Living On The Edge: 15 Days From Homeless Earlier this year, Sylvia Martinez lost her job as an HR manager. Overwhelmed, she tried to commit suicide. She survived the attempt, but since then, things have gone from bad to worse. On Tuesday, she lost her few remaining possessions in a fire.
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Living On The Edge: 15 Days From Homeless

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Living On The Edge: 15 Days From Homeless

Living On The Edge: 15 Days From Homeless

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From NPR News this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Two months ago, as part of our economic coverage reporter Alix Spiegel introduced us to Sylvia Martinez. Like a lot of Americans, she was struggling emotionally after losing her job. It got so bad for her that she actually attempted suicide. Alix has continued to track Martinez as she tries to find a job in this terrible market. And today, we have an update.

ALIX SPIEGEL: Chapter two of the story of Sylvia Martinez begins last Friday in a parking lot, six months after she lost her job as an HR Manager. You see, Friday was the morning of her second interview at a small company, the first real possibility after six months of applying for 20-plus jobs a week. And Sylvia was pulling every string she knew to pull.

SYLVIA MARTINEZ: As soon as I got back into the car, I started to pray and I started texting people and sending them emails, saying, you know, pray for me please. I really need this job.

SPIEGEL: As far as she knew, the interview had gone great. The salary was below what she had made at her last job. But then Sylvia had said that she was hoping for at least 40,000. She told them she was very flexible.

MARTINEZ: And I told them that if you give me a penny more than what I am making from unemployment, I don't care. I just want to make a penny more. I just want to feel useful again.

SPIEGEL: There was reason for optimism. The hiring manager seemed to like her and Sylvia says during the interview, the company bookkeeper pulled her aside and told that she was the only person they'd had in for a second look, which put Sylvia over the moon.

MARTINEZ: I felt confident all weekend long. I kept saying, you know, when I go to work on Tuesday, when I go to work on Tuesday.

SPIEGEL: But work is not what happened on Tuesday.


SPIEGEL: On Wednesday afternoon, when Sylvia climbed out of her 2003 Saturn Vue with her 20-year-old daughter, the remains of Tuesday still hung in the air.

MARTINEZ: I can still smell it.

SPIEGEL: Tuesday, you see, was the day of the fire. Not in Sylvia's apartment but two floors up. It was small but set off a faulty sprinkler which left Sylvia's apartment covered in water. Sylvia was living in the apartment with her daughter and her son. Now Sylvia's couch was drying in the kitchen and much of the living room ceiling was on the floor. As her daughter salvaged some things from the bathroom, Sylvia stood by the door, her eyes glazed.

MARTINEZ: I loved my apartment, I really did.

SPIEGEL: The night before, Sylvia had spent two hours on the curb outside her building crying. But given the state of her life, Sylvia knew there wasn't much time to mourn. The property manager had gotten her family a hotel room for the night and by three in the morning, Sylvia says she was job hunting again.

MARTINEZ: I couldn't sleep at that point. So I went back downstairs to the business center and logged on and sent my friend my resume.

SPIEGEL: Sylvia says in the mornings, she always checks the listings at and monster, then applies for jobs. But since she didn't know her schedule for the day, she wanted her friend to do it for her.

MARTINEZ: I don't want for something to come up and not be able to have the chance to send my resume.

SPIEGEL: By 8 AM she says, she had applied for two more jobs from the business center computer. And there was a very good reason for this vigilance. She says Wednesday, yesterday, was the last day of her unemployment benefits.

MARTINEZ: Today was the last check I received.

SPIEGEL: So what does that mean for you?

MARTINEZ: It means income. It means that I might be homeless next month.

SPIEGEL: Sylvia genuinely believes this. Believes that she and her family are 15 or so days away from homeless. But though she feels that this is true, she finds it almost impossible to focus on this reality in a productive way. Every time she tries to think about the problem, the plan, she is physically overcome.

MARTINEZ: I have an anxiety attack. My heart starts beating really fast. I just get overwhelmed by just thinking about it, like I can literally feel the blood rushing to my brain.

SPIEGEL: Sylvia knows the only hope for her family now is her 20 year old daughter whose job as a customer service rep at a Fortune 500 company brings her maybe enough for a small studio apartment. But there too, Sylvia is struggling to come to terms.

SPIEGEL: So have you talked about this with your daughter?


SPIEGEL: What have you said to her about it?

MARTINEZ: Nothing. Nothing.

SPIEGEL: Sylvia says she is too ashamed. She has always been the caregiver. Often she says she finds herself marveling, amazed at what has happened to her.

MARTINEZ: Six months ago I was fine. I had a home, my bills were paid. I had a job.

SPIEGEL: Now she has $50, a wet couch and a sinking sensation of diminishing possibilities.

Alix Spiegel NPR News, Washington.

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