West Palm Beach woman lost her job and her health during COVID

Barbara Hutchison, a grocery clerk who lost her job during the pandemic, now works at the Palm Beach Habilitation Center's ARC cafeteria.  She needs multiple surgeries and faces homelessness as her stay at the West Palm Beach shelter comes to an end.

Barbara Hutchison has never been so low.

“I live in a homeless shelter. I have kidney stones. I abandoned my two cats. I can barely move my elbows with this rheumatoid arthritis. I can’t pay for my car. I need surgery on my left foot. My friend Tanisha died,” says the 53-year-old, who is also living under a deadline to leave this shelter.

Yet Barbara manages to smile when she talks about fulfilling her lifelong dream of helping people with learning disabilities.

“Being able to help others would be life changing,” said Barbara, who works about 25 hours a week as a cashier at The Arc, a countywide nonprofit that provides programs for children and adults with disabilities. .

But in recent years, Barbara has become the one in need of help – a position she struggles with after overcoming so many challenges on her own.

Barbara Hutchison wipes the tables before the lunch crowd arrives.  The house she once rented was sold and she lived in her car for the next few months.

Barbara was diagnosed with bipolar in 1997. A five-year marriage in Arizona that she describes as “an unstable and abusive relationship” ended in 2009 in divorce. She moved to Boynton Beach in 2011.

After another abusive relationship, she lived in safe houses in Delray Beach and Broward County for several years.

Her life stabilized with a job with Publix at the company’s Wellington and West Palm Beach stores which she held for six years until she lost her job due to COVID-19 in 2020.

“Everything went wrong all of a sudden,” she said.

Living in the car, then a homeless shelter, where to go next?

The building with the one-bedroom apartment she rented for two years for $850 a month in West Palm Beach sold in June. Barbara and her cats, Miss Bell and Miss Thing, were given 30 days to leave. She didn’t have the money to pay the first, last and security deposit for a new apartment.

“I was living in my 2016 Hyundai Elantra. I gave Miss Bell and Miss Thing to a friend. I bought sandwiches at convenience stores. Washed in laundromats. For hours in libraries I sat. From my car, I saw people sleeping on the ground. I saw horrible, terrible things. Just crying is how I’ve spent so many nights,” she said, blinking back tears.

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