It isn’t easy, living as I do. I have to be careful with what I say to co-workers, friends and family. They don’t fully understand or know why I don’t invite people over or why my kids don’t have sleepovers. I’ve learned to get by on naps because I can’t afford to get a full night’s sleep. Although I work two jobs often, most of what I make is spent on gas. This is how it’s been for the last seven years and I have no idea when things will change. I am a single mother with two kids living out of our vehicle.
My kids go to school, have clean clothes and food to eat. Occasionally we go to sleep hungry. Welfare isn’t an option as the state wants us to sell our vehicle, our only safe place to sleep, in order to grant us a measly $400.00 a month. So for now, we get basic health care and foodstamps. Child support stopped seven years ago and that’s how I lost my apartment, that and lack of affordable childcare. Without childcare, I could not go to my job and I couldn’t make my oldest daughter stay home from school to watch her baby sister. When my tax refund came around, I used it to by a 1981 Minnie Winnebago that was in excellent condition. My plan was to work nights while the kids slept in it. By the time my youngest was able to go to school, I found a day job that paid more than the part-time night job but the night job had a private parking lot that I could see from where I was working. The kids slept while I helped put out the next issue of the local paper. I made sure no one knew the kids were outside and my oldest knew that she had to keep her little sister quiet at all times.
I cannot understand the logic behind the state’s willingness to pay a stranger to take care of my kids but not lift a finger to help parents take care of their kids. Foster care seems to be a strange system in my opinion. How do you know these foster parents aren’t just opening their homes for the money? I read an article about how these kids were dumped into the street once the money ran out. I am determined to keep us all together but don’t need any hassles from the state poking their noses in where it’s not wanted. I still recall the moment a social worker looked me in the eye and said that she was sorry but the state couldn’t do anything to prevent homelessness but here’s your ebt card. I laughed in a social worker’s face when she suggested applying for section 8 for housing help. I replied “You mean apply for a program that’s closed in this state and awarded like the lottery? No thanks, I needed help yesterday, not the faint possibility at some unknown future date.”
I grew weary of other people’s questions as they are always the same. The look of disbelief on their faces only reinforces what I and my kids already know. There’s no such thing as help from the state, your family or friends because unless they are in a position to do so, it doesn’t mean they are willing to do so. I have had one or two relatives try to help in the only way they could and I will not forget that. What surprised me, and surprises me still, are the people who were complete strangers that came forward to offer what help they could. Two older women in particular I will never forget. We met them at a local park during the summer since it was the easiest place I could park the rv and it had plenty of room for the kids to roam around in. One of them walked the park every morning and the other walked her dog and so it was no surprise that the two knew each other even though I met each one on separate occasions. By observation they had figured out our situation and when we had no money to eat, they would buy my kids food at a local fast food restaurant and bring it to the park. I never asked them for a thing but they offered because they wanted to. I will also never forget one family who frequented the same park because the father of the family had a position at the church he attended and my youngest was in the habit of starting conversations with them. When one of his daughters asked where she lived, my daughter pointed to our rv. The girl looked confused but the parents understood. The father stared at us for a moment then turned away. That family kept their distance from us after that day.
In time my kids learned not to tell anybody how we were living and I knew it was killing them inside. My eldest has impressed me many times over even when I know she cries at night. She may understand why we are stuck but that won’t stop the hurt or embarrassment she feels. I still wonder how much my youngest will be affected by our situation but she may not know the difference either. You see we moved into the rv when she was one and half years old. Whenever we went to a hotel or spent the night at someone’s house, she would always ask to go back to the rv. For my teenager, the damage has been done. She suffers from depression because her world fell apart when we became homeless. She keeps it a secret from her friends at school but when the bottled up emotions become too great, they spill over into outbursts of anger or bouts of heavy depression. I was lucky to find a free program offered by one of her schools that got her the counseling she needed and she is a far cry from what she was a few years ago but the pain is still there and probably always will be.
I have learned not to get too comfortable in any one place. Even if friends offer a place to stay, they cannot guarantee how long we can stay especially if they have a landlord. I do everything I can not to be noticed but cannot control neighbors with big mouths. So we live out of a duffle bag and carry only what is necessary in our vehicle in order to move in a moment’s notice. Every year that goes by is another year my dreams of owning my own property slip away from me yet I refuse to give up. Last year I enrolled in an online university to get a degree because the higher paying jobs demand one. A co-worker and friend has opened her home to me but she still has a landlord therefore our stay will undoubtedly be a short one. I am not on the lease and don’t have any credit and am looking for a job so the odds aren’t good that they’d accept me being here. She wants to say that I am her caretaker since she has ESRD but I wonder if her landlords can contest that. From what I’ve seen, money is their motivator.
It still amazes me that people think that homelessness is made up mostly of people with addiction or mental problems. I have never done drugs, drank or been mentally ill. Working two jobs to stay off welfare and not have to ask for charity isn’t the image people first think of with the word “homeless”. We are everywhere but you wouldn’t know it. We learned how to stay off the radar, to become invisible.