A photo of the woman featured in the article.
Archive photo

Robin Denegal aspires to publish her autobiography one day. And after a try at the military and ten years on the streets, she has more than enough experiences to fill the pages.

Denegal was born in 1960 in Washington D.C. and is one of six children. She attended modeling school in her early teens. Upon high school graduation in 1978, she joined the U.S. Air Force, primarily because of challenges at home. She was frightened at first, as this was one of the first times she had left the District.

In 1979 she headed for Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. She was hospitalized during basic training because of a major oral surgery that required she have her jaw wired shut for six weeks. Denegal’s orders to go to Alaska were canceled.

Instead she went to Biloxi, Miss., for six weeks of technical training. During this training she was a first-tier student leader. From 1979 to 1980 she worked in the base commander’s office as a junior enlisted advisor at Bolling Air Force Base in Washington D.C. In this post, Denegal was interviewed and had her photo taken for the base newspaper. In October 1980, Robin was sent to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she achieved Airman of the Month.

Denegal was discharged from the Air Force in 1983, and despite all of her experience it took several years for her to find full-time work. From 1985 to 1993, Denegal worked at the Bureau of the Census, at the National Research Incorporated office performing surveys, and at the Department of the Navy for the Marines at the Navy Annex.

In 1993, Denegal’s medical condition impeded her work, and she had to stop working. She had enough money to live on her own for two years with community assistance, which provided her with services such as food and rental assistance. Despite this, Denegal was evicted in 1995, and her homelessness began.

She first experienced homelessness in Virginia during the fall of 1995. Over the next ten years, Denegal stayed in various shelters and on the streets of Washington, D.C., except for two winters in 1999 and 2000, when she stayed at a winter shelter in Arlington.

In 2004, Denegal finally decided to turn her life around and sought help through the Washington Legal Clinic and Calvary Women’s Shelter. She also received assistance from Community Corrections through the House of Ruth, which eventually led her to find housing in March 2005.

She now serves on the Speakers’ Bureau, where she goes around breaking stereotypes and misconceptions that many people have about homelessness. She also educates them on how they can get involved in their community to help end homelessness.

Denegal says that she really enjoys speaking and sharing her story to help others. Her favorite story is about a reunion, last year, with her father, a Korean War veteran, after 15 years of lost contact.