Life's Journeys: Homeless in America...Our True Story
Whenever I reread this hub, I relive that time in our life when we were homeless and am so thankful that we found our way back to normalcy.
Another time I do is when I see a homeless person. I do not know what caused them to be homeless and do not know which ones really are just leeching off society but that is of no concern to me. What is of concern is that those who find themselves in that situation, be considered not worthless, faceless individuals...they are just folks who have lost their way perhaps for a time or they may have found themselves in a situation we were in and unlike us have not been able to find a way out yet.
Years ago, we lived in a van...these are happier times.
Often when we hear the word HOMELESS we have a gut reaction. "Get a job," or, "Oh, how sad." Or, some other reaction I will refrain from sharing.
The intent in this article is to let you know that it CAN happen to anyone. Circumstances beyond your control do happen. We never in a million years dreamed we would be homeless in America. This is a story of survival and of the goodness of Angels who follow us today.
About ten years ago now, my daughter, my eldest grandson and I were living our lives just as happily as could be. We had little money but we had enough to get by: We had the basics: a roof over our heads, food, clothes, and I had a job. My daughter's job was to take care of my grandson who even in his earliest years (3 years before being diagnosed with Bechet's Syndrome) needed full time care.
Sometimes it's easy to walk by because we know we can't change someone's whole life in a single afternoon. But what we fail to realize it that simple kindness can go a long way toward encouraging someone who is stuck in a desolate place.— Mike Yankoski
At this time, I had taken off from full time teaching to be of more help to my daughter. My grandson was very ill from birth and needed extra special attention. Little did we know how ill he would become.
I was a substitute teacher during the day and worked at Subway at night getting home about 2 in the a.m. and up at 5 a.m. to await calls for subbing positions. Thankfully I had more than enough work each day.
I drove to work in a car my niece had given me which was not up to par in the eyes of most at the school in which I subbed on an almost daily basis. It was a rather ramshackle car, faded paint, rumbling engine, a swirl of black smoke curling around the car. The engine did not stop when the key was turned off. The car would shake and rattle and the engine shuddered and would finally silence itself. Anyone around would grimace and rush ahead to be certain to have to acknowledge me even if we had already met.
But, all in all, we were thankful because we were managing and that was what mattered. Until one day our lives began to change. It was very subtle at first.
About 11 years later, we are no longer without a home...
Small things were becoming frightening...
My daughter was separated from her husband at this time.
When little things appeared around the perimeter of our home, we did not think it was him, a first.
Several cigarette butts, left in plain sight. Intentionally placed where we could not miss them, were appearing more and more often.
For weeks, we would find them. At first they were near the roadway so we tried to explain it away as passers-by dropping them. Then they were found about midway up our driveway getting closer and always in plain view. Closer still, just off the cement walkway that led to our front door.
We were not sure what to make of it but it made us a bit uneasy.
It began to escalate from there. In the night, the motion sensors would come on and startle us awake. At first we thought it was just a few pesky but adorable raccoons. It became more and more frequent. Finally after two weeks of no sleep, we called the local police.
They came and investigated the wooded area behind our home thoroughly. They came back and reported finding empty cigarette packs and many cigarette butts, like the ones we had found, in several locations throughout the woods. They did not however find whomever was tormenting us.
Fearful and wary...
The strange occurrences continued to escalate.. We returned home one day to find things had been moved around in the washroom (which had been locked) where our washer and dryer were housed. It was connected to the main house by a door that had been locked. Tools and laundry supplies were obviously moved so we would know they had been moved from their original places. It was a message to us....'I am getting closer and bolder now.'
We bought new locks that we were sure would keep us safer. That did not work. We came home and found a back window had been broken and entrance gained that way. This time the kitchen was totally destroyed. Dishes and cooking utensils thrown everywhere. Food removed from the refrigerator and slung around the room.
This time we called the local police. Once again they arrived promptly, investigated, and told us there was really nothing they could do as this person left no evidence they could use to locate whomever was taunting us.They did say to call any time, day or night.
