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One former pharmacist was forced to leave everything and move into her car when her community decided to work together to help her out.

Many people believe that you don’t have anything if you don’t have your health. Lynn Schutzman experienced that firsthand following a series of unfortunate events that eventually left her homeless.

Taking care of herself

Schutzman, a King of Prussia, Pennsylvania native, grew up in the small, family-friendly suburb. As a girl she watched her alcoholic father abuse her mother. Her mom was a server, and never felt that she was financially independent enough to leave. So Schutzman promised herself that she would always be self-sufficient.

“One of the things I wanted to make sure from a very early age was that one day, I would be able to take care of myself no matter what,” she told WBUR. So she got a pharmacy degree, married a fellow pharmacist named Norman, travelled, and tried to start a family but couldn’t due to medical reasons.

Then, after 23 years together Norman died of a heart condition at the age of 47. Not long after that, Schutzman got a bacterial infection that led to a series of strokes. After two years of rehabilitation she finally returned to work.

Dealing with life’s punches

For a decade Schutzman managed, but then in 2011 she got sick again with breast cancer, thyroid issues, and kidney failure. According to WBUR she was wheelchair-bound for six months, and mobility became such an issue that this time, she couldn’t return to work. Mounting medical bills meant she had to sell her home and move to a small apartment.

“It was just stress, stress, stress- until there was just nothing left,” she told the publication. Eventually she had to leave her small apartment as well.

I didn’t want to have to explain to people that I don’t have a home.

Lynn Schutzman

“So many memories, so many of my pieces that my husband and I got when we were travelling,” she added. “It was very, very hard to think that I had to leave all of that behind but what was I to do?”

Schutzman tried to find affordable housing in King of Prussia, but there was nothing. She was ineligible for assistance because she received social security, but she used most of that money to pay her medical expenses. So she packed her two dogs into her car and stayed away from the same people she once knew and helped daily.

“You feel like somewhere you had to have failed. You accomplished all this but now here you are in the gutter and you don’t want people to know. You don’t want to ask for help,” she added.

The lowest point

According to Schutzman she would head to the local McDonald’s every morning to wash up. And when she did manage to save up enough money she’d treat herself to a night or two at a motel to wash up and to get a decent night’s rest. She looked into homeless shelters but they wouldn’t let her in with the dogs so she stopped trying- the dogs were her family and the one thing she felt like she had left.

I was very upset because I realized I would have to surrender the dogs because I couldn’t feed them that night.

Lynn Schutzman

Then one day she realized she only had a dollar left in her wallet. It wasn’t enough to feed her dogs and she knew she’d have to give them up.

“That was the lowest point in my life … I had no dog food … and I had just emptied the last bottle of water into the dogs’ bowl so I had nothing to drink,” she said.

A turning point

It was there, at rock bottom in 2019, that Schutzman’s luck finally changed. A woman named Melissa Akacha, who was also a pharmacist but didn’t know Schutzman, and her neighbour, a former social worker named Jennifer Husband-Elsier, had noticed Schutzman. They decided to knock on the car window to see if she was okay.

Schutzman said she was fine, but the women could tell otherwise. So Husband-Elsier posted a message on social media and asked if anyone knew anything about the woman living in the Target parking lot in her car with two dogs. The next thing Schutzman knew, other people were showing up to see if she was okay.

They were bringing me food and water and I just couldn’t believe it. I just cried thinking, this is divine intervention. God knew I was at my lowest point and he brought this wonderful community around to help me.

Lynn Schutzman

Setting up for the future

The community didn’t stop there. Husband-Elsier and Akacha found her an apartment and raised enough money to pay the rent for two years. Then, volunteers furnished the entire place with donated items- right down to the potted plants and a framed copy of her pharmacy diploma.

“I was just so taken away. All the people that had helped were here to welcome me and it was absolutely amazing,” Schutzman recalled.

People in the community also rallied together to keep bringing Schutzman food, to walk her dogs, and to help her clean.

Her life wasn’t the only one that changed the day the neighbours knocked on her car window. Akacha and Husband-Elsier revealed to the publication that their lives changed as well, as Schutzman helped them to heal from things that were going on in their own lives. Together they formed a new kind of family.

For the longest time, I had been feeling alone. I just feel so lucky to be in this area with this community. It’s like a whole new opening for me and a whole new family.

Lynn Schutzman

Finding compassion and understanding

This story reminds us all that anyone’s luck can suddenly change. Even if you think you did all of the right things, you may find yourself in an unexpected and impossible situation. Knowing and appreciating that helps us to find compassion for others.

Some kind neighbours turned Schutzman’s entire life around with three simple words: are you okay? So the next time you see someone struggling, maybe try those words on for size. Schutzman was embarrassed for anyone to see where she had landed after so many unlucky turns, reminding us that sometimes it can be really hard to ask for help. But paying attention and even doing something as small as bringing someone a hot meal or pouring them a cup of tea or coffee may be the one unspoken thing they need in order to keep going on.

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“The greatness of a community is most accurately measured by compassionate actions of its members.” – Coretta Scott King