Here’s a short video I made while checking out an opportunity with the Seattle Conservation Corps. Maybe most of you didn’t realize just how many barriers there are in getting out of homelessness but it’s time you did!
Ever since I went to the 140 Conference, all kinds of ideas came to me but knowing what will work for me is a learning process. Every day I find other ways to make living out of a van a little easier for my kids. With that in mind, I got to thinking about a project I’ve always wanted to do but had no idea how to do it. I could ask Mark but let’s face it. He’s got his own life and own schedule to follow. He can’t be everywhere at once and I would feel wrong for relying too much on any one person outside of myself. That being said, I made this rough, rough draft of a video about me and the kids. It’s only a few minutes long but it was the best I could do with an old camera that only takes 2 minutes of video at a time. The sound quality isn’t all that great but I’m not a professional filmmaker. I just want to show people how they can survive out here while working towards a better future. Just because I’m homeless doesn’t mean I won’t contribute to whatever community I happen to be in. If everything goes according to plan, I hope to start posting my videos on YouTube every week.
The other thing about this project is to show how indigenous traditional knowledge helps to keep me sane. There are times when there isn’t enough money to get the things you need or want so what do you do? I am grateful that my ancestors taught me how to live without money. I am grateful that they told me how they survived an American holocaust that too many want to pretend wasn’t as horrific as it was. Because of that background, I won’t let a manufactured reality of consumerism rule my life. In my opinion, the people who crumble the hardest when hardships hit are those who allow their self esteem to be governed by how much money they make or how many things they can purchase to surround themselves with.
I hope to achieve many goals with this homemade project but the primary one is to give viewers and readers a glimpse into the realities of homelessness that don’t cater to the stereotypical “bum” in an alleyway. At the same time, those of you new to homelessness or are about to go homeless, I hope that what you read and see here helps you to survive with a clear head. The key is not letting your fears paralyze you. Yes, hearing the voices of my kids talking about homelessness will be hard to watch. It should be. We can’t keep pretending families going through economic hardships are simply because of irresponsibility nor can we excuse apathy with the fallacy of thinking morality is synonymous with intelligence as I’ve heard that warped argument as well. If intelligence and different perceptions on morality are one and the same, politicians would be squeaky clean, right? Church leaders wouldn’t be exposed for scandal either…..
As I said before, this video I made is pretty much a rough draft of an idea I want to further explore. Once I get cameras to film longer than 2 minute segments, it will be easier to show you more but I’m working on that. You will see how I reclaim wool from thrift store sweaters to knit warm gloves, hats and socks for the winter. Time willing, I can show you how to identify plants that are edible. All of these things I can do while being on the move since living out of your vehicle means not being visible in any one place for too long. It always helps to establish positive relationships with the community as well, something I’ve been able to do with many officers. Sure, you’ll get the occasional butt-head but you run into people like that everyday anyway.
As rough as we have it right now, we don’t spend our days dwelling on doom and gloom. I see despair the way I do termites; unless an infestation is exterminated right away, the damage done may be irreversible. The same can be said about false hopes. Unless I have something solid to offer towards my kids future, I have to keep trying to get us to a better life and I will do whatever it takes to get us there. You can’t force people to help even if they are related to you so the best thing to do is create your own foundations to build from. That way, you know what you’re working towards.
Since I’m still unemployed and still living out of our mini-van, I figure I might as well document what we do every week. You may find out that we aren’t so different from anybody else it’s just that we don’t have our own housing right now. To you proud single mothers out there, stay proud and stay strong! I know you because I’ve already walked miles in your shoes!
Wow is all I can say to the generous folks who donated to help get to New York to attend the 140 Conference! I have to admit though that I am a little nervous as I’ve never been to a 140 before. True to my nature however, every new experience is an adventure to me so in many ways I am curious about the event more than anything. If someone had told me years ago that I would be a homeless blogger and advocate for the homelessness, I would’ve laughed in their faces. Yet here I am, getting ready to head to New York to attend the conference with Mark Horvath.
