A Special Soul: Yuhara’s Story

By Appaswamy “Vino” Pajanor

It was a typical Sunday in March 2020; team members at Catholic Charities Rachel’s Women’s Center were getting ready to serve lunch when they saw a taxi pull up to the curb. A petite woman got out of the taxi wearing a hospital gown. She stood in front of our Rachel’s Women’s Center, peeking inside, not sure what to do. One of our team members came outside to help her as the taxi pulled away. Turns out it was a one-way ride from the hospital to a shelter because the woman was unhoused.

Immediately, our team sprang into action, getting her clothing, helping her to a large chair where she could sit, and started explaining what was going on.

Yuhara was a 45-year-old woman who had been homeless for a while. She shared that she was just released from the hospital after being diagnosed with cancer; she had no plan, no doctor, and nowhere to sleep that night. She was exhausted but so thankful for all the help she was already getting from our team. It was decided that she needed a bed for the night, and the team vowed to help her figure out a plan the following day.

Yuhara was able to stay. She was weak from being in the hospital, and our team was worried about her being able to climb the 35 steps, but with many breaks, she was able to make it to the Night Shelter, where she was able to sleep in a warm bed.

In the morning, Yuhara sat with our team and shared her story of perseverance, strong will, and determination.

Yuhara was 14 years old when she stowed away on a cruise ship headed to the mainland. She had no plan; she was a child that had to leave her home. Hawaii is a beautiful part of our country with crystal clear water, green mountains, and craters to explore and where families travel for once-in-a-lifetime experiences. To Yuhara, it was her nightmare. She suffered from emotional and physical abuse from her mother, only to be turned over to her grandmother and a much worse situation. Imagine being 14 years old, and your only option was to leave all you had ever known to escape to a new land, an ocean away, with nothing but the clothes on your back.

Yuhara snuck onto one of the many cruise ships that line the island. She stowed away for days until finally reaching the mainland and fleeing to see if she could find relatives that she had only heard about through eavesdropping on conversations. Fate was on her side, and she was able to connect with distant relatives and family that took her in to help her, clothe her, and support her. Unfortunately, that did not last for long, and Yuhara decided she had to find a way to make it on her own. She would visit the local swap meets and search for trinkets and small treasures she could craft. She was very independent and was able to sell those crafted trinkets for more than she spent on them. Saving everything she made, she was able to purchase an old van. This would become her home, her office, and her transportation to come down to San Diego and visit local swap meets selling her treasures.

San Diego became her home, living in her van and selling locally all the treasures she created. This path was setting her up to save enough money for an apartment, something Yuhara dreamed of for a long time. Unfortunately, Yuhara trusted the wrong people. They robbed her of all her money, treasures, and dreams. She had no plan B, no idea what to do and whom to turn to. She did have some distant family in San Diego, but staying with them was not a viable option. She would check in with them occasionally but learned to live on the streets learned to deal with the hunger that plagued her every day. Yuhara started to lose weight, and it was not just from being hungry; something was wrong, so she finally went to the hospital.

Yuhara was admitted, and the testing began. The test came back inconclusive of where the cancer started, only that it had spread and it was terminal. The doctors told her to find an oncologist and discharged her without a safe place to go. That is how she came to our team at Rachel’s.

The team bonded with Yuhara, wanting to help her and provide the services we have for all the women to come to us looking for help. One of our team members quickly developed a close bond with Yuhara; they were both from Hawaii and had some common ground that bound them.

“I was blessed to come to Rachel’s because, without it, I would have been on the streets. Rachel’s keeps me safe, all of us. This is my family, nothing else, and all the staff is my family because they help me… a lot; they work hard,” Yuhara said.

Our team took her to appointments to try and help determine exactly what was wrong with Yuhara and if there was anything the doctors could do to help her. Chemo was prescribed to stop the cancer from spreading even faster, but there was no cure, no surgery or solution to save her life.

For 5 months, while attending weekly chemo appointments, Yuhara stayed at the Night shelter. She climbed the 35 steps daily so she could sleep in a warm bed. The Night Shelter was just a place to sleep, and every morning at 7 AM, all the women had to come back to Rachel’s Women’s Center to stay until 7 PM when the Night Shelter opened.

In July 2022, Catholic Charities opened Rachel’s Promise, a 24/7 shelter that better served Yuhara’s needs. She moved to Rachel’s Promise, where she had a room, she shared with one other woman. There were no stairs, and she was able to rest more in a quiet bed after chemo.

In December 2022, the chemo stopped. The treatment was too harsh on her frail body, and the side effects became too overwhelming. Yuhara was made comfortable while she rested. Our team, along with the women from all three shelters, spent time with Yuhara and she would crochet scarves and small blankets for the women when she had enough energy.

Our team spent a lot of time over the year with Yuhara. She is part of our family and part of the culture at our Rachel’s Programs, where the women support one another on their journeys.

“From the time I first went to her appointments with her Oncology team, they brought out the paperwork for someone that can be in charge of her medical decisions, and she said right away I want her…and I said okay,” Susan said.  

In March 2023, almost a year to the day that Yuhara came to us for help, she started bleeding. The team immediately called 911, and Yuhara was taken by ambulance to the hospital. Three days later, almost like Deja Vu, our team was working at Rachel’s when a taxi pulled up to the front, and Yuhara again got out of the taxi and stood in front of our building. Needless to say, our team was emotionally surprised to see her again and upset that again she was just dropped off by taxi with no notice or call, since we could have come and gotten her from the hospital.

Yuhara spent a few days resting at Rachel’s Promise, but her needs became more than our team could provide. On Saturday, March 11, 2023, Yuhara was transferred to a Hospice facility. Our team has been visiting her and staying with her in her final days. Please join us in keeping Yuhara in our thoughts and prayers as she is in the final stage of her life.

Rachel’s Promise has other women just like Yuhara who are undergoing chemotherapy, and others who have life-threatening conditions. This program allows women to have a 24/7 facility to rest and our team that goes above and beyond for each woman. This is not a typical 9 to 5 job; the team works daily they are a family with the women, and are there to help them no matter what their journey. Your support will help us expand our programs and services and bring support to more women like Yuhara, women who are warriors and fighting for a better life.

Last year Catholic Charities shelters and team members were able to serve 1,273 unhoused individuals of which 820 were women and 453 were men, and we provided 93,771 services that helped the unhoused become more self-sufficient. We are also looking to expand our shelter services in North County by adding beds for unhoused women and children. We need your support and partnership to continue our mission to provide care and love for our fellow sisters and brothers.

“Rachel’s Women’s Center helps us all, yes, because it’s true. Rachel’s has always been a part of all of us here,” Yuhara said.

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