The Other Day

 

Seems like everywhere I look

Tough times are getting tougher

And mean keeps getting meaner

Maybe it doesn’t want to be

But does it anyway

 

They told me they found Pops

Frozen on the ground the other day

He didn’t have anywhere to go except

Under a bridge or out in the woods somewhere

Not that anyone cared ‘cause

If they had maybe he wouldn’t have been out there

 

So I went for a walk

In my old neighborhood

Passing by two guys

I thought were sleeping in their car

Turns out they were dead from an overdose

Can’t help but wonder how long they’d been there

 

The neighbors across the street said

They found those missing girls I was looking for

Finally found them in their final resting place

In two shallow graves along the highway

 

Then they asked me if I knew

Who jumped in front of the trains last Friday

I guess somehow they figured I would

Since I’m always out here

Anyway

When I went around the block

To see if Lois was still around

They told me she got evicted

And couldn’t get any housing

So she climbed through an empty window

And took her last breath

On the dining room floor

Maybe she died from a broken heart

 

Sitting in my car

Wondering where the hell I am

And where I’ll be tomorrow

Has left me wondering if

Anyone will remember

I used to be here

Me and Andy

Me and Andy

 

 

This….is my friend Andy. Sitting here writing this feels surreal because at no time did I ever did I think this guy would be the key to ending our homelessness. Why? Because I would’ve never met Andy if it hadn’t been for Twitter and Mark Horvath and let’s keep it real….out of all the people I know and have met, how many do you think gave me feasible options out of homelessness? Exactly!

I asked Andy how he found Mark and Andy told me that he was on Twitter setting up a profile for an idea he had and decided to use a hashtag on the word “homeless” to see what he could find and Invisible People Tv and Mark’s name came up. Andy sent a message to Mark and to Andy’s surprise, Mark followed him back and told him that I was in Kent and made hats. Did I mention that Andy is the founder of Homeless Beanies?At first, I didn’t know what to make of Andy (just like Mark!) but Andy was more persistent than I thought. It wasn’t until later that he admitted he could tell I wasn’t sure about him but that didn’t stop him from following what I did or volunteering his time to take up clothing collections to bring to me. I have a sneaking suspicion that Andy was and probably still is following my tweets and Facebook posts more than I realize because time and time again, he has surprised me with random acts of kindness towards me and my girls, something that doesn’t always happen out here.

Back in May, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. My mother can’t afford an in home caregiver and Medicare does not pay for one so I volunteered to do so knowing that this would only be a temporary arrangement. Once my mother could walk and take care of herself again, Maggie and I would return to where we were before; living out of our car. It wasn’t until about four weeks ago that I started getting texts from Andy asking where we were going to go once we left my mother’s. I simply told the truth by saying “Back to our car.” The next day, another text from Andy showed up on my phone inviting me and the girls over for dinner. I wasn’t sure we would be able to but Andy kept asking so I finally agreed. Towards the end of dinner, Andy announced he had an ulterior motive for asking us over. He didn’t want us going back to the car and wanted us to meet a female friend of his named Liz who owns a house that Andy rents the bottom half of. Liz came down and sat at the table with us and told me Andy spoke very highly of me (which has me wondering what exactly he told Liz!) and that she believed that people should be helping each other when times get rough and because of Andy’s recommendation, she wanted to know if I wouldn’t mind living there with them.

To be honest, I didn’t know what to say. Liz doesn’t know me and I’ve known Andy for about a year. Andy kept reassuring me it would be no problem for us to stay even though I kept expressing my doubts because I’m still struggling with finding a living wage without having to get suckered into the child care trap with Maggie. I kept rambling about my doubts until Andy looked at me and said “Carey, how long have we been working together? About a year, right? It’ll be okay! Take the time to get back on your feet. I don’t see any reason why this can’t work out.” I sat there staring at him like he was from another planet. In my mind, it must’ve taken a lot of courage for Andy and Liz to reach out with compassion the way they did. How many people would let a homeless family stay with them even after having gotten to know them after a year? I was used to the people whose compassion only lasted from 9 to 5 during the week, not people directly from the community offering help without expecting a lot in return. I told them both I needed to think about it since they live in another city about 30 minutes from where Maggie goes to school and that was my main concern. Maggie pretty much made both our minds up in less than 24 hours! Even my eldest was impressed with Andy and Liz but I suspect mostly Andy…;)

I contacted Andy and let him know we accepted the offer and I think at first he was surprised I would. He said “So you thought about it then?” I said “Apparently!” The next day we came over and Liz met us in the driveway to help us take our sleeping bags and duffle bags from the car. We didn’t have much to bring in anyway so it didn’t take long! Andy was inside rushing around putting bed frames together, moving things around in the kitchen and bathroom, painting stuff, putting up blinds and drapes….after awhile I told him to slow down!! He said he was just trying to make us feel comfortable! I said “Yeah but we just got here! We don’t need a lot and you don’t have to go that much out of your way.” How much you wanna bet he’s not done “decorating” yet?

