Pets and Homelessness

Nova Kitty, being cute.

People often think that people experiencing homelessness don’t have pets; that’s simply not true.  Think about it, you live in the woods, and you find a kitten.  You might be the only person who has found this kitten, fed it, or cared for it.  Well, that how our friends got Nova.  

Nova is a well behaved, leashed trained cat.  People experiencing homelessness often have to adapt their pets to their lifestyle, so Nova has a harness, a leash, and a soft cat carrier which acts as her kennel.  When you take the bus, you must have your cat in a carrier, no exceptions.  Keeping up with your cat in public spaces is important because you may have to travel from place to place to get resources.  Leash training a stray kitten is far easier than an adult cat, and if you’re not sure if your tent gets to be in the same place every week, it’s a very viable solution to being  a responsible pet owner.  

Nova’s family- young folks who live outside.

Nova has toys in her carrier.  She has a water and food dish.  Food is kept in a special compartment in Angela’s bookbag.  She has a harness, a leash, a cute collar and has been trained to wiggle her back end when she needs to go outside.  She is loved and doted on.  She has her own bed in the tent, but prefers to sleep with her humans.  She’s just like my cat, except my cat is much less doted on, doesn’t have a leash or a cool carrier, and deals with adversity with the grace of a 2 legged stool.  

During the hurricane, there was nowhere for this family to go.  Most shelters didn’t accept pets, so we had to make special accommodations for them in a private home of a friend.  They were going to stay outdoors to make sure that their pet could be with them and didn’t get lost or hurt in the storm.  That’s more than many home-owners do, and we’re proud of them for that.  

Nova needs her first rabies shot.  If you would like to help with that, send us an email at info@lovewinscec.org, or simply donate here and send us a note. 

Nova also needs cat food.  Her family has managed to provide for her, but they’ve been very low on food lately, so if you have some adult kitty food that your cat snubs, we can put it to good use with Nova’s family.  She’s a very low key, undemanding kitty, so she’s also not very finicky.  

Pets are family members.  They need love, food, water and a place to poop.  That’s about it (and the occasional booster/medical care).  We love our pets, and so do people whose pets are their lifeline to reality, their rock, and their reason for waking up everyday.  

The #1 Cause of Homelessness

*Trigger warning: a paragraph towards the end has a story of a rape.  I have put an italicized trigger warning right before the paragraph so that you can choose to quit reading or skip it.  

Terri walked up to me at the smoking area, shoved a square of paper into my hands and started sobbing.  I’ve never seen her cry, not even the first time I met her when she showed up at Love Wins with a huge, swollen black eye and several cuts on her face.  That day she said, gruffly, “I’ve been through worse, this ain’t shit.”  Today I put my arms around her, and she sobbed as if her heart was breaking.  

The paper in my hand was her prescriptions.  She had been to a mental hospital out of town to get her medications straight, but that wasn’t why she was crying.  She was crying because the Social Security office had cut off her disability check, and not only could she not afford her prescriptions, but now she couldn’t pay her rent.

“I don’t want to go back out on the street.  I don’t want to use again. The bank said my mail had gotten sent back, I don’t know what to do!”

Believe me when I tell you that she is seriously in a pickle.  We jumped into action, and I went down to the Person Street Pharmacy to get her medications filled, while Blu tried to get someone, anyone, from Social Security on the phone.  Blu was on the phone with an earbud in her ear, on hold for an HOUR AND A HALF, and after that wait, they picked up and said that they would have to call her back.  This is the level of frustration our folks go through every month.

In the meantime I got her medications and paid down some of our rotating bill at Person Street Pharmacy, wrote down directions of how and when to take all of them (there were 6, and she luckily has medicaid), and made copies of all of her psych. paperwork so that we could have it to prove her disability.  After taking her morning medications, she started to calm down a bit more.  Social Security called back, and she and Blu navigated her case together, in the office.

Terri will tell you that this is hard for her.  “I don’t talk good.  Don’t say the right words.”  She has difficulty telling a coherent story in the way that a person who is in Social Services can understand.  She gets frustrated.  Her medications are for anemia, an infection, anxiety, and Parkinson’s.  Having an advocate to help her is extremely important.  She doesn’t know what to ask, or what to write down, but she does know that every piece of paperwork needs to be copied and saved, and she is right.

In the hall, I’m talking to a man who looks down.  Terri walks up to him and says “Are you okay?  Do you need a hug?”  He tells us that 2 years ago today his son was killed in a car accident.  She hugs him and says “Never give up, keep your head up. You’re my brother in Christ.” 