Our homeless veterans
Being homeless is a pervasive epidemic that is often swept under the rug. Our veterans who give so much often find they are treated like second class citizens when returning from war. It is up to each of us to help our veterans to find a meaningful life and avoid homelessness.
We slept little by this time.. The motion sensor lights at the rear of the house continued to come on at all hours of the night startling us awake. Any noise and we sat bolt upright. Sleep eluded us. We were in the grip of fear.
One night we were awakened by shattering glass. We were sleeping in the same room now, all of us. We grabbed the phone and whispered into it that we needed help as fast as possible Then we screamed, 'Whoever you are...the police are on the way!"
By the time the police arrived, the person was gone.
That was it. We could no longer live in a constant state of fear. Actually it was not living at all. We decided to leave. The police even cautioned us that whoever was doing this seemed to be unafraid of being caught.
Our only option seemed to be to move away.
No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.— Charles Dickens
Safe at last...
We looked for places to go that were far away. I had a teaching certificate for South Dakota schools. I called the state board of education and was told I would be hired quickly and would be making a tremendous salary
The well-used rather ramshackle elderly van had been purchased for fifteen hundred dollars cash. The seller ran away as he shoved the money in his pocket. He knew this vehicle was in need of repairs that he failed to mention.
. As quickly as we could we packed most of our belongings in storage, stuffed, pushed, and prodded what we could carry with us and headed to the Promised Land.
That great job never came to fruition. We had first been living in a tiny apartment above a smoker. The smoke all came up into our part of the house through the heating units. We all felt like we were smokers.We just couldn't stay there. We moved down the road a bit to a motel where we could pay by the week. It was not great but it was smoke free.
I had worked at Walmart on the night shift and came home to watch Baby Boy while Mom went to work at the Cafe at Walmart for the day shift. We had enough money to pay rent and buy a few meager groceries.
We were again suffering from sleep deprivation.
But we felt safe.
Short-lived calm before the storm...
Not for long. We came home one day that we both had off to find a crumpled cigarette pack and a small pile of butts laying atop the crunchy snow. A coincidence we wanted to think. But for the next few days we continued to find them. Obviously placed where we would see them and know.
One morning we came out and found more cigarettes had been discarded. The window on the passenger side of the van was broken and the inside was almost destroyed. The seats had been slashed so the insides of them were hanging out, exposed, like the insides of some creature who had been mutilated. We had been found.
What was next?? We would come home and find him sitting in the middle of one of the rooms we now called home??
He must have followed one or both of us to work. Workers at Walmart told us that 'some man' had been asking about us. Where we lived? When we came to work? Those kinds of things. No one would give him any information.
We asked them to describe the person as we thought perhaps this person may be someone we knew. Finally someone had seen him. We knew now who it was---he had stalked us all the way across our country.
Terrified but without enough money to leave we had to stay. We stayed on and saved every dime we could. We were not waiting around to see what would happen next.
Finally we had saved enough to head out.The worst snow of the winter came the night before we were to leave but my daughter packed, shoved, pushed, and forced everything in to the van so that at dawn we could head out.
Angels followed us and still do to this day
We survived being homeless because we had Angels to help us every step of the way.
There are some things I just know. One of them is that ANGELS ARE REAL. I can say this with no reservation because my life, the lives of my loved ones, the lives of my friends, and the lives of those I do not even know well have been touched by them.
Many times when those in my life have needed hope and uplifting and joy that Angels have come to them and continue to do so.
There is no other way to explain all of the so-called coincidences that happened just at the right moment. In Kansas City, in Albany, in Dallas (Georgia), in each place we have lived (and live).
There is no other way to explain how those who have faced their darkest hours have struggled through those times and been uplifted and supported time and time again.
God did not promise us an easy walk. But He has promised to be 'here' for us ...and that is where the Angels come in. He knows all of our needs and when we need something most, the Angels are sent to see us through our difficult times and often through our joyful times as well.