We have been here a little over two weeks now and Maggie has adjusted fairly quickly. It’s me whose taking awhile to get used to the fact that we’re roommates with Andy! A guy I wouldn’t have met if it hadn’t been for Twitter and Mark Horvath!

 

 

Some days feel like this…..this one’s called “Pretending to be whole”.

 

Looking back to see if

Traces of tomorrow can be found

She realized that

Daily existence seems to exist

In concepts of time

And how best to spend it

 

Since time is one of those things

You can’t save up to use on another day

That may or may not rain down

Other possibilities

While trying not to drown

In today

 

We think we see all there is to see

But the truth is

We don’t

We only see what we think

Is relevant to our own comfort

So does that mean we have become comfortable

With other people’s discomforts?

 

Why do we think the suffering

Are somehow brave

Instead of realizing they are simply

Trudging through what they’ve been left with

That should be better than it is

But isn’t

 

Maybe what’s wrong with society lives behind

The reflection in the mirror

And whatever it is we find there

Is only a surface image

Of what we are in that moment

And that moment can be dressed up or down

According to the whims of fashion

That isn’t always so kind

 

Sometimes an image

Isn’t what it appears to be

Especially when it’s a shattered reality

Pretending to be whole

A poem for a reality too many are in…….

 

Survival is a constant comparison

Of needs against wants wanting

A better tomorrow now

 

Do I skip eating today so that

My kids won’t cry themselves to sleep?

How long will my clothes hold out

Because they need shoes more than me

 

How much gas do we need

To keep warm on winter nights

And how long before we can afford

To fill the tank up again?

 

Which is better

Sleeping at night or the day

Depends on which is safer

Since either way

You still have nowhere to stay

 

Why is it that I must

Hand over my children to strangers

Who get paid to keep them for me?

Where is the support needed

To hold together all these families?

I see no moral majority except

A majority whose morals center around

The acquisition of more and more

Regardless of who pays the price

 

And while they sit higher and higher

We keep sinking until

All we have are seconds borrowed

From a future that grows dimmer still

Sometimes the way I’m living feels like I’m in exile in my own backyard. Many in my situation often feel the same way. For those of you who don’t know what it’s like to be a homeless parent, this blog is dedicated to you!

I often run into people who don’t realize I’m homeless because apparently, I don’t look like what they stereotype a homeless person is “supposed” to look like. Soon after they realize I’m telling the truth, here come the assumptions about why I haven’t gotten out of homelessness in the eight years we’ve been out here. An interesting observation I’ve made about people is that it is more comfortable to assume what they don’t know than to grasp the reality that there isn’t a safety net for folks when they fall through the cracks of a crap economy. What this tells me is that people are complacent and comfortable NOT KNOWING. There are a host of reasons for that type of attitude but what I’m going to talk about today is the real time reality of day to day living that goes unnoticed by most except for those who are and have lived the homeless life.

Let’s start with the assumption that all homeless kids aren’t in school. Granted, I’ve done a lot of outreach in the city of Kent and Auburn to homeless families whose kids aren’t in school but every family’s situation is different yet similar if that makes sense. Unless the parents or parent has an addiction or serious mental illness, most of the families I’ve met living out of their vehicles or “on the run” have kids enrolled in school full time. Why wouldn’t they? Many were enrolled in school before they lost their homes, right? I know of housed kids who don’t go to school so homelessness isn’t always a factor when it comes to attendance. Here’s another factor to consider. When homeless, obviously you have no place to go. For folks without a car, being “on the run” constantly to find a safe place to sleep, food and whatever else they need takes up more time and energy than you might think. You can only ride bus routes for so long just to keep warm and take a nap in the evenings. You can only hang out during the day at a local library during business hours to use the computers to look for work, apply for services, etc. If you don’t have an address or a phone, how will potential employers find you? What if you don’t have health insurance and don’t qualify for state medical benefits? What if you can’t get food stamps? If you live out of your car, what happens if you run out of gas or need repairs done and you don’t have the funds to do so? If the library is closed during holidays, where will you spend your days? Many towns do not have homeless resource/day centers, just like the city of Kent! So while folks with kids are running around to survive, there might be days where they cannot get to school or are simply too exhausted!

