I am from Compton, California. I am 51 years old and I am the mother of five beautiful children. They range from the age of 28 and my youngest baby is 17. My background is pretty much middle class. I was raised by my grandparents. My mother had me when she was fairly young, which was not her fault — but that did not deter my mother from doing what she had to do. My mother graduated high school and she worked. So that’s a blessing among African American women who had children at a young age. Though our relationship was not perfect, I LOVE my mother to death — my mother did what she had to do. My mother did things that I didn’t agree with, but she will still and always be my mother.
So would you say your mother was the one you looked to, to give you strength?
Actually she was one of the ones. The one that I looked to for strength was my grandmother. My grandmother Ethaline Taverns Talley. She is the soul of my life. She came up during the times where the wife stayed home and took care of the house. While my grandfather, God bless his soul (I love him and I miss him to this day), went to work. My grandmother kept a hell of a house. You know, up until the time they had to move out. They didn’t have to move out because they couldn’t keep the home. They had to move out because they couldn’t take care of themselves. My daughters were there and they did everything they could, while I was out there doing my own thing– but I always made sure that my grandparents were okay. I didn’t give a damn where I was at on this Earth — if my grandparents said come home, I’m coming home.
So, my grandmother taught me how to be strong. My grandparents were alcoholics because I came from an alcohol and drug addict home. You know, anybody in my family did some sort of drug, whether it was drunk out of a bottle or smoke out of a pipe. We did it.
I’m here to say you know, that I’m sure if somebody heard this story they’re gonna say, “It’s kinda odd because I never heard Monique talk like that.” I’d say “Because you never asked.” And I never divulge my business. So I don’t tell family business. But now, you know, it was asked to tell a little bit about my story so that’s why I’m here.
So my grandmother taught me how to be strong. My mother taught me how to be strong. My aunt taught me how to be strong. My uncle, God bless his soul, taught me not to depend on anybody for anything. Though my uncle wasn’t perfect, he was still a good man. I had a hell of an upbringing — I had a good upbringing but it was my choices that led me to these streets out here.
I pray that somebody listens and learns. All people that come here and live down here [Skid Row] are not bad people. We have struggles, we go through misery, we go through pain, we cry. That does not make us bad people at all, at all.
Tell me a little about your story.
Like The Temptations song says, “Eve of destruction, tax deduction” that song speaks volumes, honey. If you don’t listen to The Temptations, you need to. But, it was my choices, not my family’s that led me to things like that. I regret it because I sent them through hell. I sent them through hell. And I didn’t want to do that anymore. So I had to come out here, down here where they say that if you can’t make it out here, you can’t make it anywhere. This right here, Skid Row, is the end of the line. If you can’t do it here, whatever. But I made it. I lost my job, I went to stay with my niece. She wanted her house back to herself and that’s okay. So I went to stay with my grandmother’s oldest sister. So I had to leave my aunt’s building because she stayed in one of those senior buildings where she can’t have roommates. So her social services coordinator was kind enough and she said, “Though you’re not supposed to be here, I’m going help you get somewhere.” So she found me a shelter that was called Pathways and she helped me with transportation and all that. I got directions and called the place before and they said they had beds. So I went down there, signed up, and got me a bed. And a lady that I met said I’m going to the women’s center in the morning and they help get you transportation. The Women’s Center provides any woman on the planet resources and help.
When the Women’s Center is open, they offer you breakfast, lunch, and a snack. They offer you showers, case management, you know, different stuff for women. And you know, you can hang out there all day. A wonderful place to get help. So I was in the shelter for six months and during that time they were starting to build SRO’s [Single Room Occupancy Housing].
So I started going there and I started volunteering in all aspects of the Women’s Center whether it was in the kitchen, in the learning center where they have computers and they give you job resources, employment education, or whatever the case may be. They have case management where they help you with housing and JWCH [John Wesley County Hospital Institute] also has a women’s clinic in the Women’s Center. It was basically all the needs, wants, and desires for homeless women in LA County. You couldn’t ask for anything more. I went and got me a case manager and her name was Tracy. She was the best. I expressed the need to get off the streets because I started getting sick whether it was mentally, physically, emotionally. I was just that f*cked up to where I said, “Tracy, I need to get off the streets. You know, I like my shelter I was in because they helped me get to you guys.” So I filled out a CES [Coordinated Entry System] survey where they see where they can house you.