In every family, everywhere, there are times when we have mountains to climb;. And when those mountains are too much for us, God carries us!!! I assure you He has carried me and mine up and over a number of mountains.
Be assured that Angels are real..that they are OF God and are here when our need is the greatest. The family in this story knows them too. This is a true story.
Angels appear in Kansas City
The trip away from South Dakota was pretty much uneventful until we got to Kansas City. As we rolled into to town, snow flurries had begun to fly. It was almost as cold inside of the van as it was out. We had no heater.
We were stopped at a light. The red light turned to green. The car sputtered, steam erupted from under the hood, and the vehicle. sat there, trembling, shuddering, and then motionless.
My daughter and I looked at each other with that 'what d o we do now' look on our faces. My daughter said, 'Ok, I will go into this building here and see if someone can help us.'
At this point, we had very little money ...just barely enough to buy gas needed for the rest of the trip South.
In less than an hour my daughter returned to the van.
She said, " I went in and got in line to ask for help. While I was asking for help, Mom, this nosy lady came up beside me and started talking to me."
She said, "I don't mean to butt in but I know someone who can help. Let me call them for you." She did call someone. And the name of the groups had the name "Angels" in as part of their name. I cannot remember their exact title ...it has been over 25 years now.
And just that quickly, we three were transported to a facility much like a motel but it was actually the property of a local church. Exhausted and nerves frazzled, we smuggled our stowaway kitty inside the welcome shelter with us. He was thankful to be in the warmth too.
The next morning the van arrived, repaired, a new radiator. No charge. Thankful and somewhat renewed after the night's rest, we smuggled kitty and the few things we had taken inside, back into the van. And we set out. Making a u-turn to head off in the right direction, I found I was unable to steer. It was our good fortune that the street we were on was not a busy one. The van clunked and clanked and deposited a large piece of itself on the pavement and came to rest next to a curb.
Apologetically, swallowing all pride, I called the service station that had repaired the radiator. Once again, they came to the rescue; Without much delay, the damage was repaired and after profuse expressions of gratitude, we headed out once again.
No names were exchanged but those Angels in Kansas City were kind and loving and generous and blessed our family by their goodness. What would we have done??? Angels had found us, and, not by accident either. They had been sent to watch over us.
Give yourself entirely to those around you. Be generous with your blessings. A kind gesture can reach a wound that only compassion can heal.— ~~Steve Mariboli
...'Klunk, rattle, klunk'
The rest of the way across America was without remarkable incident. Most of the food we had to eat was stored in a large gray plastic container.Funds were lower than they had hoped they would be. To conserve every dollar, they stopped at roadside parks to prepare meals. We drove at night and slept in the van, fitfully at best, during the day as there was no more money for a motel. We did not know it yet. But, we were now homeless.
Since money had become a huge issue, the three of us, travel weary and concerned about what was next, we drove into Albany, Georgia, rather than trying to go to Florida where I was sure I could find work once again.
My daughter and I had lived in Albany many years before. We drove down one of the main highways looking for something familiar and a place to stop where we could come up with a plan. We arrived at the Mall..that was familiar.
As I turned into into the parking lot, an old familiar 'klunk, rattle, klunk' was heard and the van shuddered and was still. My daughter and I hopped out and looked at our somewhat untrustworthy carriage and shook our heads. No smoke. No steam. No noise. Together we walked around the van staring in disbelief at a part of the van that was on the pavement.
Homeless no longer
Salvation Army to the rescue
Now the situation called for more help. The only place they had ever heard of that offered help was the Salvation Army. The Momma called, explained the situation, and within a few minutes a nice lady and a gruff man arrived to be of assistance.
They offered to tow the van to a nearby park where travelers in vans and RV's would camp. The offer was accepted and by late afternoon they were settled into their campground.The large gray crate containing our food stuffs was hauled from the van and set nearby.
