Kay’s Story

I Meet Kay

(Post Script: I recorded my interview with Kay but sadly I am currently unable to upload audio to this site. )

I noticed her truck on one of my forays to the local library. The back cover and tailgate of her truck were open so two cats can lounge outside their cages; the third, an orange tabby, reclines on the driver’s side floor under the steering wheel. She parks in the same shady spot every day in the library parking lot, where one can see her cats and personal items stowed in the truck bed and know her situation. The first time I saw her, she was relaxing in the front seat. As I walked past, I regretted approaching her to learn her story (some irrational fear on my part). I decided then that the next time I see her, I’ll introduce myself and find out her story.

Last week, while walking back to the house after buying an ice cream, I saw her truck again and decided to approach. I introduced myself and told her that I’m a writer. I asked if I could speak with her about her situation. My anxieties were unfounded; turns out she’s quite amiable and open about her situation.

Kay is 76 and has been homeless for four years. She lost her home yet manages to care for her disabled son (he’s 57), who temporarily lives elsewhere. She’s not mentally ill and has no alcohol/drug issues but she is elderly and that brings with it its own set of problems. She stays clean (best as she can), launders her clothes, and takes excellent care of her three cats. She is fortunate to have Social Security and a small pension; her son receives SSI. With their income, it’s still a struggle to save enough money to find a place where she can live with her son and her cats (living outside is pricey, having to buy meals and everything on the go). She is fortunate to have a place to sleep at night; a woman friend allows her to park in the driveway so she arrives there around 9pm to settle in for the night.

Not Alone in This

Kay’s story, I’m sure, is not a singular one. All over the U.S. and abroad many people are finding themselves in a similar situation. Instead of treating homeless people like criminals, society needs to show compassion. Each story is unique and until we know how that person ended up in a car or on the streets, we cannot judge, we cannot point accusatory fingers. These people are our neighbors, fellow members of our community, and we must work together with them to help them get back on their feet.

I have a 35-minute audio interview with Kay that I would love to upload here. However, WP only allows that option with a premium site (currently not in my budget). Too bad. She’s an interesting lady with a lot to say. I’m working on starting a YouTube channel so I can at least upload video (if they allow me to do video interviews).

Stay tuned.

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The Stigma of being Homeless — From Homelessness to Happiness

As I’ve written before, EVERYBODY HAS A STORY. Homelessness has many causes, affecting many people, in many ways. Please click this post link to better understand and perhaps to judge less.

This post is going to brutally honest.
One of the main reasons I kept quiet about my experience of being homeless as a teenager for more than 2 decades is because of the stigma. I didn’t want to be judged because of it.
Let me explain to you how it feels to be judged because you are homeless. It is soul crushing. It makes you feel like you are nothing. Not worthy of anything. Of love. Of support. Of anything.

https://homelessnesstohappiness.com/2019/08/05/the-stigma-of-being-homeless/

Out of Options

Out of Options

What do you do when you’re out of options? Or when your options are so limited that any choice is an undesirable one or puts you in dire financial straits?

This is often the quandary faced by the working homeless.

Meet Ella

I stopped to talk with her the other day, on my way out of the local library. She was parked in the lot, under the shade of a large tree, relaxing in her car with a book. Her foot rested on the open driver’s side door, a paperback in her left hand. I could see the clothing and supplies in her car and understood her situation immediately. I hesitated but decided to approach her. I introduced myself, told her that I’m a writer, and asked if I could speak with her about her situation. She was friendly and obliged; we had a nice chat, actually.

Ella told me she’s over 55 and has found only part-time work. Her savings has dwindled, having lived off of it for too long. There’s stiff competition for jobs out there and ageism is a reality in the job market. Here in California, Ella is part of a growing sub-culture of the homeless population: people who work but still cannot afford housing due to 1) a shortage of affordable housing and, 2) ridiculously high rents (for substandard housing), and 3) the availability of full-time jobs.

She has a car payment (that used to be affordable), car insurance, gas, food, plus a few small credit card and medical bills that she now struggles to pay each month and it’s getting harder. She doesn’t drink or smoke and she has no mental health issues (at least not yet; life on the streets can change that in a flash).

Our Chat

This was part of our conversation:

Me: How did you end up living in your car?

