The first time Michele arrived at the Maple Street homeless shelter three years ago, she was still driving her BMW 325xi, the final remnant of her Silicon Valley affluence.
Her paper wealth of more than $2 million had evaporated a decade earlier, she says, via a stock options fiasco. She had used the options to buy stock in her high-flying software startup, netting a seven-figure profit by the government’s reckoning, but then held the shares until they were nearly worthless. That left her with no cash and a $200,000 tax bill. She had sold nearly everything to cover it: her house, her remaining stocks, her art collection.
Periods of joblessness, punctuated by depression and bouts with alcoholism filled out the ensuing years, with cause and effect blurring into a cohesive whole — one life, unraveling.
She had used the shelter as a way station, finding a new job at another software company within two months and then moving into a rented apartment. But by last November, just before Thanksgiving, she was out of work again, broke again, and back at the shelter, again. This time, she arrived on foot, carrying a backpack that contained all she had left in the world: some clothes, about ten dollars in cash, her laptop computer and her mother’s Omega watch.
She had spent the past four nights inside a Happy Donut, using free Wi-fi to watch “Top Chef” reruns on her laptop. Exhausted, dirty and devoid of a plan, she took refuge at the shelter for single adults, a low-slung building on a dead-end road in an industrial area, across the street from a tire recycling center and next to a prison.
Back when she was traveling regularly for business, she had favored suites at Four Seasons hotels. Now, she checked in to the Maple Street women’s dorm, a brown-carpeted room jammed with five bunk beds. She slipped into a top bunk and absorbed the reality that it had come to this.
Her resume, with a degree in electrical engineering from Duke University and stints in senior positions at software companies, including a post in Paris, had once made her an exemplar of Silicon Valley success. A combination of personal troubles, long-term unemployment and bleak economic times had since turned her into an example of something else: the new suburban poor proliferating in nearly every American metropolitan area — even here, within miles of the shimmering campuses of Google, Apple and other wellsprings of unfathomable wealth.
Source: The Huffington Post | Peter S. Goodman