SEATTLE -- What does it mean to be homeless? On any given night in the Seattle-King County area, close to 10,000 people know exactly what it means.

Seattle ranks fourth in the nation when it comes to metro areas, with only New York, Los Angeles and Las Vegas having a higher homeless population than Seattle. And contrary to the stereotype, many of the homeless are women – young mothers with children just like Ashley.

Seattle was supposed to be a new beginning. After surviving Hurricane Katrina, moving to the Northwest from Louisiana wasn't at all what Ashely imagined.

“It was crazy. I was scared,” said Ashley. “I didn't want to lose my kids, and I know that it was in front of me."

She was 25 and a single mother. She was also two months pregnant when her boyfriend threw her out.

“I didn't want to go into no shelter ‘cause I was embarrassed and ashamed… and I had to… ‘cause I didn't want them to take my kids," she said. “So I just went into a shelter, and I stayed there long, and I didn't have nobody. I didn't have no help."

She did have money, enough to get into an apartment. The trouble was her credit. She couldn't get approved.

"It wasn't a choice. I was homeless. There was nothing I could do about it,” said Ashley.

One month at Mary's Place turned into two, then four. She gave birth to her daughter and returned.

What she thought would be just weeks in a shelter lasted nearly one year.

“That it could happen to anybody. No matter who you is, it don't matter what you have. You can be brought to your lowest,” said Ashley.

Help finally came from neighborhood house. Counseling and financial assistance helped Ashley move into a home of her own.

“I am blessed, I have a job, I have a car, I have a house,” said Ashley. “God is good to me."

Her daughter is now one and her son turns seven.

"The feeling when I put the key through the door, just knowing that that's mine, and just to look in my kids' rooms and see their toys,” said Ashley.

They’re small things with new meaning.

“It made me know it's not just the drunks or the people on the corners that homeless. They are people just like me,” said Ashley. “They are people just like me that want their kids, that are fighting for their kids and they can't sleep on the street with their kids too long or they ain’t gonna have them."

Complete coverage: State of Homelessness