In three days, I will be homeless.
This is not by choice (although many individuals before me have chosen this lifestyle and enjoyed the freedoms that it can offer, and if that is what works for them, kudos!) Personally, I enjoy having a permanent residence and the sense of stability and security that it gives me. I look forward to living in an actual house again. However, it is what it is – in three days, I will be homeless. There are no caveats here, no “maybe” or “unless” or “possibly I can come up with something before then”. Come Thursday, February 26, I will be making my way on the streets of Orange County as best I can, and I will be considered that most stigmatized of people – a homeless woman.
Initially, the idea of this terrified me. Here is a summary of the commentary that first ran through my head: This would never happen to me. I am not the kind of person that lives on the street. I have a life, I have friends, I have a dog, I have stable employment and residential history, references, education, skills, talents – I have worked hard all of my life to ensure stability for myself. How did this happen, HOW CAN I DO THIS?!?!?!?!
So, I cried for a few hours. I cried and I let the panic run its course. Then, I started planning.
I wonder how many other people like me are out there. People who had the stereotypical idea of a homeless man or woman, who believed that it would not, could not, happen to them. The truth is, we never know the whole story. We don’t know other people’s circumstances. You can speculate that the wino sitting outside the 7-11 begging for change is there because he’s too lazy or stupid or uneducated or selfish or mentally ill. But will we ever truly know? Look at me. I’ve worked hard for all of my adult life (and all of my adolescence), sought out a college education, worked for corporations and executives, built a life and a “secure” foundation to fall back upon. Yet, here I am. So, now what?
You may wonder how I got here. I will give you a summed-up, generic background on me:
I grew up in Orange County, CA. I got excellent grades and tested in top percentiles at school. I was considered a precocious student and skipped a grade. I taught myself to read at 2 years of age, and I read newspapers, novels, anything I could get my hands on. My family situation was never the best (I have a mentally ill parent who has rejected consistent diagnoses, medication, and advice from various friends, doctors and therapists. It all boils down to the fact that you can’t help someone who refuses to admit that they have a problem). I was subjected to various physical/mental/emotional abuse for the majority of my life, and sexual abuse from an estranged family member while a toddler. Despite all of this, I strove to rise above my personal situation. I created a mental image of who I wanted to be. I fought, and continue to fight, to live up to that image and resolve some of the less savory tendencies that I have, whether they are biological or learned from the examples that I witnessed growing up. I am proud of the progress that I have made and the life that I have built. I am proud of who I am, as well as who I am evolving into.
I started working “under the table” at 10, as I knew how to pass for older than I actually was. I got a legal work permit at 12 years old and went to work full-time in addition to schooling (how many 8th grade students do you know with two secular jobs after school lets out?) I supported my parent and younger sister from ages 12 – 18. At two points as a teenager, I was physically thrown out of the house while my parent was in the throes of a bipolar depressive episode. Both times, I was on my own for a couple of months, until said parent tracked me down through school, reported me as a runaway and sent police to retrieve me from the friends’ house where I was staying.
At 18 I left for good and got a roommate. Over the next several years, I enrolled myself into college and worked my way from entry-level, minimum-wage jobs into administrative and legal secretary positions, then onwards up to an Executive Assistant at a major corporation. For a long time, I always had at least two jobs, sometimes three. When I landed my Exec. Asst. gig, I breathed a sigh of relief. I had arrived, I could concentrate on only one job, I was earning the means to live on my own, in my own house, sans roommates. I rented a cute cottage towards the beach area and enjoyed the little life that I had built for myself. I got myself a dog. I dated. I loved. I worked. I had fun. Even with the occasional disappointment or blip that happens to everyone, life was good.
In July of 2008, my corporation had mass layoffs. The economy was beginning to crumble, and the auto industry was the first to be affected due to the skyrocketing prices of gas. Over 280 out of 500 employees were laid off, and I was among them. The company that I worked for was enormously kind and fair to each and every one of us, and compensated us well with a severance package, so I was OK for a while. I did some temp-to-hire work for an environmental engineering company for a few months, but they ended up having layoffs right before Christmas 2008 and again I was out of a job. Since then, I have been searching for employment without success. I am on extended unemployment benefits, but I prefer actual work. Salaries have been slashed by at least 20% (often more) so I have no hope of making what I used to, but that is to be expected – I’m in good company, at the moment it’s a status symbol simply to have a job at all.
In the past three months I have sent out several hundred resumés and applications, some as far away as Los Angeles and San Diego counties. Whereas it used to take me a matter of days to find employment, it is now rare for me to even receive calls for interviews – there are simply too many people out there responding to every advertisement. I do all that I can to make my application stand out, but when it comes down to it, hiring managers must sift through hundreds of resumés for every single position. My chances are severely handicapped at this point, but all I can do is forage on.
Against my better judgment, I moved out of my cottage and in with my bipolar parent at her suggestion. I figured that it would be relatively temporary and would cut my living costs dramatically while I continued to search for unemployment. For just over two months, somehow I made it work. Until two days ago. On a downward bipolar cycle, my parent attacked me and ordered me out of the house. I have been told to leave immediately, but police informed me that I could require a 30-day notice, which I waived as long as I had five days to find other arrangements.
Could I ask friends for help? Possibly. However, my closest friends have so many problems of their own right now – many of them are out of work, or live in small apartments, or have various other personal problems and I am certain that I would be a burden and an imposition on them. There is also the problem of my (very large) mastiff, who I would not dream of selfishly dragging with me into someone else’s home.
So, here I am.
Luckily for me (and my dog!), I recently inherited a truck and travel trailer. Around New Year’s Eve, my biological father committed suicide. I had not seen or had any form of contact with him in over 20 years. There was no suicide note, and it fell to me as the eldest child to divy up his assets (of which there were few) among his four surviving children (my sister and I, and two half-sisters from a second marriage, whom I had never met before). This successfully accomplished, I was left with the aforementioned truck and travel trailer, both of which have registration and insurance paid up through July.
If you are an individual in a similar situation (especially a single, vulnerable woman), I hope that by detailing my experiences in this blog, I may help you come up with tips and ideas for survival and safety for however long your present circumstances may last. Perhaps you didn’t choose for this to happen, but it is what it is. It is happening and you must stay strong and level-headed, so that you can make opportunities happen for yourself and dig yourself out of this hole.
Perhaps you’re not homeless, have never been homeless, and are currently not faced with the threat of becoming homeless. Maybe you are reading this because homelessness is a topic close to your heart, or maybe you just feel that you should cultivate some knowledge on survival skills, because with the economy the way it is right now, who knows what will happen in the future? In any event, I hope that my postings will give you something to think about and/or something to laugh about, for humor can be mined from even the most dire of circumstances.
I have just over $300 cash to my name, in addition to various personal belongings. I have three days to take my plans for the coming weeks/months and put them into motion. I have never been homeless before and I will not deny that I am afraid, but I plan to face this with humor and dignity. I can do this. I can do this without becoming a casualty or a stereotype. I can be homeless and still clean, nourished, confident, well-dressed, dry in the rain, and warm at night. I can make wise and preventive decisions that will help protect me and keep me safe in tenuous circumstances. I can and will continue to bring in revenue, interview, and locate permanent employment. I can be a tall woman with flaming red hair, a jowly and imposing Neapolitan mastiff, and a 30-foot RV in tow and still manage to remain inconspicuous and under the radar (…right?). I think that if a wussy chick like me can do all of this, then anybody can.