Never did it occur to me that the internet and social media could impact my life the way it has ever since I took a chance on writing a letter to Josie Raymond (a former editor with Change.org). I really did expect her to send my letter to the “oval file”. To my surprise she published that letter and even more surprising to me was the response that one letter generated. Not long after that some guy named Mark Horvath sent me an email with a copy of Josie’s email introducing him to me. Nothing in her letter indicated what it was I was supposed to do other than asking me if I ever heard of Mr. Horvath. Since I wasn’t sure what to do, I figured that if I just lay low and didn’t respond, he wouldn’t notice me. Hah! Boy was I wrong about that!
At first I was a little intimidated by Mark but after talking to him for awhile I realized he’s a real person like everyone else and he showed me how to set up a Twitter account and got me to join the We Are Visible community. He said to me “You know, once you do this, your life will never be the same.” That sentence has proven to be true. I had no idea how many people could be reached via social media. It is still a very surreal experience for me to Google my name and find how many different sites I’m on. The other thing is being able to reach out to people in different cities, states and countries which to me, keeps the experience human. I knew there were other folks going through the same situation as I was but I didn’t realize just how many were homeless until I started talking with them on Twitter, Facebook and my blog, careyfuller.com. I have also met a mix of non-homeless people, some who are sympathetic towards homeless and others who are completely misinformed. I find that social media is a very effective tool in educating the masses out of the commonly held stereotypes about homelessness and who the homeless are.
Now you may ask what it is I hope to get out of going to the 140 Conference and my answer is simple; I see the conference as an opportunity to learn all I can and maybe in return, others will learn that social media can be used to turn lives around. A big thank you to all the folks that chose to help me by donating to help me get my transmission fixed and for helping me get to New York!
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.
“A cynic is a man who
knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.”
You may think that homeless folks have nothing to be thankful for but that assumption is as incorrect as believing all homeless people are the same. Recently I posted on my Facebook page an article I found about the Joplin tornado victims who, although are now homeless, still found blessings to be thankful for. This is only the beginning of the season and many people will become homeless due to tornadoes or floods. Add to this the thousands waiting for their unemployment benefits to end and a tidal wave of poverty is on its way.
Why wait for a natural disaster though, to bless other people with your time or even spare change? To most, the ever prevalent stereotypes of a “dirty bum” prevents seeing the less fortunate as human beings and let’s face it; it is very difficult to think in terms of compassion when you see someone urinating in public or obviously hasn’t bathed in a long while. The truth is that this stereotype is a small percentage of the homelessness that is steadily growing among young people, families, the disabled and the elderly.
Many homeless people work, some have two jobs and yet it isn’t enough to get by. I know because I once had two jobs and it wasn’t enough to pay for the childcare that cost more than my rent plus utilities, car insurance, gas, food, kid expenses and the list goes on. Even though we are homeless, I still consider myself to have blessings; like the strangers who come forward to offer help when I least expect it or the handful of friends who stay in touch regardless of my income or the car I drive (or living situation) and the fact that I live in a country that hasn’t been devastated by constant war, famine and disease.
I’m not the only one out here that thinks this way. Take my friend RD for instance. Some of you may have seen her story on InvisiblePeople.tv or have visited her blog, www.lostawareness.com. Here’s a video of her: http://invisiblepeople.tv/blog/2011/01/rd-homeless-los-angeles-140-conference/. RD has housing now but could use a little help in replacing a blood pressure monitor. You can find details on the monitor at http://lostawareness.blogspot.com/2011/05/thank-yous-and-panhandling.html?spref=fb. With everything RD has been through, she keeps a positive attitude and counts her blessings daily but her story is far from over. In addition to keeping her housing, she has to keep her health up as well. We may not have much but we do have something in common; that human bond that links us all together regardless of where we came from.