Ella: I was laid off (she didn’t mention the company and I didn’t ask) nine months ago and unemployment ran out two months ago. I couldn’t afford my apartment anymore. They kept raising my rent – last raise was to over $1150 for my small one bedroom apartment. I’d used up much of my savings after getting laid off because unemployment didn’t cover my rent and all my expenses (she mentioned she had some medical issues and that took some of her savings). I got a part-time job at a Walgreen’s (I won’t say where) but they can’t give me more hours.

Me: So I’m assuming you have no family here to rely on, to help you by giving you a place to stay?

Ella: Right. I’m divorced and my kids are grown; one’s in Colorado, the other’s in Florida with a family of her own.

Me: Do they know your situation?

Ella: Yeah. But I told them I want to stay here, it’s my home. My son in Colorado offered to take me in until I got back on my feet but I’m not leaving my home. Too cold for me there! And I got this part-time job, can’t just walk away. I don’t do that. I got bills to pay, gas for the car… still own some on that medical issue I told you about…

Me: I get it, I do. I’ve been struggling myself, in a similar situation. Lots of jobs on the internet but it seems like no one’s hiring. At least not us ‘old folks’, right?

Ella: (nods in agreement)

Me: So where do you park at night? Are there places that are safe? Are you harassed by police? I’m concerned because you’re a woman alone in a car and that can be a safety issue.

Ella: Oh, I’ve been lucky so far, I guess. I drive around the neighborhoods (Sac County), look for a street with some cars on it and park for the night. Long as I stay in my car, nobody bothers me. So far, anyway.

Me: Where do you clean up? For work, I mean.

Ella: I got a gym membership so I have a place to shower. I try to wear clothes that don’t need ironing but it’s hard in this heat!

Me: How long do you think you’ll be in this situation?

Ella: Who knows. I’ll keep working as long as I can. If I don’t find more work soon, I don’t know what I’ll do.

Solving the Crisis

Ella is just one of many experiencing a loss of home here in California. There is no single answer, no single resolution to this crisis but we MUST start somewhere. A good place to start is for the working homeless to have a safe place to park at night. We need to talk to city leaders, get them to understand that housing is a grand goal but it’s a long-term goal and we need short-term goals, like parking and restrooms. We need to help people on the streets (or in their cars) feel like they’re human, one of us – because they are.

Dispelling myths about California’s homeless

The following article highlights some important clarifications about myths and stereotypes that people too often assume about people without homes:

Preview

Sarah Backus lives in a tent on the streets of Sacramento. The 56-year-old mother of three said she hears these myths and stereotypes about the homeless all the time: “We’re the scum of scum

Myth #2: They’re homeless because they’re drug addicts or mentally ill.

Reality: Martin said it’s often the stress and trauma of living without a home that leads to addiction and disease, or makes it worse.

“Many folks think that substance abuse and mental illness is a cause of homelessness, whereas it’s more of a result of homelessness,” he added.

The Los Angeles County study found 15 percent of the homeless people it surveyed reported a substance abuse disorder and 27 percent a serious mental illness.

Source: Dispelling myths about California’s homeless

Homeless — Poetry For Healing

Homeless

Fatigued by a vagabond life
Bones weary from the weather
Clothes threadbare and worn
skin tough as hammered leather
 
A look unmistakable
with eyes forever distant
An existence not of choice
always socially resistant
 
Fame lost in history
and soon forgotten
family ties and love
now decayed and rotten
 
Tattered belongings
A bottle in a brown bag
A dirty old blanket
His only swag
 
The liquor warming
and a welcome treat
soon lost in a whisky haze
This sad life on the street
 
 
Christine Bolton - Poetry for Healing ©


Hiding in Plain Sight: The Not-So-Visibly Homeless

The Not-So-Visibly Homeless

I remember the first time I became homeless – it was on the heels of 9/11, and after quitting my NYC job as PTSD clenched me in its powerful grasp. No longer able to afford my condo, I moved most of my life into storage and the rest with me into my car. It was a tumultuous sixteen months and an experience I do not look back on fondly. It happened again many years later, after a string of bad decisions on the heels of the 2008 financial meltdown. Yet I was determined, in both situations, to not look homeless; that would have brought a rash of unwelcome encounters with the general public. I felt humiliated (mostly at what I believed was my stupidity for allowing this to happen again, as if I had control over outside forces like the 2008 crash) but did my best to stay clean (in hygiene and clothing) while I worked out a solution. It took four long, arduous months, but I managed to once again get back on my feet, find work, a place to live, and rebuild my life.

