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If you were to look at me on the street or train or bus, you would never grasp that I’m one of thousands of homeless people here in the United States. Many are working poor, many have mental illnesses of varying types and degrees, some are certainly addicts.
And there are those like me who hit a very bad run of luck and haven’t been able to bounce back easily.
I was evicted from my apartment a bit over a year ago. Since then, I’ve stayed with friends, but needed to get into a different setting that was more helpful. So here I am in a women’s transitional housing shelter with my cat.
Okay, so I do kind of fall under the mental illness category too, with my PTSD and depression. But those inhibit my ability to function like everyone else, not take it away completely like some other illnesses.
But I’m clean cut, take regular showers and do my laundry, take care of myself and my cat, and otherwise function, so I’m not as obvious as others might be.
Anyone reading this could become homeless like me. It takes losing a job or hours cut back and no savings or 401k to help float you for a while. It takes losing key members of your support system. One misstep in this society and you can very easily become one of us.
It reminds me of a homeless woman I knew back in Chicago. She was awesome. Well educated, wildly intelligent. I think she had been a professor or something. We could stand outside the mini-mart and chat about politics, philosophy, religion, world views and culture for hours.
And yet, she was homeless.
I never asked about what happened, but I suspect it was similar to my own. Things going okay and then one day, BOOM! everything is turned upside down. Maybe escaping an abusive situation. Maybe a messy divorce. Maybe lost a job.
There are thousands of us out there. In this situation. We don’t appear stereotypically homeless. But we are.
And if our economy keeps going the way it is under a certain “president,” there will be more.
But here’s the thing: we aren’t all freaks and addicts and thieves. Many of us are clean, friendly people who just need a little help getting back up on our feet. I don’t panhandle, at least out on the street. I just ask for help online. I’ve gotten to the point over the years where I’m not comfortable talking to people in person. I certainly can’t beg face to face.
Since I don’t look homeless, I’m able to overhear conversations on the train between people who look down on the homeless person who is asking for help, or is on the train and sleeping because they couldn’t get sleep the night before. Maybe they smell because they were one who fell between the cracks of even the homeless society and can’t get help. Maybe he’s a vet the VA has long forgotten about.
Do you take the time to learn their stories? There were two women here in my building who are homeless vets themselves. Has the VA helped much? A little here and there, but not enough.
What about the family living in a tent under that overpass? Where is the help for them? There are few places here that help whole families. The shelters we do have here in Portland are for men or women, sometimes with pets, few places for families with kids. And usually those are for mothers with their kids, not whole families.
And some, like me, have belongings they’re trying to save. It kills me that I may lose my dad’s coffin flag and the “parting gift” of the piano I was able to get with estate money because he so badly wanted to see me get back into my music. My costumes, music, books. Things I’ve made or have been made for me.
Housing prices are out of control. We have to try finding work where we are, as we can’t afford to move. And even if we do find work, it isn’t always enough to afford a place to live.
While far too many are dismissive of us, look down on us, I ask that you remember one thing: We are human, and you aren’t too far removed from where we are in life.