When you meet Savannah Tedesco, you’d never guess that she spent two of her teenaged years homeless. She is a successful Millennial with a career in politics, serving the North Carolina General Assembly. Overcoming the odds, Tedesco managed to break out of her situation of homelessness.
She said her experiences battling poverty cemented her beliefs as a conservative. “I’m a Republican because of the Republicans who helped me. They taught me that the way to get to the American dream is through self-determination, self-sufficiency and work ethic.”
“I grew up San Francisco,” said Tedesco. “I was born in Oakland… and emancipated at 14. I was homeless when I first moved out. I knew some people in North Carolina, so I took a Greyhound bus with no plan and no money, just a couple of pieces of clothes, and headed east.”
Once in North Carolina, Tedesco found an abandoned shed that she turned into a makeshift home. “I lived in a cinderblock shed in an orchard, with one light bulb and two moldy bus seats I used for my bed. But I was happy to be in my own place.” From there, Tedesco enrolled herself in school. “I decided to enroll in school. I walked to school every day, and I worked at Sonic in the afternoon.”
Savannah, left, with her dog and others living under a bridge. | Photo: Savannah Tedesco
When asked why no one she met at school ever offered to help, Tedesco noted the lack of resources for children.
“Government agencies don’t help you because you’re under 18,” she explained. “The Salvation Army just gave me a bar of soap. Many places didn’t want me in their facility because they didn’t want anyone to take advantage of me. With no place to stay it is difficult to survive, so I ended up living under bridges part of the time.”
“When I went to my Democratic friends, they just said to go to the government. But that rarely helped. I was too young, worked too hard or made too much,” she said. “But my Republicans friends saw that I was trying. They ‘adopted’ me, brought me into their homes and helped me in any way they could. On a personal level.”
“I realized early on that government agencies weren’t helping people,” said Tedesco. “They weren’t helping people in need, just taking care of the people who didn’t want to find a job.”
Tedesco pointed back to the Republicans who provided real resources. “Republicans I knew helped people with food and clothes. They gave me a place to sleep. They even helped me to study and stay in school.”
After paying rent to live briefly with a friend’s family, Tedesco traveled to a new city for some short-term shelter. “I met some people in Asheville, so I went there and crashed on a couch.” But soon she was on the streets again.
“I was homeless in downtown Asheville. I was applying to jobs but mostly playing guitar and living off that.” She described the difficulty of finding work when you’re homeless. “In Asheville, if the business owners know you’re homeless, they don’t hire you… They think you are a risk to the business.”
That’s when a certain charity impacted Tedesco’s life. “I heard a group gave out free food and I was hungry,” she said.
“My Republicans friends saw that I was trying. They ‘adopted’ me, brought me into their homes and helped me in any way they could. On a personal level”
That’s how she met the Christian Motorcyclists Association in Asheville. “They had so much food,” Tedesco said she can still remember it clearly. “Piles of French bread and ham and turkey and every kind all of meat… When it was my turn, they asked what I wanted. I said to put all the meat on one sandwich. They laughed and made one bigger than my head.”
Tedesco said the kindness didn’t stop there. “They asked if I was cold and gave me a blanket. They asked about my dog and gave me a huge bag of dog food. They never asked me questions about how I got in that situation; they just loved me.”
“Lots of people try to place blame — ‘they are homeless because of their problems,’ ‘don’t give them money because they will spend it on drugs.’ But the bikers didn’t care why anyone was in that situation. I mean, I was there because my parents didn’t want me,” Tedesco said.
Tedesco’s situation changed when a charitable man let her stay in his home, sleep on his couch and use his shower. She managed to get a job, her own place and went back to school. “It sucks, what happened to me. But I wouldn’t trade the lessons I’ve learned.”
In fact, Tedesco has advice for people who want to help those living in desperate poverty. “Homeless people need showers. You can purchase a shower at a travel station. Help them to get interview clothes. Giving them food is great, but it doesn’t get them permanently out of their situation. Help them look like someone who has a job. I couldn’t get a job because I wasn’t clean enough, but I couldn’t afford to live in a place where I could get clean. That’s the basics —clothes and a shower. Because who is going to hire someone who smells like a homeless person?”
Savannah, pictured with U.S. Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), now works with the North Carolina state legislature in Raleigh. | Photo: Savannah Tedesco
Tedesco also added that socks are one of the most appreciated items. “It is amazing how important socks are! Your feet literally rot when you can’t take off your shoes because people will steal them.”
“When you’re homeless, like I was for over two years, you learn a sense of who people are,” she said. “A lot of people are unwilling to help or understand what it is like to live [in poverty.] They think ‘those lazy people just don’t want to get a job,’ when you don’t look like them.”
Tedesco believes most homeless people want get out of poverty. “I’ve hitchhiked across the country… and 75 percent of the homeless population is willing to work and want to improve their situation. They had a bad circumstance and ended up in the cycle of poverty. Many of them are veterans.”
To people in similar circumstances, she said, “For anybody that finds themselves in that situation, like homelessness, you can get out of it. It just takes a lot of work and self-determination.” She suggested reaching out to religiously affiliated organizations. “People of all different religions are willing to help, if you ask for it when you really need it.”
“For anybody that finds themselves in that situation, like homelessness, you can get out of it. It just takes a lot of work and self-determination”
Personally, Tedesco does her best to give back. “I’ve learned there is so much kindness in the world. The amount of compassion and gratitude… it opens yours eyes. And now… I want to help impact others in the same way.”
Smaller, local charities, like the ones that helped her, are where she puts her efforts. “The Christian Motorcyclists Association is one of the most helpful organizations I’ve encountered,” she said. “I also suggest contributing to a local private business that helps people. Churches are great, they give free food and clothing, and they do it on an individual basis, learning about a person is the best way to help them. I give blood and hand out bottled water. I donate lots of clothes, not to Goodwill but to private charities and domestic violence shelters that give legitimate help.”
While Tedesco hasn’t known many people who have broken the cycle, she believes it possible with the right opportunities. “Republicans helped me from their heart, one-on-one, and rewarded my hard work. Because of that I had hope.”
Katrina Jorgensen is a contributor for Opportunity Lives. You can follow her on Twitter .