How One Silicon Valley Woman Went From Child Prodigy To A Lifetime On The Streets

This story is a part of Business Insider’s “
Homeless In Silicon Valley” series reported by Robert Johnson and edited by Chris C. Anderson. Jill Klausen and graphic designer Mike Nudelman contributed to this series.

When GiGi was 14 years old, the IRS unearthed a small discrepancy in the accounts of her parents’ small party supply store in downtown Palo Alto.

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A small error with her mum’s accounting left the family with $US7,000 in missed taxes, penalties, and fees — the equivalent of nearly $US20,000 in today’s dollars — that sent the store down a path from which it was unable to recover.

While her parents lost their business, what GiGi lost was arguably much worse.

She’d been IQ tested a few years before the IRS came into her parents’ life and scored well above genius level. Her parents were supportive, and working together they saw GiGi graduate high school with honours at 14 and get accepted to Stanford.

With the scholarship money, grants, and loans against the collateral from her family’s store would provide, GiGi prepared herself to launch into the world with everything she had. Unfortunately, with the IRS lien on the store and penalties piling up as her parents struggled to pay, GiGi never got the money she needed to make Stanford a reality.

The closest she ever got to Stanford after that was sleeping on the San Jose Number 22 bus as it plied its way from Palo Alo to San Jose, then back again; a run it makes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, which earned it the designation Hotel 22 from the areas homeless.

When GiGi was done telling Business Insider her story, she broke out a bent cigarette and said: “I don’t need a handout, but I really could use a hand up.”

GiGi has been on and off the streets since her family lost their business to the IRS when she was a teenager.

She's lived in tents with abusive men, and throughout it all she says her dog Tara is the only thing that gave her reason to keep going.

When we visited GiGi, she lived in this camp on Coyote Creek with a man named Dee who was just out of prison.

GiGi was showing Dee how to live homeless and in return his presence offered protection.

There was trash throughout the area, but in her camp the ground was swept clean.

There were no toilets nearby. 'Being homeless is easy,' GiGi said. 'Being bathroom-less is hard.'

GiGi finally got lucky and received subsidized housing.

She was one of the lucky few here in Silicon Valley, as some are restricted in other ways.

GiGi is now out of the Jungle. These are photos of her new apartment that she sent us.

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