Of course, I never told my boss or co-workers. Homelessness was – and in many ways, still is – a taboo subject, especially when you’re the subject of that taboo. That is only part of what many working homeless must face on a daily basis: whether or not to tell their bosses that they’re living in their cars and risk losing their jobs.

Employer Awareness: Should You Tell Them?

This raises questions: Should you tell your boss you’re homeless? And once a boss/supervisor is aware of the situation, are they compelled in any way to help the employee? No, but many are generous enough to help in any way they can. National corporations  often have programs (like Home Depot’s Homer Fund, for example) to help employees financially. Smaller businesses may not have the same level of support available but the owners may be willing to help in some way, if they’re able.

U.S. workers have protections against race and gender discrimination, but there’s nothing on the books to protect a homeless worker here in California. While Rhode Island protects homeless workers as a protected class, California does not (a bill was introduced in 2012 but died in committee, thanks to strong oppositions). With the surge in homeless populations across the U.S. (due to job losses, natural disasters, etc.), this will become an important piece of legislation to pass.

The Struggle to Find a New Home

Finding a place to live that one can afford can also be a challenge; without proof of steady residence somewhere, it’s a lot harder for some working homeless to gain that foothold. Renting the occasional room when it’s affordable can help keep one off the street but it doesn’t supply a stable rent history. Social service programs that help the homeless can often help in this situation because they’ve built relationships with landlords, making the transition a bit easier. Full-time jobs are getting harder to come by, so saving up enough for the deposit and first month’s rent can also be a struggle. Car payments, car insurance, gas, portable foods (which are more expensive), cell phone, and other monthly expenses often eat up the income.

Everybody Has a Story

As a result of my personal experiences, I now look at homelessness and the people caught in its trap with a different set of eyes. After all, any of them could have the same story as me. Each homeless person has a story, a history, and it’s important to know that story to understand how a person ends up in such a situation. Every life has a story, and every story has a life. It’s that simple.

 

More information:

https://www.kqed.org/news/11690325/thousands-of-californians-are-working-while-homeless-and-many-dont-want-their-boss-to-know

 

 

Night Spot in a Lot: Parking For the Working Homeless

Permitted Parking For the Working Homeless

I recently watched a YouTube video (right sidebar) where CA cities Santa Barbara and Los Angeles are allowing permitted vehicles to park overnight in unused lots. These permitted vehicles are owned by the working homeless – people who have jobs but live in their cars. This is an excellent solution to an ever-growing problem and begs the question – where can the working homeless safely park their cars at night?

Safety in Numbers

All over California (and everywhere else) there are a multitude of lots empty at night that can be used as safe havens for the working homeless. In L.A. and Santa Barbara, port-a-potties are placed in the lots as well, allowing for a safe and hygienic place for people to relieve themselves. Why isn’t the rest of California (and other states) on board with this? It’s a small but vital step forward that supports a segment of the homeless population that seems more like ‘tweeners’ – not quite on the streets, not quite off the streets. Creative solutions like this show that a city is willing to be part of the solution, instead of dragging their heels on what to do next to “solve” the homeless crisis in their city.

Another plus to this option is that there’s safety in numbers. Parking in these permitted lots may decrease criminal activity (car break-ins, assaults, etc.) and will remove the risk of car owners getting ticketed by law enforcement for parking illegally, a costly expense, and a waste of precious police manpower.

Keepin’ It Clean

Another option is to work with local YMCAs to reduce their monthly membership fee so the working homeless have a place to shower and dress for work. Personal hygiene upkeep is an important part of maintaining a sense of normalcy despite the living situation. When one is cleaned, dressed, and pressed, it’s easier to get out in the world and get on with the day. It also helps maintain a brighter mood, because when you can at least take care of your personal hygiene needs, you’ll feel better about yourself. That, in turn, can lead to more positive behaviors, all eventually leading to the working homeless finding a way up and out of their living situation.

Big Small Steps

There are plenty of small steps cities can take to help alleviate the negative effects for people living in their cars. Allowing them to use unused lots at night and providing access to clean restrooms is smart and compassionate.

Talk to your district representatives, your city/town council, attend city/town meetings, and tell them to provide safe parking for the working homeless in your area. Ask them to work with local homeless programs to provide parking permits for people living in their cars. Small steps can lead to big results. We just have to make the effort.

The New Face of Homelessness

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