An elderly woman who had been living out of her car along with her two dogs in a Target parking lot was recently able to move into an apartment—thanks to the help of her community.
Lynn Schutzman, 70, had been living in her car for two years in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania. But before she was homeless, Schutzman was happily married and employed as a well-respected pharmacist. Then Schutzman’s husband died suddenly at age 47, and Schutzman suffered a series of strokes afterward. Then, in 2011, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, thyroid issues, and kidney failure. She had to give up her apartment to pay medical bills.
“It was just stress, stress, stress — until there was just nothing left,” she told WBUR.
Unable to get assistance and unable to bring her beloved dogs into a homeless shelter, Schutzman began living out of her car.
“I didn’t want to have to explain to people that I don’t have a home,” she said. “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.”
Then Jennifer Husband-Elsier and Melissa Akacha stepped him. The two noticed Schutzman and decided to act. Husband-Elsier took to the app Nextdoor, telling the community that police said Schutzman had been living in her car for more than two years.
“It’s an awful scenario. Really, really upsetting,” she wrote, adding that she and Akacha had approached Schutzman and asked how she was doing because they wanted to help.
The two women put Schutzman up in a hotel. Others brought food, blankets, and supplies for her dogs.
“Everybody [that Akacha talked to in the pharmacy industry] knew that Lynn was a really wonderful, sweet, loving, giving person who really fell on hard times,” Husband-Elsier said.
Eventually, the two women launched a crowdfunding page. Within only 10 days, they had raised enough money to get Schutzman a studio apartment. On moving day, neighbors came to help set her up in her new place. The community also raised enough money to pay for her rent for the next two years.
“I just want people to realize that this can happen to anybody…I have a good job. I had good retirement but I got sick and health insurance only covers so much,” Schutzman said.
“I have no children, I have no family…I had nowhere to turn. Sometimes, you know, just the kindness of strangers just makes all the difference in someone’s life.”