impossible for her to find work.
Patton said she has reached out to every shelter in the area, but they either have long waiting lists, would separate her from her son or feel unsafe and dirty. She has already been sexually assaulted once while living in her car and is terrified of it happening again.
“If we end up on the street, we’ll have to leave behind everything we own and I don’t think I’ll be able to get out of it,” she said. “Mentally, it will destroy both of us. My son has already been living the life of an adult, not a kid — he worries constantly.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Reed receives disability benefits. He receives survivor benefits.