In the Loop

News and views from across Mayo Clinic

September 8, 2022

Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences: On experiencing homelessness, finding support in earlier years

By In the Loop
Evy Engrav and Danielle Teal
Evy Engrav and Danielle Teal

In this edition of "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences," you will hear from Evy Engrav and Danielle Teal as they share their experiences of homelessness and food insecurity.


Mayo Clinic is a unique place: the culture, the values, the people. This podcast explores the experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work. 

In this episode, you will hear from Evy Engrav, a Human Resources adviser, and Danielle Teal, a senior program coordinator for Physician Well-Being and the Joy at Mayo Clinic initiative, as they share their experiences of homelessness and food insecurity.

Engrav grew up in California and shares her story of moving from home to home while taking care of her siblings. She put herself through undergraduate and graduate school, working at top companies after graduation to become financially secure.

Teal talks about living in 26 places by the time she was 26 and leaving her unsafe home at 16 to live with a friend. Teal says she didn't recognize until later in life that she had experienced sheltered homelessness.

Teal and Engrav share their journey of navigating life with the support of friends who helped them survive.



Read the transcript:

NARRATOR: In this episode, you will hear from Evy, an HR adviser, and Danielle, a senior program coordinator, as they share their experience of homelessness and food insecurity.

TEAL: Your family are the people that are going to show up and be present. And sometimes, they're not blood-related.

At 16, I was faced with needing to make a decision to leave a very volatile and toxic environment in my familial home. I witnessed a lot of really hard things.

I was sharing the experience with my best friend, Mary, and when they heard about these experiences, they had some immense concern about the environment I was in. One day, I was in my room. I packed two boxes. I don't even remember what was in those boxes. I don't even remember what I thought at 16 I needed. I don't have any of those belongings anymore.

I got the first box out, and a friend of mine was at the end of the driveway. I remember my heart beating a million miles a minute. I was really scared that I was going to get caught. I went back and got the second box and was able to get in the car.

I remember us driving away thinking that I would be pursued or that something would happen, and nothing did. No one ever came to look for me.

I ended up staying with that friend for two weeks. I remember thinking I didn't have anything. I didn't have a home, but I was so grateful for my friends stepping in to support me. I remember their parents made mac and cheese, and they piled a bunch of pepper on it. I was so excited about that it was different.

The parents brought tennis shoes and gave them to me. I remember thinking: "Wow. They don't even know me, really." That act of kindness — even as a teenager — I was very touched and so grateful that they were providing me with a roof over my head and with the basic necessities. From there, I moved in with my friend, Mary, and her mom, Kathy, and stayed with them until I barely graduated from high school.

ENGRAV: I was born in Watts, Los Angeles. My father is white, and my mother is Black. When they married, it was actually against the law in many states in this country. I didn't have any civil rights when I was born. I didn't get civil rights until I was 1.

My parents' marriage became legal maybe four years later. When we did get food stamps, I felt so ashamed with those paper food stamps that I always promised I'm never going to buy my groceries with food stamps. I didn't want to feel that way again, and it's terrible that people made us feel ashamed. But they did.

They would stare at us, and they would make sounds and say: "Don't you have any money? Can't you afford your groceries?" I felt terrible as a small child. We didn't always know where food was coming from.

Sometimes we had food. Sometimes we didn't. Sometimes, it was awful.

I always thought I was skinny because I was a picky eater. But then, we moved. My father thought it'd be better to move to the country for my mother's mental health, but we got called the N-word there. We were picked on.

My sisters and I suffered from significant racism, and because of my parents, I became pretty much the mom to my three younger sisters when I was 14. My dad didn't have a job. We didn't have access to health care. My teeth were rotted out and broken. You look at a few pictures from high school, and I'm not smiling because I was embarrassed that I couldn't go to the dentist.

I was a junior in high school, and my father one day said: "I can't pay the rent. I don't know what's going to happen to you." That's what he told me.

Somehow, my mother showed up. She'd been living in her car in southern California, and she rented two motel rooms using her disability check. But my sister I'm closest to in age went into foster care. I didn't because I knew somebody had to take care of my younger sisters. I didn't trust my mother to do that. She wasn't reliable. Sometimes, she would just be gone.

I asked a friend of mine who had graduated from high school to help me so I could go to school. There were no safety nets for teenagers. I was a senior in high school. I worked really hard in school. I knew the only way I could support myself was to go to college.
So that's what I was completely focused on in addition to taking care of my sisters — cooking them dinner, giving them their baths and all of that.

But when I was a senior, my mother said she was going to move to Long Beach and take my other sisters. And that there was no place for me.

I asked my friend, Julie, from high school if I could stay with her and her family and graduate. Her parents were both teachers, and they said yes. I slept on the floor on a mattress in her room that summer. I didn't have anywhere to go, and I was 17. I had actually called Social Work to see if I could go into foster care, and they said, "You're too old."

People wonder why kids are on the street. There's nowhere for them to go. I'd been a motel maid and could spell, so I got a job as a file clerk. I rented a room — actually not even the room — I rented a mattress in the living room of a woman's apartment.

I've been on my own since I was 17. I literally took myself to college in a broken-down car with no insurance and no registration.

People talk about teenagers and how hard it is, but to be homeless as a teenager is terrible. Without my friends, I don't know where I would have been.

TEAL: When I was starting to live with my friend and her mom, I remember vividly sitting on a picnic table at night. I remember thinking and praying: "How am I going to do this? How am I going to survive? How am I going to take care of myself at 16?" I worked at McDonald's. That was one of my first jobs, and it was really hard work.