Now let’s get real for a minute here. There are some homeless people that need to address the issues that led to their homelessness especially if addiction and mental issues are involved. Facing up to your self is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do but you must do it if you ever hope to get back on your feet. Denying you have a problem and making excuses for not managing your condition only aggravates a hard life that eventually will kill you. On top of that, this kind of behavior alienates you from those who are sincerely trying to get you off the street but the hard lesson of life is this; nobody owes you a living and you don’t have the right to live off the hard work of other people. You can play the “pity me” game all you want but eventually people get wise and they’ll get tired of it. Why add to the stereotype that doesn’t need to be out there?
Because there are still so many questions about homelessness, I have decided to post detailed blogs about the myths of homelessness, the problem with statistics, the politics behind large scale poverty, community responsibility and stories that I got from the people I found living out of baseball parks, under blackberry bushes, out of their vehicles, in tent cities, on the waterfront and in the alleys most walk past without a second thought. It’s not going to be all doom and gloom either as there are stellar examples of community responses to the homelessness disaster. Sometimes the most heartfelt gestures of compassion I’ve ever seen came from individuals acting on their own without having to be asked to help. As always, the public is free to visit me at We Are Visible on Facebook. If anything, you may see for yourselves that we are a community to support each other through homelessness and those on the brink of becoming homeless. Everyone else is welcome too!
In closing, I’d like to leave you all with this video: Beth\’s story
Today I have the mini-van back! I almost broke down in tears when I saw it but managed to keep it together as they say! One thing the mechanic noticed in addition to the transmission was that the rear shocks were really bad which explains why it would rock back and forth whenever I drove over the slightest bumps in the road. Grand total of the rebuilt transmission with rear shocks came to $2602.75! The shocks were over budget by $102.75 but thank goodness another donor came to my rescue!
Not having the van around was a heavy cause for anxiety because without it, I’m pretty much dead in the water. For those of you without a clue, how long would you be able to last without reliable transportation? Would you be able to get to your job? Take your kids to doctor’s appointments or after school activities? Even something as simple as grocery shopping will be affected. For the homeless living out of their vehicles, it may be their only lifeline.
I really do thank everyone who took the time to donate funds to get my van fixed. I honestly didn’t know how I was going to get by without it and folks out there proved to me yet again that the spirit of giving exists outside of Christmas. The best anyone can give to the homeless is hope. The only way to do that is to keep fighting for a better a day and that’s pretty much how I my life. There’s no such thing as being entitled but there is such a thing as compassion for those who are down on their luck through no fault of their own. For those with addiction problems and mental health issues, shouldn’t they be given hope too? I see so many comments that reflect the attitude that drug addicts and mental patients aren’t worth the hassle of saving but I refuse to believe that any life is disposable or expendable. Every life is worthy of living.
That being said, someone mentioned to me not to let hope get out of hand which is in effect an erroneous statement. Hope doesn’t get out of hand, expectations do. I have always thought that expectations lead to disappointments so why waste time doing that to myself? Better to be surprised by generosity than hurt by false expectations but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop working towards a better future. If anything, it just means I have to work that much harder.
Thanks again to all the generous souls out there who gave this homeless mother another chance to get back on her feet!
There are days when you wonder when and if things will change for the better. Even when you’ve done everything you could think of to help yourself, sooner or later you come to the realization that it’s not enough. When the realization hits, questions inevitably pop into your head; questions like how long can I keep living like this? How long will I survive?
All the while you’re pondering questions about your ability to survive, if you have children, you wonder about how your situation will impact them in the future. Sometimes all you can do is hold on to each other the best you can and roll with whatever life throws at you, good and bad. And while you’re doing all that rolling around, pray you don’t get seasick…..
Most of the time, I figure I am in control of where my life goes, even if I got the rug pulled out from under me. One way I deal with life’s uncertainties, is to remind myself that nothing is a given, therefore I make it a practice not to expect too much out of other people or any given situation. Humans are funny that way. Some are just passing through, and others will be friends for life but there’s no way to tell unless they actually prove it to you. To my way of thinking, conduct will always speak louder than words.
To be honest, I dreaded what I would have to do if I failed to reach my Chipin goal of $2,500.00 by the end of today. I’m sure I would’ve come up with something even if it meant racing against time and moving the van around so it doesn’t get towed. Not having a home is bad enough but not having the mini-van would’ve been an even bigger nightmare. People take for granted that living out of your vehicle is an automatic guarantee in isolation, at least for me this has been true.
