Stephanie Taitano, who became homeless eight years ago in Reno when she was eight months pregnant and separated from her boyfriend, is on her way to graduating next Spring with a UNR bachelor’s in human development and family studies. She also teaches physical education in the local school system and works summers in activity camps with the City of Reno. Her long term goal is to go to graduate school, and to become a child advocate. Her own son is healthy and happy.
The former part-time casino worker is very grateful for all the help she still receives from government programs and charities. In her own words, she details parts of her challenging journey, with advice as well for mothers facing hard times.
Hitting ‘Rock Bottom’
“The recession was happening. It was happening everywhere. I was working at a local casino in the buffet and they kept cutting my hours further and further, and I just couldn’t afford my rent anymore. I was supposed to stay with another friend, but that fell through. I hit rock bottom. For me, it was the scariest thing.”
Finding Refuge at the Volunteers of America Family Shelter
“I was freaked out. I was so scared. I didn’t talk to anyone in the shelter for two weeks. I didn’t know who these people were. I was so afraid. But there were some good people there. You are going to find those who can’t learn a lesson. They are going through a spiral and they may not learn from it. Their poor children are being dragged through it. But there are also people who are going through hard times, and things happen, and there’s help. The shelter may be a first stepping stone. That’s what happened for me.”
Turning Her Life Around
“Before I had my child, I was living a very partying type lifestyle. I worked in casinos where alcohol was available at all times with bartenders who would hook you up. My son is an angel. He’s here so that I can learn how to love and see someone else grow and not think about myself so much. That’s why I’m thriving right now because of him. I am trying to create a world he’s going to live in, and before I didn’t really care much. Everything was realigned. I started from scratch. Because of the shelter I ended up in college. I didn’t want my son to see homelessness ever again or the fear of not having food or shelter. I purposefully chose to do something for him.”
“The shelter made me realize what poverty can do to a kid. When you’re in the shelter I would say keep it light if you can for young children. Let them know it’s not forever, it’s not the end, but just part of the adventure. Kids don’t need to know all the facts of what’s going on. They are in a different way of thinking. I know it’s hard for the parents, and it’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be scared. It is a hard place to be but you can explain to your kids that things will change. I didn’t come from the best home. I lived in foster care for a while, with three different foster homes. They kicked me out when I was 18. My childhood was very disruptive. When you have lost trust in adults, it’s especially hard. I went through that and tried to find love in the wrong places because I was confused.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help
“There’s always someone out there. There are resources. You just have to meet the right people who can help you. If you truly want help for yourself, if you truly are scared, you shouldn’t be afraid of others, including the city of Reno, which helps those in dire need with children. Good things do line up if you go and look for them, if you seek help. You won’t regret it.”
Give Don’t Judge
“We’re seeing a lot of people out on the streets asking for money. Some of them are doing it because they really need it. Some of them are doing it because we are giving it to them. I say we can’t judge. You never know until you’re in their shoes, what’s going on in that person’s life. I know because I’ve been there. I was homeless. I was scared. I had no one. You can’t judge the homeless. You can’t judge a family with a whole bunch of kids. We need to pay attention to how we can help people and less about judging them.”
“Fear still comes into my life once in a while but I don’t let it thrive. I know where I am going, so I strive because of that.”
This post was written by multimedia reporter Nico Colombant from “Our Town Reno”, a community website giving voice to Renoites facing homelessness, poverty, gentrification and the city’s rebrand at www.ourtownreno.com and www.facebook.com/ourtownreno. Photos by Nico Colombant at Idlewild Park in July 2016.