I never thought I'd find myself out here.
April of 2004 will stay in my memory forever as that was the day I turned in the keys to our apartment and began living out of our car. I tried to get help before this but found out that there's no such thing as rental assistance here because Section 8 is closed to applications and for those who have been on the waiting list, it's awarded like the lottery. Shelters are turning away folks because they were never set up to handle large amounts of people, especially families. I learned how to appear normal during the day and where to find safe places to sleep at night. When I got my income tax return, I bought a used Minnie Winnebago and it became our home for six years.
My plan when I first got the r.v. was to save money while living out of it but soon discovered when the gas prices shot up, I couldn't save anything to get out of our situation. I found a job working for a newspaper printer at nights and could see the r.v. from the window to make sure no one discovered that my kids were sleeping in it. During they day I worked an office job from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm but I made sure to park the r.v. as far away from the building as possible so that others wouldn't know how I was living. Every day I dreaded someone finding out and for my eldest daughter, it was a nightmare. She didn't want me picking her up from the babysitter's in the Winnebago and begged me to park down the street so her friends wouldn't see it.
Even though I worked two jobs, most of what I made paid for childcare, gas and maintenance on the r.v. I didn't qualify for foodstamps and child support never came through. I never thought I'd see the day my girls cried themselves to sleep at night because they were hungry.
My youngest was a year and a half old when we moved into the small motor home. For years she didn't know any better and thought what we were doing was perfectly normal. Whenever school was out, we hung out at local parks then drove to a campground, rest stop or quiet parking lot at night. I met other single mothers living as I did and one of them became a mentor of sorts. "M" had raised two sons out of her motorhome and to this day she still works. Quite a few older men showed me where to park when winter came and also cautioned me about unsafe places where homeless folks were preyed upon. The trick, they said, was to keep moving and don't stay anywhere too long or you'll attract the attention of the police. I soon found out from watching others who didn't get that just how quickly the police would show up to move them along.
It always amused me when I ran into people who didn't know what to say once they found out we were homeless and living out of our vehicle. To this day it still surprises me when complete strangers came by and bought happy meals for my girls or dropped off a bag of apples whenever they saw us at a park. By the same token, it never surprises me to see others pretend we don't exist or shoo their kids away from mine as though homelessness is a communicable disease.
I never thought I would be avoided by my own relatives even though my own mother had the ability to help but chose not to. The week before we left our apartment, I told her that all I needed was $400.00 to cover my rent and I would pay it back. Two weeks later I discovered that she had chosen to buy a $1,500.00 computer, a video recorder and a new car instead. To add insult to injury, my eldest daughter noticed that she was being treated differently than her cousin. My mother promised my daughter that she would take her to Florida to visit with family that summer and found out by "accident" through her cousin who was packing a suitcase, that grandma was taking her instead. My mother then promised to take my daughter to Hawaii the next month and once again, it was my niece who went, not my daughter. There is no medicine I can give my daughter to heal the pain that homelessness has brought her.
We have grown accustomed to being forgotten and it no longer matters to us that we don't get invitations to family gatherings or other events. I have never done drugs or alcohol, nor do I have mental health issues yet I can't help but feel at odds with the way I get treated. I could hold on to anger but what purpose will it serve? Karma has a way of paying back with interest so I take comfort in that.
I keep myself busy by working on getting degrees. My AAS will be done in three months and my financial aid came through so I can continue on to getting my bachelor's degree. I write alot which gives me a creative outlet yet I still find time to help those who are worse off than I am. When my r.v. was getting too run down, I sold it to a homeless mechanic for $250.00. My friend and old co-worker asked me to come stay with her out in the country until things get better plus it would help her out as she is in end stage renal disease. Her next door neighbor gave me her sister's mini-van which really took my breath away. No one has ever given me a free vehicle before. It needs a little tlc but a free vehicle is a free vehicle! I managed to replace the water pump hose on my own and the next step is check the alternator and try to give it a tune-up when I can afford it. We have to be ready to leave in a moment's notice because my friend lives in a mobile home park and although she pays a mortgage to buy her home, it sits on a lot that she pays monthly rent on. According to the lease agreement, the landlords have the right to say who lives on the lot and since I know I won't pass their credit screening, I won't be able to stay here.
If I can survive the next two years living out of the mini-van, I believe that things may get better. At least I'll have a bachelor's degree and hopefully it will be worth something by the time I graduate.
I never thought I'd cry to read my eldest daughter's poetry:
Shadows by Sara Skye
I live in the shadows, meaning I was never here if I want to live here. My mom tells me we’re not allowed to live here, cuz we’re not on the lease. So we have to stay quiet, not broadcast we’re here. We can’t let the manager see us either. Thinking about it makes me want to cry or kill myself. My mom says we’re probably going to live out of the van, even though we just got out of the rv. So now I’m fat AND homeless, the kind that never lasts long. Maybe I should barf after I eat then I can be a whore and make a living since you don’t need an address for that job. Or I can just o.d.. I want to scream! It’s only a matter of time till we’re in the van. We’re supposed to be in the shadows but my sister runs through the neighborhood screaming all the way plus I walk to school where EVERYONE can see me. Then I’ll have no home (or a roof that doesn’t move). Mom don’t have a job, so we’ll “move”. I’ll change schools, this time leaving no one cuz I didn’t make any friends, and relive living in a rv, this time a van. If I see tomorrow. But for now I’m living in the shadows, trying to see the light.
There’s no place like home by Sara Skye (When we were living out of the r.v.)
“There’s no place like home,” has never been so true especially where I live. It’s a rusted up, beat up, ol’ tin can on wheels with no power, no heat and no room. While most people look forward to going home, it’s the one thing I dread. Instead of walking through a front door, I climb through a car door. Instead of a nice green back yard or a nice view, I get the faded black-gray and spray on paint of a Fred Meyer’s back lot. Instead of my own room and a nice bed, I got a moldy folding bunk to share with my sister. When I wake up it isn’t bright and warm, instead it’s dark and cold and really early.
I might get breakfast before we’re dropped off, probably after. Then I get to go to school where there’s bullies, I don’t fit in and feel really fat, ugly and embarrassed. It’s also where I sometimes cry. When that’s over, I get to go back to the unlicensed daycare and listen to screaming kids I hate. Mentally I escape for awhile. But the my mom comes and I feel my face burn up as I crawl into the tin can that is my home and transportation. My embarrassment. After probably eating and definitely screaming, we pull into a lot, I pull out the bunk, crawl into my sleeping bag next to my sister, try to sleep and start all over again.
Hmmmph! There really is no place like home, that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
Like I said before, I never thought I'd find myself out here.
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