Sunday, July 21, 2013

Homeless... Never Hopeless

The title of this post: "Homeless, Never Hopeless" was my mantra for many years.
Since we recently bought our first house, I've been thinking back to the times when I used to be homeless with a heart full of gratitude.

Last night we were at a friends party and the conversation was about homeless camps in and around Portland... and none of it was positive.  So I had to speak up.  I figure since most of my quilty friends probably feel the same way, I thought I'd share a few thoughts as a person who has come out of homelessness.

5 big points:

1. While some young people choose homelessness, it is usually NOT a choice.
2. Homeless people are the same as people who have homes: human beings.
3. Some homeless people work harder and more hours than those that have homes.
4. The hardest part of being homeless is losing respect of those around you.
5. To actually fall asleep outside you NEED to be sedated (drunk).

I know most people automatically judge homeless people to be lazy and drunk and that's WHY they are homeless.  The reality is that those people were no different than you (unless there is mental illness) until they lost their job / partner / parents / health... then they became homeless and THEN the drunkeness and listlessness follow.  Can you blame them?

For me personally, I was kicked out of my house at age 17 because I was questioning my faith, and I didn't feel comfortable going to others' homes and tell them they were wrong and I was right.  So... my Dad kicked me out.  Jehovah's Witnesses are meant to go door to door and if I didn't do that, my dad (who was a statewide overseeing elder) didn't want me in his house.

So my first time homeless I was more naive than you can possibly imagine.  Growing up, the only thing I was allowed to watch on tv was Little House on the Prairie. I couldn't read anything that was not published by the watchtower bible and tract society.  I was raised outside of a small town in MN with no neighbors for two miles.  I had absolutely NO social prowess, and in the city streets, I was taken advantage of over and over again.

After a while I became cold hearted, didn't care about society as it is. I hated people with money (like my parents) and decided to live as other unwanted kids did back in the eighties... frugal and punk.  We formed our own little family of rejects and I'm still tight with those people, because they became my sisters and brothers. I found places to live on and off with my new friends, but money was always an issue.
Me and my friend Rob in 1988 on the road.
I was turned onto the idea of squatting ~ sleeping in abandoned buildings ~ and that was great! Any day you could sleep without snow, rain or waking to the cops arresting you is a good day. I was actually squatting a building in San Francisco when I became pregnant, which changed the whole thing for me.  I could no longer drink (or do any other drugs) so I could no longer just sleep anywhere.  I became so tired my first trimester, because all I could do was walk around all day / all night.

That's when I started my mantra... walking around SF being sick and pregnant and homeless in 1990.
Homeless, not hopeless.

I ended up staying with friends at the end of my pregnancy and through the birth of my daughter, and I'd like to say that I found a home and never had to deal with homelessness again... BUT, in 1994 I was living with an ex and we moved from MPLS to PDX.  He got us evicted from our first apartment in about 4 months (long story) and so I bought a van and built beds in it and I moved me and my daughter into the van and broke up with the crazy boyfriend.

As a single mom, I was working full time as a waitress at a few places... and living out of my van, homeless again.  This stint lasted a full year and a half.  The hardest part of being homeless with a child is waking up in the morning and trying to find a bathroom before they have an accident.  Man... people HATE homeless people.  I would go from store to store begging to let my daughter use a bathroom.  No store ever obliged except the restaurants I was actually working at... and they really frowned on me using their facilities that way, but what else can a person do?

I was hated, judged, looked down upon, etc... even though I was working full time as a single mom, doing it all alone (NO parental help EVER in my life).  I would get envious of other mothers at the park with all their gear and treats for the kids. In winter, I would get pissed off at all the single men driving expensive cars past me at the bus stop at 5am on my way to daycare, never giving me a second glance as we shook and froze... let alone a ride.
I kept my mantra.  Homeless, never hopeless.

I became a fraud victim during this time, and I couldn't even fight it because I had no address to "prove" who and where I was.  I was looking at jail time and losing my daughter due to other people using my name in lawless activities... until one woman was caught with an ID with my name and info.  Her fingerprints didn't match mine and FINALLY I could plead innocent and have others believe me.

Eventually, I met this guy in 1996 who actually listened to me, gave me a chance, let me sleep on his couch, and eventually became my husband when we married in 2004.  If it wasn't for him and his family taking me in and truly helping me, I would still be homeless... and honestly, probably dead at this point.
My husband and daughter a few years back... my loves.
Since we met, he has only been supportive of all my efforts (especially quilting).  He inspires me to be creative and follow through on my ideas. Together we have created a business that supports us completely... so much so that we were actually able to buy our own home!!  Homeless, never hopeless!!!

So... that's my homeless take in a nutshell.  My only hope is that the next time you see someone in need, just STOP judging them! You have NO IDEA where they came from... and I'll tell you right now, they do not WANT to be homeless nor do they want your judgement call.

I still struggle in groups of "normal" people.  I feel like the dirty gutterpunk I used to be, and that people are still judging me based on that.  I know they are not, but it's hard not to expect it.  So when I hear people talk about homeless people as if they were animals or something other than human beings, I just HAVE to say something.  With just a little support and love, we could change the world... look what it did for me!

10 comments:

  1. Wow, what a powerful blog post! Thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tania, I like sharing... and, obviously, I have a lot to share. I haven't even scratched the surface ;)

      Delete
  2. This topic has been on my mind lately (go figure with the recent news) I've been contemplating asking if you'd mind having a conversation about this but I also didn't want to put you on the spot regarding it - and, well thank you for sharing your story.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd be happy to talk to anyone about my experiences, it does take a bit of time, but we need to get together soon anyway... so we'll talk more for sure!

      Delete
  3. Oh, Gail, thank you for this post. I would like to share it with the shelter coordinators I work with out here in Hillsboro if you don't mind. It is helpful for us to be reminded that situations do change and that we can make a difference in those we serve. Thanks again for being so open.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sure ~ feel free to share! Not all people are capable of change, but for those of us who are, there is a big need for people like you to continue doing the work you do.

      Delete
  4. Gail,
    Thank you so much for sharing more of your story. You are an amazing person and you have a powerful past. I am so excited that you guys bought your own house. That is so awesome!!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Kim, we are so happy!! Can't wait to start having sewing days at my place!

    ReplyDelete

Your words are what inspires me and keeps me in stitches ~ Thanks!