Bernice B. smiles more often than you might expect of someone who has been sleeping outside of a Chino sandwich shop for most of the past year.
She sleeps sitting up in her walker, which she uses for “leg issues” and “one toe that feels as if it is broken.”
Despite receiving some medical treatment, when she applied for Social Security disability benefits, she got turned down.
“I’m getting better,” the 41-year-old said last week, as she sat outside Jersey Mike’s Subs in the shopping center at Central Avenue and Philadelphia Street that is also home to a Denny’s restaurant and other retail stores. This is where she has lived for the most part since last February.
“I was scared,” she said, speaking of the first time she slept outside.
She had to share the area with two homeless men, who she said never bothered her, although later she admitted she was once assaulted.
The shopping center, she said, “is safer than anywhere else, even a park.”
When she uses a restroom in the morning to clean up, employees sometimes pound on the door.
“I’m trying to make the best of it,” she said. “This is not permanent.”
She said she doesn’t do drugs or smoke.
Last summer, she was harassed by drug dealers after she called the police about them, she said.
Bernice said she doesn’t panhandle, but people give her money, food and other necessities, which she often shares with other homeless people.
“I’m just really friendly,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people.”
A woman from Chino named Yvette (she refused to give her last name) came out of the nearby Starbucks and walked over to Bernice’s spot.
Yvette said she “shares hopeful and encouraging thoughts from the Bible” with Bernice.
“There are many kind people who have taken a personal interest in Bernice,” she added.
Chino police officer Shauna Hill from the department’s crisis management team said she first met Bernice last year on April 1.
The officer personally paid for her to stay at Motel 6 in Chino and later got her into a women’s shelter run by a non-profit organization in Chino Hills.
Bernice only stayed there for a few weeks, Officer Hill said.
According to Bernice, a woman from San Bernardino who is “trying to sabotage her” followed her to the Chino Hills shelter and that is why she had to leave.
“I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth,” she said. “They want me to go to a place for crazy people, but I’m not crazy,” Bernice said.
Bernice said she has an associate’s degree in business administration from a city college in San Bernardino and was last employed at a company in Chino Hills, working in human resources.
She used to take the bus from San Bernardino to work.
After she lost her job, she lived for a time in her storage unit in San Bernardino.
After she was found living in the unit, she contacted a friend from Chino Hills who helped her with bus fare, paid for a hotel and tried to get her help through local resources in this area.
Crisis teams from the county, city and the Chino police have been trying to help Bernice ever since.
Chino community services requires that people who receive services, even a bus pass, fill out an intake form, said Chino community services manager Ted Bistarkey. Crisis teams can then follow up with case management, he said.
On Jan. 24, Bernice received a notice from the Chino police to remove her possessions from the property outside the sandwich shop. The notice also included information about three shelter options.
Chino police officer Lt Andrew Bjelland said Bernice has options to stay at mental health facilities in Fontana, San Bernardino and Morongo area. The criteria for admission to these centers is that the person must come voluntarily and admit to having a mental health issue, he said.
He said the county has invested in the mentally ill homeless community, and some of the centers are brand new.
The police said crisis team members will continue to follow up with Bernice, hoping that she may one day change her mind and accept the housing.