I was thinking all these things today when to my surprise, I got an email from Chipin that my targeted goal has been met! As of this morning, the grand total of donations received was at $1,170. Someone had made up the difference in one donation! I just spent thirty minutes staring at the screen in disbelief. In these tough economic times, who could afford to make such a donation? On top of that, it is a donation to someone they’ve never met yet there it was staring back at me from the Chipin page.
I don’t know what made all these individuals decide to help me, which makes it seem even more miraculous. I do know that I’m stunned. I am accustomed to thinking that in order to get to a better place in life; I’m pretty much on my own so I don’t expect anyone to do anything in my behalf. Maybe I’ll never meet all the generous people who donated but I can thank them. I don’t think they realize how much help they have given us and for that I hope that one day I’ll be able to return the favor.
Whoever and wherever you all may be…….thank you.
Whew! It’s April 6th already???? Time flies even when you’re not having fun but we all have to make the best of it, right? Anyway, as you can see, I’m on my own site now so have a look around! If you notice the widget on the side of the screen, you’ll see that so far, donations to get my transmission fixed are now at 46% towards the $2,500.o0 goal. I got until April 10th so yeah…it’s starting to cut close to the deadline! A big thank you to all you generous souls out there who took the time to help me out! Once the van is fixed, I can reschedule doctor visits for the kids!
Ok now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about what a homeless mother like me does from day to day. I’ll tell you….it’s not much different than what other parents do except…I don’t have a place of my own and so begins the adventure! One of the things I’m working on is finding ways to make a living that allow me NOT to spend one job’s worth of pay on childcare. People don’t seem to realize that one of the reasons that homeless families have a hard time getting out of homelessness is because they need childcare even if it’s to go work at a minimum wage job. Does it make sense to have childcare that costs more than what you make in a month?
I also do what I can to help other homeless folks if I can. When I had working transportation, I drove to places I knew they were hanging out in and I am long overdue in visiting them. One is a gentleman named Steve that is wheelchair bound and lives at a baseball field. The other is an older woman I found sleeping under blackberry bushes. There are young people I know who sleep in cardboard recycling dumpsters because the street is the only place they can go. For the folks that know me, I’m a knitting freak and I use knitting as a way to alleviate stress. I’m also an avid sewing nut that has been known to make receiving blankets and baby clothes for needy mothers. Right now I’m taking apart thrift store and donated wool sweaters to recycle the yarn into hats and gloves for those who sleep outside. Sometimes I even do socks.
Since spring is on the way and hopefully warmer weather, I’ve been thinking about making things that go with outdoor gear. If you’re permanently “camping” it helps to have items that serve more than one purpose and are light to carry. Women need items their male counterparts don’t have to worry about so that’s another project I’m working on and when I find I can’t sleep when I should, I write..and write….and write some more! If any of you have suggestions on things that could be made to go with camping gear, let me know!
Other than that I’ll keep doing what I’ve been doing, telling the stories of homelessness from my experience and through the eyes of the homeless folks I run across. Old stereotypes must die in my opinion.
Till tomorrow everybody!
Ahhh ….. the shelter system, first thing that comes to mind for people to go to who are about to become or already are homeless…..right? Wrong! There are many reasons why a lot of people choose not to go to shelters, the first one being that shelters may not be an option if there’s a lack of shelters to go to in addition to the fact that shelters have to turn people away because they can only take so many people.
I posted an article on We Are Visible today to get feedback from the homeless community to find out how many opted out of going to shelters and hopefully they will mention why they chose not to go to a shelter. For my kids and I, we couldn’t get into one when I tried, several times! Hence the reasons for living out of a 1981 Minnie Winnebago (and now a mini-van).
I’m not saying that there aren’t good shelters out there because I know for a fact there are. Take Path Achieve Glendale for instance. The folks here are deeply committed to doing everything they can to move folks from homelessness into permanent housing and they are one of the shelters that deal with families. Did you know that in many cities, families are split up because there are men only or women and children only shelters?