What’s so weird is they were building a lot of these low-income housing places because there were a lot of buildings here in the Skid that were empty. But they offered me a place in the Women’s Center but you couldn’t have male company. And I have two sons so I said, “So you mean that my two boys can’t come to visit me and stay with their mother. I’ll pass.”
I was walking down the street with my suitcase and I said, “Heeeyyyy, how’s everybody doing?!” I was just that type of person. Because as Tyler Perry said you gotta laugh to keep from crying or snapping or going crazy or they lockin’ your ass up at Exodus somewhere over there in East LA. I am serious because it happened before. So I’m walking and I get down there and this was right before Christmas. And my case manager Tracy called me and said, “What are you doing girl?” I said, “I’m not doing anything. I’m just waiting for this bus to get back to the shelter.” She said, “Monique, I got some news for you.” I said, “What?” She said, “Monique, I found you a place.” I said, “Get outta here!!!”
I said, “She has got to be kidding.” I knew she wasn’t kidding because she comes walking through the carport. And I said, “Tracy, are you sure I’m not being Punk’d? Ashton Kutcher is not going to just jump out from behind one of these pillars and say I’m being punk’d?!” We get onto the second floor of the building and we stood in front of my door. So Tracy opened the door and said, “Monique, welcome to your new place.” I stood in the middle of the floor and cried. She said, “Monique, you were the one out of all my clients taking all the right steps and you did what you had to.”
Just like your mother.
I had my suitcase, I had my keys and I moved into my apartment, and I have not looked back. It would be a lie if I told you that it was not a struggle. It would be a lie if I told you there was no bull****. It would be a lie if I told you there wasn’t always something blocking to get to something. God has a way of working and showing out and He showed out and showed up. And on December 17th of this year, I will have been here seven years and I don’t plan on moving anywhere until I can afford to.
What kept you off the streets of Skid Row?
I was one step away from buying me a tent, a blowup bed, a heater, a lamp and all of that because I would have been living in a tent. I could’ve been sleeping on the concrete slab. That could’ve been me. But, thank God I had enough sense to get out and do the footwork on my own. And I’m here and I’m not going anywhere until I am affordably comfortable to get up and do it. Other than that, I’m here.
That must be so empowering.
By the spirits of my ancestors, thank you Charles Eddy Talley Sr. because you did it for me. I thank GOD because HE made all of this possible. He made it possible for me to talk to you and to tell you it is what it is and I do what I have to do.
Who are the people that helped you get to where you are now?
Thank God for people like the Wayfarer Foundation, the SRO housing. Thank God for the Women’s Center. And thank God for the JWCH because mentally and physically, they helped me keep it together. The Women’s Center helped me to keep it together in all areas: mentally, physically, and emotionally. SRO gave me the foundation to where I can go to my house and get in my bed and not do anything but focus on me. But, thank you to my ancestors, to God, my grandparents, my parents, and my five beautiful children that made it all possible for me to sit here and talk to you and tell you my story.
What is a quote you live by?
I love Tyler Perry because everything in his movies are very inspirational. And I was watching this movie called, “Madea’s Big Happy Family” and at the end of the movie it said, “Take God with you wherever you go and if you can’t take God, do not go.” And that’s my quote.
How do you stay true to yourself?
I say it and mean it. I say, “You’re not fake Monique.” If you don’t say it, they’re going to think you’re fake and I don’t raise fake. This is my mother, “I don’t do fake, I don’t raise fake so say it and mean it.”
What do you hope people learn from your story?
That’s basically my story. I pray that somebody listens and learns. All people that come here and live down here [Skid Row] are not bad people. We have struggles, we go through misery, we go through pain, we cry. That does not make us bad people at all, at all.
You got some real ones out here.
What do you want people to know?
If you need help, please do not hesitate to ask people for help because some of us sometimes leave our pride on our shoulders and are somewhat embarrassed to pull someone to the side and say, “I really need to talk to you.” Some of us wear that up here, but some of us also need to take some of that off of our shoulders. So don’t be prideful to ask for help. If you need it, ask for it because I’m pretty sure that it’s out there. You just gotta want the help and ask for help.