photos by Jose Olivares
Gretchen James, 40, a recovering alcoholic, domestic abuse victim, and pain pill addict has been living for half a year in a rental unit on the 600 block of Lake street in downtown Reno, paid for by a local rehab program.
James gets $550 from the program which is what she is paying in rent for her unit, utilities and furniture included. She says it took her several months to find it, and that here, she’s found the friends and strength to finally stay sober. But the unit is part of an old house scheduled to be demolished later this year to give way to high end student housing.
“I’m really worried about it,” James said on a recent Sunday afternoon, while smoking a cigarette on a creaky porch, while other residents filed out for afternoon walks. “It’s putting us in a lurch. I don’t think we should all be kicked out. Right now, I have no idea when I’m going to have to look for another place. I’m a convicted felon, and there’s a lot of places that won’t take felons.”
James says the price and the location of her unit near Reno’s bus station works well for her, as she also gets a bus pass to go to her different service providers.
A Very Difficult Past
James spent 15 months in prison in the state in 2011 and 2012 for altering a prescription for Oxycontin. She says she then ‘violated’ her parole when she tried to commit suicide by mixing alcohol and Ambien.
After that, she bounced around different rehab programs in Reno and lived in the women’s homeless shelter in Reno for a while.
Hard Times at the Women's Homeless Shelter
“There’s lots of stealing in there,” James said. “You can’t have any nice things or money or anything like that. We had lockers but if you have anything out on the bed and don’t think about it, it’s gone. When you live in the shelter you get street smart, you learn to survive.”
Out of a Job, But in Rehab and Still Hopeful
James lost her most recent job at a phone survey company due to health problems. She is bipolar, and still suffers from depression and severe anxiety. She has weak ankles, but is avoiding pain medication. James has a degree in office medical technology and hopes to get a clerical job. She also wants to get another degree.
What drives her to remain positive, she says, is seeing her three kids again, who live with her estranged husband, elsewhere in Nevada.
Hoping to See Her Kids Again
“I want to see my kids and if I relapse, then it’s not happening, it’s not worth it to me. I already went to prison and basically, my husband, he was abusive anyway, so it’s probably a good thing we’re not together, but basically, I haven’t seen them for five-six years. If I drink or do drugs, I’m going to lose them and then it’s just a matter of when you live in the shelter a couple of times, you just get a kind of a will .”
Fighting for Custody and Her Life
James has a pro bono lawyer helping her out try to get custody of her children. But she’s afraid being forced out of her current unit will turn her life upside down, just as she’s trying so hard to get her life back on track. She says on this block there are many other stories just as difficult as hers