I Survived: Homelessness

Updated: May. 20, 2016 at 12:24 PM EDT

. - A home in a beautiful coastal city, a boat, and plenty of money: that's the life one woman lived not once, but twice in the Lowcountry, thanks to two different marriages. She even had a maid at one point.

But once her relationships ended, so did her life of luxury.

Shari Chavez Ergle found herself homeless. She turned to food stamps to feed herself and her son.

Shari grew up in a military family on the west coast, and started a family of her own just a few years after high school. She and her husband Billy and their son Kyle lived a pretty sweet life.

"401K, stock options, health benefits, full refrigerator full of food, vacations, that type of thing, and we lived on Hilton Head Island, it was beautiful," Ergle said.

Billy was an executive with a home improvement retail chain. During a five-year stretch, they moved five times, so Shari didn't work outside of the home.

"I stayed home, pretty much full time," she said. "And Kyle was in a private school back then, and when he had left, I wasn't prepared myself as an individual, a mom, a parent for when he did leave, and we were actually homeless at that time."

In 1999, after 13 years of marriage, Shari's husband filed for divorce.

She couldn't afford a lawyer, and had to fight for more than a year to get child support. during that time she was homeless and used food stamps to feed herself and her son.

"I cried, I did I cried, I cried a lot," she said. ' Just knowing that I even had to just get up and think about going in there. But I've always said your 'why' has to be bigger than your fear.  And obviously it was apparent that I had a huge 'why.'"

The only thing that kept her off the streets, was the kindness of friends. They bounced around, going wherever someone would let her and Kyle bunk on the couch or in an extra bedroom.  She also got a job working at the Food Stamp office.  About a year after her husband left, she met the man who would become her next husband, Weldon, and they moved to Mount Pleasant

"We actually built an incredible business together, from the ground up and that was even just as amazing, as far as a nice comfy home, a cleaner for our house, for every week coming in for the last couple of years," she said. "Sailboats docked at the marina, uh vacations."

They built a life of luxury, growing a custom home building business together.

Shari didn't earn a paycheck, but she put in plenty of sweat equity.

"I have helped lay tile, I've set toilets, I've laid flooring I've painted," Shari said.

Then after 11 years, Weldon left her and Kyle, too.  He literally sailed out of their lives.

"He told Kyle that he was gonna live on the sail boat for like or like stay out there for three days and then he would come home," she said. "Well I received an email two weeks later, saying that he wasn't going to come home at all."

That email, from May 26, 2011, read in part: "Shari, Breakups are terribly difficult but they happen for a reason.  There is too much damage done. Things are not going to change."

And just like that, they were homeless, again. Shari was adopted as an infant and suffered from abandonment issues.  Her son Kyle, who was now in college, helped her realize that she had to face that demon if she ever wanted to have a successful relationship and life.

Shari remembered that conversation well.

"He says, 'But the thing is, you forgot to do something for yourself,'" she said. "So, that was huge. And that's when I decided that I needed to make that commitment and that shift and change within myself.  And recover. And that's actually what I've done and that's kinda how I"m here."

Her ex-husband allowed them to stay in the house for a couple of months, but she had no money for food or lights, so, it was back to food stamps and working odd jobs.

"Drove around at around 3, 4 o'clock in the morning to deliver Daniel Island newspapers for two different routes," she said.

And one day while using her food stamps, she overheard some people talking about a program at East Cooper Community Outreach. In addition to help with food, the food pantry offered a program at the time called "Getting Ahead."  It runs eight to 12 weeks, teaching self-worth, budgeting, saving, building credit, and helping people get back on their feet.

After she completed the program, ECCO helped her with the deposit for low income housing on Daniel Island.  But the rest was up to her.  With her son back in college, she worked around the clock.

"At Juanita Greenberg's as an asst manager, I answered the phone as a receptionist at Daniel Island Real Estate on Saturdays and Sundays, I hostessed at a restaurant here on Daniel Island," Shari said.

Shari was working six jobs at one time, including baby sitting and painting a friend's house.

"I kept saying that if it's legal, If I can keep my clothes on, I can do it, I'm gonna do it.  So I was very determined," Shari said.

Even though she had a roof over her head, her struggles were far from over. She acknowledged her power was cut off several times because she couldn't pay her light bill.

Shari never went to college, so landing a high paying job is still a challenge.  But her employment situation is looking up.

"I was lucky enough that they would have me full time, so they asked me to go full time and then they provided me benefits and I got a raise," she said.

She's no where near the life of luxury she lived with either of her husbands, but she's happy, and for the past five years, taking care of herself.  One of her biggest accomplishments: conquering emotional issues that stemmed from her lack of higher education.

"He always made me feel as if because I wasn't educated and have that college degree, that I really didn't know what I was talking about," she said.

But Shari now knows that self-worth should not be tied to a piece of paper you hang on the wall. She's living proof of that, and serves as a spokesperson for ECCO and Trident United Way, which funds the program that helped her get back on her feet.  She often speaks about her difficult life challenges, and touts to others there's no shame in asking for help,  as long as you're willing to help yourself.

"It's important to know that we all have stories, and to not get stuck in that story," she said. "You have two choices, You can either let it burn you, or you can let it build you."

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