Parenting while homeless is no different than what other parents do; it’s just that as a parent without my own home, I have to deal with situations that non-homeless parents don’t have to worry about. For instance, my teenage daughter is going through major depression because of our situation and she has gotten to the point where just being at school every day is filled with dread. She is constantly worrying about her peers finding out that she’s homeless and her self esteem right now is directly linked to everything she feels she doesn’t have. Like most teens, there is an over focusing on appearances and popularity and having the money to go out every weekend. I can’t blame my daughter for the way she feels when she gets surrounded by this kind of pressure every day but at the same time, I cannot let her give up on her education or on herself.
She is fortunate enough to have two very nice girls who have befriended her regardless of her living arrangements and so far, they have kept our homelessness a secret. In fact they were the ones who told her about a young man they knew of that is currently living in a shelter not too far from the high school. Although I do what I can to help her self-esteem, I am the one who feels responsible for the pain and misery she feels. The logical side of me knows that I did everything I could to keep a roof over our heads but my emotional side is oblivious to reason. I feel like it’s my fault my kid wants to commit suicide because she feels no one cares whether she lives or dies. I can only talk to her so much but she has to come to the realization that life is worth living on her own because no matter how many times anyone talks to her; they can’t convince her that our situation will improve any time soon.
My daughter has seen me call shelters and transitional housing agencies only to be told there is nothing available time and time again. Here in Seattle we are overwhelmed and underfunded and our homeless population is not going down. If you are lucky, you may get on a waiting list but the stay in a shelter will only last about two months and then you’re put out on the street to start the cycle all over again. Section 8 is not an option
and hasn’t been for several years since our state is closed to even apply for housing vouchers. If you get an application, it is with the understanding that you are applying to be put on a waiting list with a minimum of 3 years.
My teen has watched police chase us from parking lots and public parks even though we had the right to be there. I was harassed by two police officers for “camping” in a parking lot in front of a store I happened
to be shopping at. They claimed that the store owner had called in a complaint but I researched that and found out that no complaint was made by the store owner. They made an assumption because they saw us in the RV I had. Fortunately, I had friends who were officers as well and they looked into it. Needless to say, I never saw those two officers again. One of my officer friends warned me that the area I was in happened to be notorious for racial profiling and I made a point of not making my presence known whenever I went through that particular neighborhood.
On the other hand, I have had officers go out of their way to give me rides so I could be at work on time or to daycare when I worked odd hours and had no working vehicle to drive with. Some have bought me coffee or
pointed out places that were ok to spend a night at. One even gave me gas money. You just never know what kind of people you will run into and it doesn’t matter if they wear a uniform. People are people but I made sure I did not feed into preconceived notions on what most people think of when see a homeless person. The disbelief and shock on their faces pretty much tells me what I need to know.
I imagine that things would be a lot worse for us if I had an addiction problem or mental health issues and although my daughter is thankful that I don’t, it doesn’t lessen the pain and humiliation she feels. Watching how some have treated us and the disconnectedness of relatives has led my daughter to believe that our situation is hopeless. She has been trying to find a part time job to help but no one is hiring or won’t hire her because she has no prior experience. Now add to this the fact that we are currently “living” in a small town where there aren’t many jobs available and you can see where all her frustration is coming from. How do you give your child hope when every step you take leads to nowhere?
Tomorrow may be a new day but in her eyes it is another day of more of the same.