Leslie Banks sanitizes her workspace, that she decorated for Halloween, in the shower and laundry area she manages at Trinity Center Walnut Creek in Walnut Creek, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Banks works at the center and after years of living on the streets moved into an apartment early last year. The center provides opportunity and support for homeless and working poor people, and manages a 50-bed overnight winter shelter. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)


Former homeless woman gives back to the center that gave her hope

Leslie Banks spent 17 years on the streets before she received the help she needed from Trinity Center in Walnut Creek

Bay Area News Group

Published November 2021

Note: This story is from our 2021 campaign and has been fulfilled, but you can still donate to the Share the Spirit general fund.

A correction to an earlier version of this article has been appended to the end of the article.

The first night out on the streets, Leslie Banks lost all hope.

Looking for refuge and a safe place to sleep, Banks curled up in a park with a sleeping bag and her bike. She fell asleep only to be awakened by the sprinklers in the middle of the night.

With her clothes drenched, she felt the sting of the cold air. She cried and couldn’t stop. She had a thought: “Maybe someone will come and I’ll get lucky and somebody will kill me.”

Banks experienced homelessness for almost 17 years. But now, the 59-year-old has secured a job, a safe place to call home and a burning desire to help those who were just like her.

“Trinity Center means everything for me,” Banks said. “If it wasn’t for Trinity, I’d still be homeless out on the street.”

Banks works at the center and after years of living on the streets moved into an apartment early last year. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group) 

Trinity Center Walnut Creek operates a weekday program for adults and transitional-age youth in need of safety-net services. It also operates an overnight winter shelter with 50 beds. The center provides a place for homeless people to take a shower, do laundry, receive mail and access a computer.

The organization received funding this year from Share the Spirit, an annual holiday campaign that serves residents in need in the East Bay. Donations will help support 56 nonprofit agencies in Contra Costa and Alameda counties. Trinity Center plans to use its grant to provide hearty dinners, gifts and gift cards during the holidays.

Before she found Trinity Center, Banks’ only option for a shower was to poke holes in a 2-liter bottle of water and douse herself in a park. Sometimes, she’d find a public park bathroom with a drain on the floor, strip down and take “a bird bath.”

“When I finally did get a shower (at Trinity Center), I didn’t want to come out. The warm water felt so good,” Banks said.

Banks grew up in a middle-class home in a suburb of Chicago. She lived with her mom, grandmother and sister. Her family was so close-knit that her cousins were more like brothers and sisters.

“Being homeless was never in my vocabulary,” Banks said. “I never knew any homeless people. I never saw homeless people from where I lived.”

Married and divorced twice, Banks began her path to homelessness in Washington after her then-boyfriend went to prison for gun possession.

“It was his house, so I got booted out,” Banks said.

As a last resort, Banks moved from Washington to California to be with the boyfriend’s family. But Banks said it wasn’t a good situation so she didn’t stay long.

She took to the streets.

“You have to toughen up,” Banks said. “You have to think about where you’re going to sleep that night.”

While homeless, Banks said she had to be strategic about where to sleep. She stayed close to neighborhoods because if anything happened, someone could hear her scream.

Leslie Banks cleans in the shower and laundry area she manages at Trinity Center Walnut Creek. (Anda Chu/Bay Area News Group)

“Growing up my mom always told me, as soon as it gets dark, you better get your butt home or you’re going to get raped or killed,” Banks said. “It’s implanted in my brain.”

Banks lost several family possessions throughout her unstable journey. When the motor home she briefly lived in was impounded and destroyed, items that belonged to her grandmother were long gone, fraying the relationship she had with her mom.

The various name changes from marriage and divorce also created a hurdle for Banks. Banks said she lived without an ID for 10 years after her purse was stolen. No ID meant she couldn’t secure a job or housing. Her birth certificate was in Illinois, and she had trouble getting it mailed to California.

The paperwork, the endless phone appointments to government offices led to frustration and discouragement.

“Just to get a hold of the right people, it was crazy,” Banks said.

At Trinity Center, the volunteers helped her get a California ID. That was the first step in the right direction. She volunteered to do gardening at the church next to Trinity, then started helping out in the shower and laundry rooms at the center.

Now, she’s been working at Trinity Center for almost seven years.

Banks is no longer hopeless and distraught. She has a positive, radiant energy.

“She’s a beautiful example of how things can change,” said Leslie Gleason, director of Trinity Center.

In early 2020, Banks was able to move into a home. She lives in a studio apartment within St. Paul’s Commons, located above the Trinity Center. St. Paul’s Commons, which is owned by the nonprofit Resources for Community Development, is a permanent, affordable housing community.

“It’s a lot safer,” Banks said. “I have electricity. I can see at night when it gets dark. I have a bathtub now so I can soak in a bathtub if I want.”

On a quiet Wednesday afternoon in late October, Banks managed the front desk of the shower area. Anyone in need of a shower can sign up during the day, and Banks made the space festive with spooky Halloween decorations to greet people who walked through the door.

“We can always count on Leslie to beautify the space,” Gleason said.

Banks, with her braided pigtails, wore a white lab coat and blue latex gloves. A blue surgical mask hid a bright smile. She grabbed a travel-sized bottle of shampoo, conditioner and body wash along with a towel for a man to take a shower in one of the three rooms.

“I can help people now,” Banks said. “I like helping them because I remember how it was for me.”

How to help

Trinity Center was deeply impacted by COVID-19 with reductions in staff and volunteer programs. Donations will help the center return to its pre-pandemic services.

Goal: $10,000

Note: This story was fulfilled, but you can still donate to the general fund

Previous Stories


Facing tough times, Oakland residents get back on career track through Civicorps

Donations will help Civicorps support the salary of a case counselors, who provides trauma-informed counseling, conflict resolution, social services support, and case management to over ...
Read More →

Contra Costa County nonprofit offers immigrants hope through day labor, small business programs

Donations will help Monument Impact boost its day labor program and Emerging Business Support Program that it started last year.
Read More →

Affordable meal delivery service is a lifeline for seniors, and struggling to meet demand

Donations to SOS Meals on Wheels will help pay for special meals for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other cultural holiday celebrations, and also help the nonprofit ...
Read More →

ShowerHouse Ministries changing lives one shower at a time

Donations will help ShowerHouse Ministries pay for operating the showers, supplying items for hygiene kits and clean clothes, purchasing food and putting gas in the ...
Read More →

Sunflower Hill more than just a home for those with special needs

Donations will help Sunflower Hill provide programming and activities at Irby Ranch to help intellectually or developmentally disabled adults develop skills to support independent living. ...
Read More →

This veteran wanted a career change — Swords to Plowshares steered her toward a new job.

Donations will help Swords to Plowshares  to raise $25,000 to help veterans like Jessie Kohgadai with transportation vouchers and basic need services.
Read More →

Winter Nights Family Shelter helps homeless get back on their feet

Donations will help Winter Nights Family Shelter to assist families move into permanent housing by covering rental deposits, and pay for temporary motel stays for ...
Read More →