Oh and don’t assume that people can just dump their kids off into Foster care or any other agency. My views on that are:

1. Why is it ok to pay a stranger to take care of somebody’s kids instead of giving the parents help to take care of their own kids, especially if the parents are not abusive or neglectful?

2. What happened to building strong families and keeping them together?

3. Taking kids away from their parents due to economic hardship caused by lack of resources or access to resources is another way to penalize the poor for being poor.

For the kids in homelessness, there is the added stigma of their peers finding out they’re homeless. Sooner or later, the truth will come out either because they can’t afford to buy new clothes, their shoes wear out, lack of access to regular showers becomes apparent, they can’t concentrate in school due to consistent hunger or lack of sleep, can’t afford to participate in school activities, and the list goes on from there. Then there’s the heartbreak of losing a cherished friend due to parents deciding that associating with a homeless kid will somehow infect them with poverty. Depending on what kind of people are running your school district, you will either get apathy or compassion from educators. I’ve experienced both.

For teenagers, homelessness can be tragic. If they are unaccompanied youth, their homelessness is very different from adult homelessness. For one thing, they have to be a certain age to qualify for food stamps, visits to the local food bank, etc. They are prone to predation from drug dealers, sex traffickers, gangs and street violence. Often times they discover their city may not have youth shelter but instead, juvenile detention centers. They get criticized for hanging out in public places, often accused of loitering or harassed by cops for panhandling. For teens still with their families, going to school can be a daily ordeal if your classmates don’t know your homeless. Peer pressure and bullying are very real problems they have to struggle with so they need all the support they can get but sadly, often do not. How do you think they feel when mom or dad gets passed over on a job interview or skips meals just to make sure they get fed first? I’ve met boys out here that starting selling drugs because they were sick and tired of being hungry, threadbare or hearing their mothers cry at night. They have no faith in a system that doesn’t seem to do anything fast enough for them. They’re not interested in being preached at, to or about. They want results they can see and touch just like everybody else.

I once reached out to a young man who was constantly being judged by his appearance. He complained about not being able to find work even though he had a degree in welding. He couldn’t get much help from local agencies or the state and started talking about death by train. One day, he surprised me when he got judgment thrown out of him by a man dressed in his Sunday best on his way to church with his family. The young man was panhandling to this man when the man blurted out “Why don’t you just get a job instead of living like a bum?!” The youth replied “Sir, I am not a bum. I have two years of college and am a trained welder. I can’t find a job because no one wants to hire me. I am not a drug addict, either. I will take any job I can get but I don’t qualify for health insurance through the state, I don’t qualify for housing, I can’t even eat on a regular basis and that’s the only reason I ask people for money!” The man was stunned to hear this and to everyone’s surprise, he reached into his pocket and handed the youth a $10 bill. He even apologized for his comment.

The biggest observations I’ve made about other people’s reaction to poverty came from watching relative’s behavior once I told them we are homeless and have been for eight years. Instead of noticing that I’ve had two jobs since I was 12, child support is missing, and they weren’t around or chose not to be when we lost our apartment and couldn’t apply for Section 8 because this state is closed to application and has been for years, they assumed from where they’re at that I must not be doing something right. That’s when I ask them why they never showed up at the hospital after I had a stroke from working two jobs back to back. The other thing is the habit of offering help when it’s convenient to do so. Here’s a clue, homelessness is never convenient and help is required according to an individual’s need, not yours! Timing also plays a key role in getting out of homelessness because it does no good to come up with rent money after you’ve already been evicted or lost everything you owned. We don’t need part time child care, we need full time child care to work two minimum wage jobs that may or may not pay for rent. If we lose our health, then our situation has become even more urgent. The longer one is stuck in homelessness, the harder it is to get out of it. Also, if you offer shelter to family members having a hard time, be realistic with your expectations. It takes longer than a few weeks, months or a year to get back on your feet, especially with increased cuts to social services and the rising costs of living. Poor relatives may not be able to chip in for utilities or your food bill either which is a big part of why so many families are living out of their cars or in hotels if they can afford to.

I have watched how certain attitudes about poverty have been institutionalized even at the local government level. When cities enact “quality of life” ordinances against the homeless, that is a result of being out of touch with real time homelessness and the obvious lack of resources to help the homeless get off the streets. Criminalizing the poor, either by policy or attitude, only makes it harder on the homeless and doesn’t solve poverty. For those of us out here struggling to get by, we expect to be judged for being poor. We expect people to assume the worst about us but more than anything, your reaction to poverty is a reflection of a society’s values so what does yours say about you?

