We do not fit the catch all stereotypes of homeless or how one gets to that juncture. Neither of us uses drugs or alcohol. We are smart, hardworking, and Ivy League educated. We worked, saved, and were careful, responsible, and frugal. We have always tried like many to do the right things and do not regret our life path; however, we are indeed the new face of homeless.
Once you enter the cycle of homelessness it is like a funnel cloud that sucks you in and eats you up. You become invisible, and discounted. People judge and cast a blind eye. It happens fast and swift. And nobody thinks it will happen to them, until it does.
I have heard people reference having great friends, or a strong family of origin or choice. Many have said, "It will never happen to me because I have friends." We thought the same thing too, until... And yes, everyone is your friend until you hit hard times, and then…
Pick the worse time in your life, a combination of your deepest pain, greatest sorrow; and couple that thought with your biggest disappointment, or failure; and now add in a memory of a time in your life when you felt the absolute most agony emotionally as well as physically.
Now imagine all of that happening at once, and you have no place to go but to sit upright in your car, not a luxury vehicle but a very basic economy car. You must sit behind the wheel of your car with all of those horrific feelings and emotions, day after day, sunrise upon sunset, parked in the streets or a parking lot.
Your car is your home; but it is also your prison. There is no privacy. You are vulnerable and exposed for all to see; yet, invisible to most. When night falls, and a certain hour comes, you watch people going home and you know there is no longer, home. You remember a different life, a different time; but the degradation and relentless life of homelessness makes you question if you can ever go back, back to a time when you were just like everyone else.
That has been our life for nearly 4 years. And though we are no longer living in our car, we are tormented month after month; worried we will lose our housing and have to return to the car because we face relentless unemployment, economic insecurity, and hardship. Living with that constant stress and fear is a health crisis in and of itself, and it is slowly killing us.
Normal does not live here anymore; it doesn’t even visit. We must establish a new normal, but the prolonged struggle seems to block us from doing so, and so we exist in a waking nightmare that seems like it is on a feed, one that seems like it will never end.
When you become homeless people leave. They do not want to be reminded that this travesty exists, and you are their constant reminder. They avoid you because they do not want to be guilty by association.
All of the fun loving friends we once had completely abandoned us; Family did the same, as if you can catch homelessness, like it’s a communicable disease.
People treat you like the plague they don’t want to catch; it is a lonely existence. In fact, most people reading this story will find themselves looking for ways to justify why it could never happen to them, thinking that we must have made a bad choice, a wrong decision, or did not save, plan, or prepare. But what if none of that were true, then what?
Sadly, contrary to popular believe we did all of the “right things” which many do to preserve their lives and build a sustainable and rewarding future; but one unforeseen curve in the road happened, and here we are.
I wish I could write magic. I wish I could tell you all the things you could do to not be me, but I cannot. I wish I could, because I surely do not wish this kind of existence, fear, pain, and loss of dignity upon anyone, but I cannot.
The truth is--- you could easily be me. It can happen to you just like it happened to us. No one is exempt, and isn’t that our biggest fear? The truth is: We don’t fear the homeless; we fear the truth they represent.
I'd like to share with you a snippet of what it was like for us to live in our car and why we cannot go back. This is real life, our life.
So imagine living and working from a cramped car, at age 60 and 51 years old. We are big, the car is small. We are tall, the car is short. We lived in the car, day in and day out. There were few to no breaks. We did not house sit, or couch surf, or stay in our car part time. There was no reprieve. We moved from parking lot to parking lot, day after day. Exposed. No place to go. No family to count on. Few to no real friends to reach out to. Nowhere to turn.
Now imagine sleeping upright behind the steering wheel of a compact car, cramped unable to stretch out, night after night. What many people don't know is that when you sleep sitting up for too long, if you are unable to lie flat and stretch out on a regular basis, you will swell up like a big fat grape. It physically hurts. You bloat. You ache. You can feel your skin tearing. You get water blisters on your swollen legs and bladder infections from sitting too long. You often cannot fit into clothing or shoes. And surely, if you are homeless living in a car, you likely cannot afford to purchase new shoes every time you out swell a pair.
But worse, sleeping upright for extended periods can lead to a quick sudden death if you get a blood clot that travels to your lungs or brain. As a disabled person with certain health issues, I am particularly vulnerable to developing blood clots or having a pulmonary embolism. Anyone in this circumstance is vulnerable, and of course nobody wants to die this way.
Now imagine getting up early before dawn. It’s cold. You are tired from a night of little to no rest. You have to get up extra early to find an acceptable public bathroom to bathe in because the monthly gym membership became too expensive to afford. And if this is not stressful enough you then have to go to work. Swollen body, swollen feet, my spouse squeezed into her work clothes, then drove 10-20 miles from whichever parking lot we last slept in to go work a full-time teaching job.
After a full day teaching, my spouse leaves work only to come back to the cramped car. We search for a place to microwave our food, eat, and decide on a place to park for the evening. She does lesson plans for the next work day, which is difficult to do without resources and from a car.
We move the car to our final sleeping spot. The hour is late. Finally she drifts off to sleep, sitting upright, scrunched up behind the steering wheel unable to relax, and often in pain, and I do the same.
Over four years ago, on February 6, 2012, all money including an exhausted unemployment benefit, savings, emergency funds, rainy day funds, and meager retirement funds ran out. We turned to our families but they denied us help. We are a married Butch-Femme queer couple, and they reject that. We did not want to burden friends because this is perceived by many as the kind of problem families help with, but those we told could not or did not want to help us. So with nowhere to go, we sold damn near everything we had, which really wasn't much, packed up what we could, and went to our car.
After nearly a year of living homeless and trying to operate on our own without telling anyone, in desperation we reached out to our queer community and friends we once had for help and to raise funds. While some did help, a great many shamed and mocked, lied and labeled us a scam and fraud all the while knowing better. Since when did a hardship of this magnitude become criminal? The homelessness in and of itself is devastating, but the treatment from our fellows was despicable and heartbreaking.
Like most, we never thought we would ever be without a home. Once we landed in our car, we did not think we would be there for long, and now, nearly four years later.