"Are you the man?" she asked.
"I'm a man, but I can help you."
Last week the entire day went by with no intakes of new guests. Today, she was the first new visitor, walking in when everyone else had gone.
"I'm a newbie" she said. "This is my first day trying to figure this out."
This winter I've oriented dozens of first timers to the Day Center, but Lisa was only the second person for whom being homeless was brand new.
Of the people first coming through the door, some are quiet, some make a show of being streetwise, some are flat-out disoriented and virtually everyone is grateful. Lisa kept alternating between resolve and tears.
She admitted she'd gotten in with the wrong crowd in another town and made a string of mistakes, none of them major, but each one compounding the one before. A DUI, followed by drugs in the car with an impulsive decision to evade an arrest, and now an approaching court date. A not great marriage, children, abuse from a manipulative husband, who lured her into using drugs with him, then reported her to her probation officer. Leaving him, moving in with a sister here whose boyfriend kept hitting on her, the sister siding with the boyfriend and throwing her out.
"Family's supposed to support you," she said. "I'm clean, doing what I'm supposed to do, but everyone's turned their back on me."
There's more. There always is. To reveal more details from the past won't change her reality of the moment.
I took in her information, listened to her story and gave her some suggestions about what to do. Most of them she had already started working.
"I was aware of some of these things," she said, "but I didn't really pay attention because I didn't need them. Suddenly I'm homeless, with no money, no car and no job."
She asked me how long it usually took for people to get back on an even keel. I said I'd seen a couple turn it around in a week. Folks with worse records than hers and found employment and an apartment in three months of applied effort. For some, being homeless was probably going to be their life, others would drift in and out.
But the ones who succeed devote themselves to getting out, I said. They stay positive.
This brought a fresh flow of tears.
"I know. I am positive but then when things don't happen or I think something is solved and discover it isn't, I start to get upset and down on myself. I know I can't do that, but it's hard."
Just then I heard that a storage bin was being vacated. Three people earlier today had inquired but one wasn't available then, and we offer them on a first come basis. Lisa was the only guest in the place.
"Your luck has just changed," I said. "Take this as a sign."
Family, not social services, is the safety net for most of us. Friends and relations are the reason a sudden reversal or job loss won't make you homeless.
But sometimes, family and a bad circle of friends is part of the reason you're on the street. Then it's up to you to muster the resources, to try doors you once passed by, to trust strangers, and to ask for help without apology or guilt.
We don't expect newbies to carry on without some tears.