From homeless to home for the holidays

Paul Gowins was just trying to help his daughter.

Over the phone, he heard her cries, as she revealed that her marriage had broken up, and that she was living on the Colorado streets with her 20-year-old daughter.

“Come home,” Gowins said.

Gowins, a multimedia producer who had just finished an informational video about methamphetamine for the Tucson Police Department, dipped into his savings in 2010 to help his daughter join him and his wife, Rion, in East Palo Alto.

But she wasn’t alone. In addition to her daughter, she showed up with a boyfriend and her daughter’s beau.

“We ended up renting two apartments,” Gowins said.

Paul and Rion, a paralegal, used their savings to pay three rents totaling $4,200 a month: their own, their daughter’s and their granddaughter’s.

The deal was that Paul and Rion would cover the rent until his daughter could get over her drug addiction, get a job and take over the payments herself. But the days stretched into nine months.

Then, on Gowins’ 60th birthday, his wife was laid off when the lawyer she worked for transferred to a different firm. As their savings dipped closer to zero, Paul’s stress skyrocketed. He suffered a cerebral embolism that blocked blood flow to his brain and was hospitalized. Soon after, he was diagnosed with Meniere’s disease, an inner-ear condition that causes spontaneous vertigo so extreme he can’t stand up for weeks at a time. He could no longer work full time.

By March 2012, the Gowinses were evicted, as were his daughter and granddaughter. His daughter returned to Colorado.

Paul and Rion put their things in storage, put a mattress in the back of their 1988 Jeep Comanche truck, grabbed their cat and drove to Bodega Bay, where they found a spot off the highway, out of sight of neighbors and police. This would be their home for the next nine months. They lived on Rion’s unemployment checks while she commuted to the Peninsula looking for jobs. They took showers at a homeless facility in Sebastopol when they could.

When Rion found a temporary job with a legal firm in Redwood Shores several months later, they relocated to a Motel 6 in Redwood Shores, hopeful her position would become permanent.

It did, and they were elated. But the euphoria evaporated once Paul started looking for an apartment. Their savings were completely gone, and they had taken out several high-interest loans during the time they were paying multiple rents in East Palo Alto. They were unable to come up with the first and last month’s rent, and the security deposit, to get into permanent housing.

Paul, a Vietnam veteran, began calling various veterans’ and homeless organizations. “But nobody could help us because one of us was employed. We didn’t qualify because we were making more than $40,000. But in the Bay Area, that’s homeless,” said Gowins.

Enter Season of Sharing and Samaritan House in San Mateo, which came up with the up-front costs to move into a two-bedroom apartment in Millbrae in March. It has a balcony overlooking a pool, and a small private garden where they are growing herbs that Paul, a self-described “happy househusband,” likes to use in his soups. They couple were so grateful for their new home that they delivered a huge batch of chili and corn bread to their social workers.

“It’s been like Christmas getting our things out of storage and opening the boxes,” Gowins said.

He has his guitar and his cello back, his cookbooks, but most of all, “we have our privacy, our security, our autonomy, our dignity.”


Meredith May is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. She can be reached by e-mail at

The original article can be found here.