Thursday, July 22, 2010

The Face of Homeless

Part 1

The woman standing in front of me was still talking but my mind raced with the discovery. I could hear her words even though my mind was going ninety miles an hour trying to comprehend what I'd she'd previously said.

My denial really wanted to kick in so I didn't have to deal with this situation. The thought of someone I'd just made a connection with turning out to be homeless just did NOT want to compute. Yet here this woman was with her daughter standing right in front of me explaining the circumstances that led to their family being homeless.

Even as the details unfolded my brain still wanted to deny such a thing was possible. Questions bounced around in my head even with answers right there. The distance between me and the word itself was trying to maintain against the barrage of truth before my eyes.

All the stereotypes of what homeless people should be just were not this situation. While I know that single mothers with children make up a considerable number in the homeless population, the idea of complete families being homeless just seemed to be too much.

Not that life cares about stereotypes or people's past or familial connections when it decides to jump up and bite someone. I know that from first hand experience. Bad things really can and do happen to good people.

There were no distinguishable clues like a shopping cart filled with personal belongings to give the secret away. No matted hair or mismatched articles of torn and tattered clothing. The woman and girl standing in front of me looked just like anyone else in the county park on a summer's day.

Listening to her talk , the woman (who I will refer to as J) told me it's been since the beginning of the month the family has been out on the street. They have been spending the daylight hours at Frontier Park until the park closes. Then the family has been sleeping in the parking lot of the nearest Wal-Mart since that chain has an unspoken rule about looking the other way for whoever might be sleeping overnight there.

Before that the family was living in HUD housing. They were there on an eight month lease which is typical of the set-up for HUD. According to the HUD requirements the lease is supposed to be offered on a continuing month to month basis from that point forward. However, Washington state law allows any month to month continuance to be cancelled with twenty days notice. Since the family could not afford the new lease being offered to them due to a rent increase, they had no choice but to vacate.

Sounds to me like the landlord has learned how to manipulate the HUD rules to make more money. In the meantime it is the vulnerable low income families who pay the price of the bureaucracy that allows such manipulations of the law to continue.

According to J, the landlord is also charging damages over and above what was real to the apartment. Those charges include new carpet when it is J's belief the carpet only needs to be cleaned. Considering the letter she sent them, threatening to bring a class action suit against them for their deceptive and exploitive practices it will be interesting to see if the family manages to get some of their deposit back and those additional charges dropped. In the meantime they have to worry about being homeless AND being sued. Talk about stress.

In the past J worked as a paralegal for many years raising her family until she decided to go back to school about eight years ago. She spent four years in school getting two degrees before she headed back to the work force looking for a job in her new profession.

Whether it was the declining economy or maybe some age discrimination with a fifty plus woman trying to begin working in a new field is unknown. However, finding a job in the new line of work has been unsuccessful.

Desperation can force us to do things we really are not inclined to do. Unable to utilize the new skills learned at UC Davis and Dartmouth, J tried going back to being a paralegal which she hates.

Her particular field is entertainment law and the greater Seattle area doesn't seem to hold much opportunity in that field either. Even though there's considerable growth in the entertainment industry in this state, it seems the legal eagles are still centered in southern California or New York so there's been no success there either.

The eighteen year old son (K) is attending Pierce College this summer. He's been accepted to Cambridge University to study diplomatic relations but unless he finds some kind of scholarship program or sponsor that's not going to happen. If there's not money for rent, there sure isn't money for universities abroad.

The now fourteen year old daughter (S) is severely dyslexic. School is difficult enough without adding being homeless on top of it. Kids can be cruel and S is a prime target for the cruelest of the cruel. She's susceptible to getting lost in the chaos that is currently her life.

The gentleman at the park with J is a disabled vet. The family is living off of his meager VA benefits and whatever the eighteen year old makes that he doesn't need for his schooling.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell. Here's a family of four, complete with pets, living on the street. Now the real question was what was I going to do about it.

I was struggling with the urge to do something and the fear they might not be what they seem. After this last episode that's resulted in this ugly lawsuit, I'm having real trouble trusting my intuition. The tug o' war going on in my head was a real beaut. The urge to do something won out...................I invited them to my home.............without even talking to Dave................

To be continued..............

Accepting the Invitation

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  1. Don't know if I'd have the courage to do what you did but I'm glad there are people like you out there. Now I'll think about someone taking direct action ...

  2. I somehow knew you would tske them home. You are too kind a lady and to caring to walk away

  3. I'm glad you did, too. And somehow, I just know it's the best thing.

  4. This post just confirms my suspicians that you are a truly good person. I am glad you decided to invite this family to your home, I hope that it turns out well for you, and for them. Perhaps J can really assist you with your legal struggle and she'll be like a godsend.

    Thank you for your wonderful blog, too. It's been one of my absolute favorites from day 1, for me. I look forward to reading it everyday, and you are a great story teller!!!

  5. Oh this touches my heart. I know a lot of how they feel. Becoming homeless can happen to any of us, as you noticed, the face of the homeless isn't always tattered clothing, matted hair and grocery carts filled with garbage bags full of belongings.

    When we were close to being homeless and our church was paying our mortgage and utilities for a few months, we also visited the food pantry, when we had enough gas money.

    There were times we'd walk to McDonalds, after digging for nickels and pennies so the kids could have a hamburger and play on the playset.

    I'd watch other people with a full McDonald's meal and felt so sad that I couldn't give that to my kids. They'd watch the other kids waste their food and throw it away, just so they could go play and I knew that my kids would have traded their opportunity to play for the chance to have their left-over unwanted food.

    The other day I was watching Cake Boss on TV and watched in horror as they threw away an entire tray of donuts because they were slightly overdone...just toasted, but not burnt.

    My first thought was, what a waste when there are so many starving people who get so tired of eating the beans, rice, expired and old cans of food that people donate because they don't want those cans either.

    A donut, even slightly over cooked would be such an extravagance.

    I remember all too well.