I remember wondering with that survival component, how I'm going to self-sustain, how I'm going to graduate through school. When you talk about being skinny, I was quite skinny in high school. I remember people making comments all the time about that. I was relying on the goodness of other people to provide food for me. When I was in school, I didn't have any money. So I would eat what I was able to eat, and that would generally be just chips and maybe a drink because I could afford that.

I also was not able to purchase things like a yearbook or any of those items because I just simply couldn't afford it. I didn't want to ask for it from my friend's family either. I leaned on my network.

People talk about who your family Is. Your family is the people who are going to show up and be present. Sometimes they're not blood-related, and that was the case for me. I came across really good people.

One of the things that I think has been really difficult was moving from 16 and getting older are the holidays. It was the graces of other people inviting me over. Otherwise, I didn't go anywhere.

You think about the people who supported you during your journey. It's who I call "guardian angels." I had an incredible aunt in California who let me stay with her for a little while after I graduated high school. I did connect with my mom. I didn't share that aspect, but when I was little, she left and was not in my life.

My journey has been twists of these roads. I moved 26 times by the time I was 26, so I never had roots anywhere. Rochester was the place where I landed. I had to learn to function in high levels of stress all the time to survive. I continue to function in high levels of stress to survive to make sure I can sustain my children. I provide shelter. And that is my biggest fear: losing my home.

ENGRAV: I absolutely hear you, Danielle. In college, I spent my last year as an exchange student. I had nowhere to go. My college roommate let me stay with her until I could get a job and get an apartment.

I used to think that every person who goes through trials and tribulations could do what I did. You just have to persevere, work hard, manage through the stress, be a motel maid, move — do whatever you need to do to support yourself. But a lot of people can't.

All of my major decisions have always been based on economic security. I majored in business economics instead of history. If I had a family or a place to live, I would have majored in history. But I didn't have that luxury.

My ex-husband was kind of flaky. We had a little boy. I had to support him. I went to a Top 20 business school as the only single mother. It was hard — no question.

Other students would say, "How are you even doing this?" I'd just start crying, like I don't even know. With 80% men and very few Black people, I've always had to deal with micro- and macro-inequities on top of everything else.

Because of that great education, I've been able to work for top companies. I specifically went to work for them for the money. It wasn't like I loved what they did. It was to make sure my son could have everything I didn't have and never have to worry about anything. I bought my first little house in St. Louis Park — my little two-bedroom, one-bath house. I used to just lie on the floor and cry and say, "It's mine."

I also was able to be an example for my two younger sisters who both have master's degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles, and are able to support themselves, as well. But my sister I'm closest to in age lives in San Francisco in a motel. There are many safety nets for people in San Francisco now.

I have had an amazing life. I'm so grateful for it. I've been to Shanghai and Tokyo, and lived in England and Germany. Most people assume that I had everything growing up, but it's an act.

TEAL: Right. It's a cover.

ENGRAV: It's truly a cover. I've worked in these places where people just assume you had the same things, or that my parents took the kids for vacations. I've never had that.

People assume that everyone has the same background. I wish that people realized in our own country that 60% of us will spend at least one year of our lives in poverty. We won't have enough. And 11 million children go hungry every day.

TEAL: When we think about that, I think it's our duty as a society to question and inquire, and to really look into why children are experiencing this.

When we think about who supported you during that time, and I think about my experience in life and when we talk about what do we believe in or did faith get us through, for me, it was kindness. Kindness is my religion. It's my core value. It's where I go when I need to reflect on what I need to do and how I need to move forward. I was able to observe those values from my grandparents.

At about 8 years old, we started living with our grandparents. We were with them until we were 14. I'm so grateful to them because I did experience what a healthy nuclear home would look like. I feel like having that lens gives me insight and value on how I operate in my own home.

Unfortunately, my grandmother passed away right after I graduated from high school. She did get to see me graduate.

It was devastating because she was my champion. She was my hero, and my grandfather, too. They showed me what healthy love looked like.

That is something that I am actively working on. I never really have unpacked the trauma that I experienced at 16 and the high-functioning stress that I have had to endure daily from that age to now.

However, with that said, I am so grateful to be employed at Mayo Clinic. When I started at Mayo Clinic, I remember walking into the huge building. I was amazed at the magnitude and the essence of what Mayo Clinic was and is, and putting the needs of the patient first. They really take care of their employees.

Because I worked at Mayo Clinic, I was able to put myself through school. No one else did it for me. Now I'm in my job, which is my passion work in taking care of people. I needed that growing up, and I want to make sure that everybody has that.

ENGRAV: I get to work by choice because I want to, which is so liberating and freeing.

TEAL: I want to get to that. I still have to survive. I'm still surviving — even challenged — right now. I can't wait to get to a point where I feel like I could truly feel free.

If there is anybody out there who has experienced the same, my door is open. Often, many of us have hidden. And I don't think we need to hide it.

Not a lot of people know my experience in life. I remember being so fearful about sharing my story and the judgment that I would experience. Knowing what I've experienced through kindness initiatives and working with nonprofits in the community, and witnessing others who have been challenged and are trying to survive, I want people to keep going, to keep pushing through. It will get better. Ask for help. If there's anything I recognized, it was that I could count on myself. I could do it.

NARRATOR: Reflect on this conversation. It takes each one of us to create a safe and supportive environment. Reach out to friends and colleagues to hear their story or consider sharing yours with them.

Types of homelessness

According to Britannica.com, the sheltered homeless are people who spend the night in emergency shelters, or in transitional or temporary housing. The unsheltered homeless are people who sleep on the streets, in cars, in abandoned buildings or in other places not intended for human habitation.

Food insecurity is defined by the Department of Agriculture as a situation of "limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways."

Learn more about homelessness statistics in your state.


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Tags: Danielle Teal, Evy Engrav, Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences

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