Then, I, the Momma started a fire quickly. We rummaged through the crate and found canned goods to heat for supper. There was a spigot at their campsite so they heated some water to make hot chocolate; we were so thankful for those few packets we still had left.
It was late December so the days were cool, nights cold, but not bitter. We ended our days outside about six thirty in the evening as it began to get too cool to sit outside then even with the fire.
A symbol of the rooster who helped us keep our sense of humor
We lived each day at the park as if it were home because at that time, it was.
Every time there was a need to use the restroom, we were chased with ferociousness by Chanticleer. He was a very boisterous and aggressive and colorful rooster who made it clear, in no uncertain terms, that the rv park was his domain and we were not really welcome, thank you very much.
Even today, I have on my porch Chanticleer with feathers carefully sculpted out of metal. I wanted to be reminded of this delightful creature who brought some degree of lightheartedness to a terrifying situation.
Years later, remembering and feeling thankful
Being homeless ...
We did not discuss it but we knew we were homeless.
We had no home.
We were in survival mode. My daughter was able to get some public assistance to help feed the baby and herself. It was not much but every little bit helped.
The one good thing was that for the moment our stalker had left us.
It was a scary unsettling time. But, we lived each day as if it were normal. For us it was our new normal. We had no choice. We lived or we did not live. The choice was simple. This bump in the road was not going to be the undoing of us.
Things did get better over time. It was gradual, circuitous route but we survived. I finally was able to buy a car, another ramshackle one, with money a friend sent me. Then I was able to begin subbing. We moved finally into a very scary section of town into a trailer that was barely standing. Directly behind our house was a trash pile. We pulled two old chairs over to set on our porch which was a cement slab. That way we had a seat when Baby wanted to play outside. Not ideal but we were making do.
Over time we were able to save enough money fo put a tiny down payment of an old house. It needed much work but it was ours. We were on the mend. We were getting our life back. But not for long, Our house was set on fire (quickly extinguished thank goodness), the doors were knocked off the hinges, the tires were slashed on two separate occasions. We were on a first name basis with the police department. Finally after the tire slashing, we were told we were not safe and that we should leave.
Beyond words. We were beyond words but we were so fearful we knew we had to move on. We did and eventually our lives became stable again. It was a long journey for us. The stalker was finally caught and is in jail today. Not for stalking us. But for killing someone else. We found out who he was. The name must remain unrevealed.
Being homeless in most cases is not a choice..
The National Coalition for Homeless reported in 2009 the following reasons why people are homeless (in no particular order):
- eroding work opportunities
- value of minimum wage
- decline in public assistance
- lack of affordable health care
- domestic violence
- mental illness
- addiction disorders
Being homeless is pervasive and present in your town. You may not even know it. But its there. There are shelters in most towns that provide short term fix. But that is all it is...a short term, stay. Some shelters are designed to help get people back on their feet and into the work force.
What you can do...
Being homeless is scary and dehumanizing. You are treated differently when you are poor. You often are held in great disdain if you are unable to hide the fact. Asking for help is often as horrifying as being homeless. Many times accusatory remarks are made about how you came to be in that circumstance.
My family and I were very fortunate because I was able to finally get hired again as a full time teacher. We were able to reestablish our lives and begin anew.
So many lessons were learned from this unwelcome horrific journey that we took. One of the most important was what to value. After that time, things became so far down on our list of priorities that they are barely deserve mention.
What really matters to us is our relationship with each other. That experience forever changed who we are.
We try to help in any small way those who are presently homeless.
You can help too. Contact the National Coalition for the Homeless.http://www.nationalhomeless.org/ and Hud.gov
- Donate food, clothing, bedding to shelters and to food banks.
- Volunteer at a shelter, food bank, or Soup Kitchen.
- Start up a Soup Kitchen.
- Lobby for the needs of the homeless.
- Find out how pervasive homelessness in your town in and resolve to help to begin to rectify the situation.
Being homeless is our problem. We are on the planet to make a difference in the lives of others.
© 2011 Patricia Scott
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