I’ve worked since the age of 16. The longest I’ve been unemployed since then was six months in 2008. It was a perfect catastrophe: my increasing alcoholism, my decreasing mental stability, and the burst of the real estate bubble I worked in. After going on too many interviews for so many months, I settled for a part-time minimum wage job making signficantly less than I was used to. It was ok, it funded my drinking and kept me busy. The busy part was important since I hated being home. My childhood home had been foreclosed on so my family crammed itself into my sister’s two-bedroom apartment. I slept on the floor.
Five years later, we’d all more or less rebounded. I had my career again and a place to live. The utilities came in my name and the rent was paid with checks that didn’t bounce. Of course, the mental illness and alcoholism were still there but otherwise, I think society would confirm I wasn’t leaching at least. This was important to me, to not be a leach. It validated that my life was still somewhat manageable despite the intolerable personal pain I was in.
Two years later, I was arrested for sleeping in my car in San Diego. That had been home. I had moved to a new city, found myself trying to leave an abusive relationship, had no support system, and struggled to save enough money to secure a new place to live. There is an important thing to mention here. When that happened, I was employed full-time making quite a bit over minimum wage. When I got paid twice a month, or I got desperate and hungry enough to ask my parents to send money, I would get a motel room for up to three or four days. Whatever money I had left over I’d use to survive off one Little Cesars Hot- N-Ready pizza for up to 5 days. Oh yeah, and jugs of Carlo Rossi. The pizza was questionable around day 4 because the rooms I could afford didn’t have refrigerators or microwaves. I imagined eating the multipying bacteria on the now hardened cheese. My self-talk consisted of survival stories, “Okay Vanessa, you are drinking enough wine to kill ebola, don’t be afraid of this old pizza, a little mold can’t kill you….” Around this time, my health (all of it) wasn’t great but I still showed up to work and threw up on my bathroom breaks convinced if I worked a little harder I’d have just enough money to rent a room with some strangers and unpack my car. So, to summarize all that… I was homeless, employed, sleeping in my car, and I got arrested by a severely awful cop. I never got charged with anything or ticketed even, but my mental health was shot. The entire time I sat in the Vista Detention Facility, I prayed that I wouldn’t lose my job. If I lost my job, there would be no rebound. If I lost my job, there would be no rebound…
Again: No charges were filed. No tickets were given. I was humiliated, ridiculed, demeaned for sleeping in my car… and released. The kind thing that the arresting officer’s partner did for me that night that I’ll never forget though… he demanded my car not be impounded. This is critical because I had no money for a $500 impound fee, obviously. I clearly remember the arresting officer insisting it be impounded and then deciding not to at his partner’s insistence.
Fast forward to now. At this point in my life, I am stable in all the ways that matter: mentally, spiritually, financially. I have shelter, career, transportation, fresh food, and relationships. Yes, I’ve used county-funded programs, emergency rooms when I was uninsured, and food stamps to eat junk food to get to where I am today.
I have used those services side-by-side with women that had children to take care of. In much more dangerous situations than I was in. That still makes my heart hurt.
What is the meaning of this long drawn out tale?
As someone that has always had a job, comes from a loving family, and speaks English: I will always have more in common with a homeless person on the street than with any “self-made” billionaire.
And I hate to break this to you but… so. do. you.
My alliances should really be with protecting, supporting, and lifting the unsheltered than protecting the questionable ethics of profitable corporations that keep people living in poverty wages or working multiple jobs to be fed.
I am going to focus this second half of the year on contributing more energy on being part of the solution to the homeless problem. BECAUSE THERE IS ONE.
The homeless problem reflects on US a society more than it does on THEM the homeless people because WE are all the same.
I don’t know if He is but I feel like saying Jesus is probably seriously disappointed at the way we treat poor people.
I know I was when I was living as one. I hope I won’t be again but, I can’t really predict the economy or the future or what life may bring. But I know I’d be there for you if I could, I wonder if you’d be there for me.
If you would, be there for anyone less fortunate. That has been me. That can be you.