Low Vision on the Streets: How Laura Overcame Homelessness

Laura Monaco of Carmichael spent her whole life trying to fit in. It wasn’t until she came to Society for the Blind in her mid-30s that she finally found what she was looking for – and she’s never been happier.

Born with albinism, Laura grew up in Chico with white hair, fair skin and pink eyes. She was legally blind from birth. Teased her whole childhood until she could finally dye her hair and wear makeup at age 12, Laura struggled through school all the way through receiving her associate’s degree at Butte College in Chico. No matter what activity she participated in, she always felt different.

Portrait of Laura Monaco
Portrait of Laura Monaco

“I struggled my whole life to be the same,” Laura said. “I didn’t want to be that albino girl or that blind girl. I was a good cheerleader, but I would burn in the sun at cheerleading camp and couldn’t see well, so I’d get discouraged.”

She became a daycare provider and ran her own business for 12 years, but sometimes faced discrimination from parents because of her vision. Married for 11 years with three children, Laura hit rock bottom in her struggle for acceptance when she got divorced at age 34. She started doing drugs, her children went to live with her parents, and she was homeless for a year and a half until the summer of 2017 when she checked into a treatment center in Carmichael and was connected to a transitional housing program.

“I came from a good home, but I struggled with depression from feeling like an outsider my whole life,” Laura said.

In January 2018, Laura finished the transitional housing program and started classes at Society for the Blind. Here, for the first time in her life, she found a group of employees and students who understood how it felt to be blind. She began learning independent living skills like how to cook and how to get around town using public transportation, and she learned how to use assistive technology to her advantage. She began to feel like she had a family. 

“I realized how much I lived in fear and I was ready to face it,” Laura said. “Society for the Blind made me finally feel at peace with myself. I have friends who all have the same struggles and understand me.”

When she had the opportunity to apply for a job working in the North State Assistive Technology Store at Society for the Blind, she jumped at the chance – and was hired. A year later, she can’t say enough positive things about her job and her daily opportunities to help people discover the same assistive technology tools that have changed her life. She plans to go back to school for her bachelor’s degree and wants to stay working at the store as long as possible – and she’s seen the effect her new life has had on her kids, now ages 21,16 and 12.

“My kids are really proud of me,” Laura said through tears. “There was a lot that had been broken during those years. Now they love me walking in the mall with my cane and helped me celebrate my first anniversary of sobriety. They’re glad to have their mom back, and I’ve shown them that you can pick yourself up from these things. Having a disability doesn’t mean life stops.”

Laura’s number one recommendation to people who feel different in any way is to get connected.

“Find a support group, a friend, someone you have something in common with,” Laura said. “There’s a lot out there now because of the Internet and Facebook, and it makes a huge difference. If I had done that when I was younger, my life and my kids’ lives would have been a lot different.”