Going to New York is always an interesting experience and for me, going to the 140 Conference gave me a lot of memories and some things to think about that never occurred to me until I listened to folks from all over the world talk about how they use social media. Even more surprising were the folks who greeted me before and after being on stage. For me, it was almost surreal.
I enjoyed finally meeting Stephanie Brandt, especially since her story is very much the reality of homeless parenting in New York. My mind keeps drifting to questions like, what will she do since New York discontinued homeless programs without any plans of replacing them? Why do people look away at hard truths all around them? I know for a fact that New York isn’t the only place where this kind of attitude exists. Maybe some people are reluctant to face the reality of who the homeless are simply because with knowledge comes responsibility. Then there are those who know what’s going on but choose to do nothing anyway.
I know my voice isn’t the only one out there when it comes to advocating for basic human rights and the dignity of being treated like a human being regardless of race, income, beliefs and yes, whether or not you have housing. All too often, it is not a good idea to let an employer or potential employer find out you’re homeless. I’ve been turned down for employment once an employer found out and even when I was on a job, friendly supervisors advised me to keep it a secret from corporate as it is often viewed as “bad for business” somehow. Still, I haven’t given up hope in finding a job and if I can’t get employed then my only alternative is to create my own opportunity by turning myself into my own franchise so to speak. I may not know how to do that just yet but I’m a fast learner and one way or another, I will make it!
If you watched the video feed while I was on stage, you might have noticed that in the middle of my speechifying, my voice cracked. I don’t why exactly but it was at that moment a sudden realization came over me while I was talking. If it hadn’t been for Jeff Pulver and Mark Horvath, I wouldn’t be here talking to a crowd about being a homeless mother and how social media helps me get my story out. When I first decided to “come out” about being a homeless mother, I didn’t know at the time how I was going to go about getting my message out to the masses but I felt that one way or another, I would find a way. To my surprise it happened through a chance meeting with Mark. I’ll say this about Mr. Pulver, he certainly likes to hug! In my mind he is definitely Sir Hugs-a-lot! His ability to reach out like that showed me how committed he is to making this a human experience more than anything. Thanks Jeff! Thanks Mark!
I’ll let you in a secret….I was apprehensive about letting the world know my situation since our society ingrains in us a warped tendency to pretend things are better than what they are. But then I got to thinking about how no matter how hard I worked, I still couldn’t get ahead due to the politics of poverty and the sheer ignorance of friends and family who had preconceived notions about homelessness. Maybe there were other people out there, other mothers living as I was who needed to know they weren’t alone. Maybe folks new to homelessness are in shock because they don’t know what to do or how to go about surviving while living in their cars. Maybe….I shouldn’t be afraid to reach out to them.
When I walked off stage, to my surprise a woman met up with me just outside of the stage doors. She told me how she thought I was so brave and as we talked, I told her about how many jobs I applied for but never heard back from the companies. Usually that happens because so many people apply for one job and for recruiters, they can only look at the first resumes received. The rest are never even looked at. To my surprise she slipped something into my hand and whispered to me to promise her that I would use what she gave me to buy something nice for myself. I told her she didn’t have to do this but she insisted so I gave my word.
When I left Seattle, my girls were a little apprehensive about what I was doing and my teenager still isn’t sure about what I do. For one thing, her self esteem (like any other teen) is heavily influenced by peer pressure. She worries about how she looks and being openly public about being homeless doesn’t exactly thrill her. As for my youngest, our situation is “normal” because she can’t recall a time we didn’t live on 4 wheels. For me as a parent, I worry that several more years will go by and I’ll still be homeless. My teen will have spent the majority of her life being homeless by the time she’s 18. How can I give my kids confidence that things will get better if I’m not sure sometimes that they will? Reading about where cutbacks are being made at the expense of the less fortunate does little to reassure anyone.
When I got back into Seattle, I told my girls about a woman named Laura who took a cab to the conference to meet Stephanie and I. She told us how our stories touched her and because of that, she had to come by with a gift. She handed each of an envelope with some money inside. She said she knew it wasn’t much but she wanted to do what she could to help. I was able to get my girls souvenir T-shirts and they were surprised because they weren’t expecting anything. My teen loves her shirt and my youngest thinks hers is “really cool.” That one act of random generosity really moved me. Even more touching was the fact that she offered to help Stephanie the next day to go shopping for things like diapers for her son. I could tell by the look on Stephanie’s face that she was touched by this woman’s offer to help. For Stephanie, having someone help her to get diapers for her son was a godsend.
Fast forwarding to when I got off the plane from New York……
I had a promise to keep to the beautiful woman back in New York to buy something special for myself. “Something special” can mean different things to different people and it wasn’t until yesterday that I figured out what the “special something” would be for me. See, my kids remembered how I used to take time out on weekends for “just us” time. They remember when I worked two jobs even while living out of an old Winnebago and how I wasn’t around as much as they wanted me to be. Even if I didn’t have money, whenever I got a day off, I would take them for a picnic at the park or to the beach in summer. In winter, we would go to a movie or find a decent inexpensive motel to spend the night in. They also enjoyed going camping in the Cascades, something we haven’t been able to do for several years now. Now this may not seem like much but there’s a restaurant chain we used to go to called The Country Buffet. It’s an all you can eat place a lot of families go to but if you don’t have the money, you don’t go. I asked my kids if they’d like to go there for dinner and they were quiet for a moment. How many times have they asked in the past only to hear that there was no money to go out to eat? I reassured them that this wasn’t a cruel joke and their faces lit up.
I spent dinnertime watching them go through buffet lines picking out everything they wanted to eat. My youngest was so excited to be able to get whatever dessert she wanted. I got to listen to my teen talk about things she wanted to do and her plans to earn money with one of her friends from school. We also talked about a plan of action to help manage her bouts of depression and academic goals to get her to where she wants to be later in life. There are no words to describe the look on your kid’s face when you reassure them that no matter what you’re doing in life, they are still very much a priority. Sometimes we as adults forget how the world looks through a child’s eyes and for my kids, too much time spent away from them begins to look like they’re being left behind.
Time to do nothing but just be with my kids and letting them tell me about their world is a luxury I don’t get very often, especially while working long hours for little or no pay. Risa, the gift you gave me was worth more than what was printed on paper but I did get myself an interesting little bottle of perfume I saw in a local drugstore on Lexington. Never in my life have I seen perfume designed to smell like every day scents like grass, dirt or clean laundry. Kind of reminded me of those every flavor jelly beans from Harry Potter so I bought one! Now I can have the fresh scent of clean laundry wherever I go!
The folks I met in New York left me with good memories and some ideas for some projects that I’ve been thinking about doing for awhile now. You just never know where life takes you or who you’ll meet so don’t ever give up on your life, no matter how rough things get.
The following poem was inspired from the view outside my hotel window and from watching people milling about in Times Square:
Crowds in faces
Dirty street, busy street, so many faces
Here, there and everywhere
Exactly where are they all going?
City lights, not so bright
Dirty streets to highlight
There’s always some place to be
Even when no place wants you
People lining up on Broadway
To see their favorite show
Out on the street everyone bows
To the scenes life plays out
Connected in their disconnects
I wonder if they know
There’s no logic in being blind
To a city full of woes
People on the streets asking for change
The pennies in a paper cup
Rattle with poverty’s rage
The poor daily will sip
See the dullness in their eyes
Shine with asphalt grey
Doesn’t matter who they are
As long as it isn’t you today
Faces in the crowd reflecting
We are they
And they are we
Together is how we ought to be