Have you ever heard of Wellspring House in Massachusetts? They were featured on CBS and treat homeless residents as guests. It be nice if all shelters could have the same positive attitudes as those who set the standards on what a shelter should strive for when helping the homeless. Unfortunately, the reality is that many shelters miss that and some are downright dangerous places to be. When’s the last time anybody checked how much was being spent on security at shelters?
How about hearing from the homeless themselves regarding their experiences with shelters? What they have to say is very enlightening. Often times it’s more dangerous for single women to be homeless let alone a single mother with kids. Essays by Carey Roberts about what goes on at some shelters is a real eye opener!
Before suggesting “help” for the homeless, know what you’re talking about first. Assuming that there’s resources to go to is a careless assumption but then that pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it? You actually have to care enough to find out. Kudos to the shelters and the dedicated staff that go above and beyond the call of duty to get folks out of homelessness. You aren’t thanked enough in my opinion!
Happy Monday everybody!
I talk a lot about homelessness because it is a subject I can say I can talk about from experience. After reading an article written by Meredith Bolster, PCHC, I am reminded once again that people still need to be “educated” about the myths of homelessness especially when it comes to automatic assumptions. What do I mean by that? Well, think about it, what’s the first image that pops into your head when the words “homeless” or “homelessness” are mentioned? Ahah! Exactly! So…why are those stereotypical images in your head and where did they come from?
Maybe you saw a “dirty bum” on the streets of a city or similar portrayals of a “bum” in movies or television and that’s what your brain uses as a point of reference. It’s no surprise then that folks look surprised when they see me or others like me that don’t fit what they assume a homeless person “should” look like. Meredith points out in her article six common myths which are misconceptions but I’d like to add a few from my own experiences.
First, don’t assume that we haven’t looked at all available options to us. In case you haven’t read my previous blogs, I’ve applied for several jobs, but most of the time, never hear back so I’m thinking that I’m not the only person this is happening to.
Second, don’t assume that the state has resources available to homeless people…like housing vouchers. Check HUD’s website on section 8 and you might be surprised to learn that the “opportunity” to even apply for housing, has not been open in your state for several years and if and when your state does open the application process, you are applying to be put on a waiting list for several years.
Third, casually telling people to go to shelters when you don’t even know how the shelter system works is careless and thoughtless. Granted, there are good ones out there but ask them how often they have to turn folks away because they cannot handle the faces of “new homelessness” they now have to deal with. Many shelters are not safe or are loaded with bedbugs so I cannot blame folks who’d rather live out of their vehicles.
Fourthly, and in my opinion the biggest myth of them all is to assume that family members will volunteer to help relatives who are homeless or on the verge of becoming homeless. Blood ain’t always thicker than water you know….
Oh and if one of us should suddenly find themselves getting media attention or unexpected publicity, do not assume it means that a job or a better life is on the way. Those of us who may become “famous”still need housing and a way to make a living that will keep us from returning to homelessness.
Having said that, I realize that there are those who suffer from severe mental illness or disabilities that make it virtually impossible to hire so why is it the best we as a society seem to be able to do is let them live on sidewalks or shove them under bridges? I know for a fact that this country can end homelessness if it really, really wanted to. You may have seen the article I posted on We Are Visible about a federal law that mandates funds from the sale of a military base must be used to help the homeless. If you read that article, do a Google search to see how many newspapers printed the story about UGA paying $7.9 million for homeless services and read the comments posted by “compassionate” readers and you’ll see one of the reasons why homelessness is going to be a problem for what I suspect to be a long while.
So….what kind of myths do you believe in?
- Carey Fuller on An unexpected blessing
- Jane Marshall on An unexpected blessing
- Teri Dugan on A nice letter to the cowards who hide behind fake id’s on the internet
- Carey Fuller on A nice letter to the cowards who hide behind fake id’s on the internet
- Charlie Rosen on A nice letter to the cowards who hide behind fake id’s on the internet
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