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January 28, 2010

Out of job, out of home?

"I knew just looking around my neighborhood that a lot of people would be losing their homes. I never thought I'd be one of them."

Then, the unimaginable happened: she lost her job.

The middle-aged Merced woman knows her 12-month loan modification will be ending soon. Her credit union told her it will start foreclosure paperwork the day she misses a payment.

The woman's modified mortgage payment is $1,118 each month, but her monthly unemployment income is less than that.

"I was hopeful that maybe I'd get a job," she said, agreeing to talk to the Sun-Star as long as she remained nameless, because she's still looking for work.

"I don't want to end up at that tent camp on Santa Fe," she said.

She stands up for what she believes, but felt that she would go quietly into foreclosure.

"The moment I can't pay the house payment, I'll get out," she remembers saying to herself.

While trying to plead her case over the phone, a credit union employee counseled her to stop crying about the pending foreclosure and go into survival mode. "Of course, I was upset. Of course, I was crying. It was painful. So painful."

Now, she's a woman planning for a life on the street. "It's terrifying for a single person to live in their car."

She wants to get an apartment, but she doubts she will qualify, with unemployment as her only source of income.

"All I want is closure. If I can't pay for the home, it's yours. Just tell me, how long do I have before I really have to get out? Because I have to save money," she said, her voice trembling.

She's been talking to other people who have gone through foreclosure to try to find answers. One woman told her to stay in the home as long as possible and wait for eviction or a "cash for keys" offer, where the bank pays residents to leave foreclosed homes.

This is a new world for a woman who said she'd never faced a major financial problem until she was laid off. When she called Ditech to refinance, although the firm couldn't help her, the employee she talked with was impressed by her high credit score, she said. Her only bills are one credit card and the mortgage.

Recently, she took advantage of free public health care for the first time in her life. She also started pulling coupons to help make ends meet.

"My life has changed quite a lot," she said.

She says she has resigned to the fact that soon she'll be houseless, if not homeless:

"Why should I cry? Why should I hurt? Why should I waste all my time thinking about things that I can and cannot do?"

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