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a poem to show what it’s like to try to go grocery shopping when you’re poor.

 

Falling by the wayside

 

Grocery list in hand

Will I have enough?

There’s only so much I can do

Till the end of the month

 

Kids asking for stuff

We can’t afford

Even though all they wanted

Was a pack of chewing gum

Or an occasional candy bar

 

Me watching them

Watching other families in line

Wondering why they can buy

What we can’t

 

Me, tired

But have to keep moving on

They wondering

How much longer until

We’re in a place of our own

 

No easy answers

No guarantees

There’s just an endless list of maybes

And no way of telling

How much longer it will take

 

Me watching brethren on the streets

Falling by the wayside

They’ve been out here too long

Waiting for help that never came

 

Some

They got tired of waiting

And decided dying was a better way to live

Than admit they can’t get out of

A dead end

 

But I

Can’t give up

On trying for a new day

They are watching me and

Everything I do or don’t do

In their memory will remain

 

So I

Can’t let them see me

Get pushed beyond pain

And I can’t let the darkness

Call my name

Today

She was holding my hand along a path

The ancient ones once walked

 

I held her hand because I

Didn’t want to let her go

I asked her to look down

What plants do you see

And what can they be used for?

I could see her thinking

Reaching back to that place in her mind

The same place we visited last year

Where I showed her what to do

 

For once, where our feet touched the ground

We weren’t running

To get to a better place

We were just living in that moment

A return to the old ways

And we remembered who we are

 

We were not beggars

Nor fugitives of poverty

Neither are we to be forgotten

Simply because we have been displaced

 

And we will keep on knowing who we are

Because we can never forget

Looking back at the years of my life

Is like

Watching all my experiences

On replay

 

But the ones that stand out

Are the ones remembered

Through the eyes of my daughters

Watching their mother

 

Yeah, times have been rough

And sometimes rough got rougher

Because there was no one to catch us

From falling

 

And for every time that fell

We got up

We had no choice

But to keep going

 

And even though

There is no way of telling

When things are going to get better

We have to keep trying

Because there are so many things

We don’t have control over

 

And since that is the case

We do the best we can

To improvise a better future

For the future’s sake

 

When my daughter asked me

Why I have no friends

I was stunned because

I was so busy working too many jobs

I didn’t realize she saw me that way

 

It’s not that I don’t have any friends

It’s just that not many are worthy

Never let anybody abuse, use or take you for granted

And never settle for anything less

Than the best love has to offer

Including the love you should have for

Your self

 

I know you wonder

Why I seem to be lonely

Especially when everyone around you

Is with somebody

 

So I hope you’ll understand that

Sometimes walking alone

Is the only way to be at peace with yourself

But you won’t know that until you learn

How to trust your inner voice

Since it’s been there from birth

And will be the only one listening

For the rest of your life

 

I didn’t ask for a hard life

But sometimes you have to sacrifice

What others cannot understand

About how to survive the holocaust

Of living in a society

That does not see life

As sacred

 

Understand that my pain is not yours to carry

It is mine and I will keep it

With my head held high

And my feet on the ground because

There is no way around the life you live

You have to live the life

While you’re still in it

Cherokee White Eagle Corn I grew

 

When my hands touch the earth

It is therapy

Here I am not homeless or

Wondering what tomorrow will bring

 

When I plant seeds I see

How I fit in with growing cycles

Sanctuary from the daily grind

Of bleeding on empty

 

When I see the first blossoms

Spring rains bring

I forget about other people’s attitudes

Or assumptions about me

 

Here I am not judged

By how much money I make

As if that made anyone

A better human being

 

 

But even if the harvest

Isn’t so great

It’s not so much about quantity

As it is about knowing

That I helped something live

Long enough to give

Life for the next generation

To heal all over again

Watching people treat themselves like an enemy inspired this one…..

 

Remembering

 

Convoluted, polluted and diluted

Is what the machine wants you to believe

Is truth

 

But my truth comes from looking back

At where I came from

Remembering the reality

Of other people’s insanity

 

Remembering the apathy

Of related inconsistencies

Creating self-destructive mentalities

As a normal way of life

 

I have seen the parasite of fear

Drain life’s blood from the future

Like a plague on the loose

Allowed to fester

 

And as with all plagues

Comes the sellers of snake oil

Flavored with the taste of religion

Or pseudo academia

 

The engineers of society

See profits to be made

Suffering does not matter

Who has the most wins

 

So it is no wonder

People don’t know who they are

Once the trappings

Have been removed

 

The only refuge that exists

Is the one that has always been

Within

And I will keep on

Remembering