By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
All things considered, Meg Shimatsu is in a better place than she was three years ago, when she was living in her car. But her medical issues remain, and she must be extra careful because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In 2017, she became known throughout the Southland when Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez told her story. A year later, Shimatsu had a room in a town house in Pasadena.
As a result of coverage by The Times and The Rafu, many Japanese Americans responded to her plight.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Shimatsu went to Belmont High School and majored in English at Cal State Northridge.
“I became homeless when the landlord increased the rent and my only income was medical disability,” Shimatsu recalled. “My roommate became ill and eventually passed away. For a while I lived in motels, but that became too expensive so I decided to live out of my car.
“I parked in the parking lot of the hospital [in Glendale] where I received my dialysis treatments three times a week. The security personnel saw me but said nothing. I assumed they knew I was a patient of the hospital. It was safe and I never had problems.
“My family offered to help, but my uncle and aunt are elderly with health issues. It took a while to ask for help due to embarrassment on my part.”
She actually got used to sleeping in her car, first a 1990 Toyota Corolla and later a 2002 Toyota Camry, and felt more fortunate than those living on the streets.
“Eventually a friend of mine told me about an organization called The Women’s Room in Pasadena, which is a nonprofit that assists homeless women,” Shimatsu said. “It took a while, but they eventually secured low-income housing for me.
“I’ve been in this apartment for two years. It’s nice. I have several roommates.”
The house is for five women, who all get their own bedrooms and share the kitchen, living room and bathroom. Shimatsu uses part of her disability income to pay the subsidized rent.
Founded in 2007, The Women’s Room describes itself as “the only organization in the San Gabriel Valley dedicated to serving women who are alone and homeless or at risk of homelessness. It is a daytime refuge known for wrapping its arms around the 20 to 35 women who come through the door each day, making them feel whole and appreciated …
“Guests with or without shelter say TWR gives them strength and means to persevere. The program includes supportive services and basic needs: a shower, laundry and healthy food. In addition, women enjoy access to computers and telephones, a place to nap, arts and crafts, nature and cultural field trips, games and fresh clothing. They look forward to the monthly professional hair styling, chair massage and birthday celebrations. Through individual attention and educational and recreational programs, women begin making choices to improve their lives.”
Shimatsu continues to seek donations for a kidney transplant through her Go Fund Me page. “I’ve been on dialysis since 2012. I’m also homeless and living out of my car,” she wrote in 2017. “Disability is my only source of income. My treatments are 3x a week for four hours at DaVita. It can leave me tired and exhausted on dialysis days. I have my good and bad days. It would be difficult to work a full-time job due to my schedule and how well I feel, which depends day to day.
“I started this GoFundMe campaign to help for expenses relating to transplant surgery and a used car to help me go to my various doctor’s visits. I’ve been told that transplant medication is costly and may not be 100% covered by insurance. My car is quite old and may not last much longer. I’m on a transplant list and in Los Angeles County the wait can be as long as ten years.
“To say I’m on borrowed time is an understatement. Eventually I’d like to move into a permanent apartment and live an independent life. Any amount would help my situation. Thank you in advance.”
She has already surpassed her initial goal of $10,000 and contnues to post updates on her situation.
These days, she only leaves home for dialysis treatments and weekly trips to the market.
“During this coronavirus, I’m especially vulnerable and take extra precautions,” Shimatsu said. “I always wear a mask when I venture outside … I need assistance towards Lyft and food expenses, but I’m still hanging in there.
“I wanted to thank the Japanese American community for their love and support. It really means so much to me.”