The call to Social Security was, at best, documentation.  They could do nothing that day.  Blu and Terri had made a plan to go down there, together, in person, and stand right in front of whoever they had to in order to get some answers.  As Blu always says “If you’re standing right in front of them, they can’t ignore you.”

Terri and I leave the center to do some investigating of our own.  We go down to where she gets her mail to check and see if they were sending mail back.  They were not, and had a couple of bills from Wake Med.  That solves one mystery.  We visit her friend and she borrows $30 to give her room mate as a gesture of good faith.  I explain the situation to him and assure him that we’re working on it. 

We drive down to where she has been staying, but her room mate isn’t home.  Like many of our folks, she is precariously housed.  She’s not technically supposed to be there.  She’s paying a friend who has section 8 under the table to stay there, so she has no key, and can’t be seen opening the door with a key, or he will be evicted.  She also can’t be there while he is at work unless she slept there- essentially, when she leaves for the day, she can’t come back until he’s back.  

We drive to the friend’s motel.  Terri tells me that she loves the woods and outdoors because we all need peace and quiet for a while.  She cautions me to never let a man see me walk into the woods, otherwise he will follow you.  We talk for a long time.  She is my friend.  

*Trigger warning past this point!!!*

People ask me what the number one reason for homelessness is, and I tell them, first and foremost, that it’s child abuse and neglect.  Terri was taken from her family at 5 years old because her grandfather raped her and stuck things in her that had to be surgically removed at UNC Hospital.  She grew up in foster care, and transitioned to a group home.  When she was 15, she ran away from the group home to go to the quiet of the woods, and was picked up on the side of the road by 4 men with a gun, raped repeatedly, and then tied to a tree and left to die.  It was a day and a half before someone found her and EMS took her to the hospital.  She said they “Stuck IV’s in my arms because I was so dehydrated.  So thirsty.  Never let men see you walk into the woods alone.  I tell people never to run away from their group homes.”  

She came into the adult world untrusting, angry, and unsupported. 

“How does a mom do that?  She’s a woman too.  She said I just wanted men to have sex with me.  What does a 5 year old know about that?  She’s dead now, not, I mean, I don’t mean nothing by that, but she is.  I was so mad.  I didn’t trust nobody.” 

I reassured her that sometimes death is the only closure that we get. She started using crack in her adulthood to medicate herself and her memories.  She is clean right now, and happy that she finally found someone to straighten out her meds and really listen to her.  She says “I don’t even want no crack now.  I gotta keep my head up.”

She smiles at me and says, “Maybe God has a reason.  Maybe he knew that if I got that check, something might happen to weaken me and I might scrape together some money and buy some crack.  Maybe he’s looking out for me. I gotta stay positive.”  I told her that was a “Very Blu way of looking at things, and it sounded very wise.”  We’ll get this straightened out, in the meantime, she just has to get through the weekend. 

I drop her off at her friend’s house.  Her friend has cigarettes for her.  She puts several under the visor of my windshield.  I protest, but she says “When I don’t have, you give, and when you don’t have, I give.  I like being able to do nice things for people.  I want to give back.”  I tell her I love her and to stay safe.   It’s always the folks with the least who give the most.  

She says that she’s learning from us, but no, I’m definitely learning from her.  

If you would like to help us help others like Terri navigate the world, click here for our donation page and consider being a monthly Angel.  

 

 

Our Chef Billy Needs Housing

*Billy’s story is told with his consent and encouragement. 

When Blu graduated and moved from being head of our Nutrition Program to our Peer Support Specialist, there was a void to fill, but luckily, Billy had just started volunteering with us! That was over 8 months ago now, and he’s been here, every day, cooking the most delicious food that anyone has tasted.  He’s famous for his sauces, gravies, meatloaf, potato salad, chicken salad, tuna salad, ribs, tuna cakes, bean soup, saffron rice- actually, he’s famous for everything he cooks.

Billy’s Birthday Lunch

Billy turned 50 this week and held a huge lunch party where he made all of his favorite foods- ribs, roast with potatoes and carrots, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, Billy Beans and stewed cabbage with ham bones.  It was DELICIOUS!

Something that people don’t know about Billy, is that he’s an unhoused person, and has been since 1997.  He gets disability because of a terrible work accident that left him partially blind, but it’s not enough to get him any housing.  He’s been up for section 8 housing twice, and both times could not find an apartment that passed inspection.  Around 8,000 people receive section 8 vouchers, but there are only about 2,000 available units in Raleigh.  It’s a tough time to be a disabled person who sleeps in the park.

Billy and I at the Food Bank.

Billy gets about $800/month in disability benefits.  The difference between Billy being housed and not is a part-time job that he can do that doesn’t take away his benefits, as he as also been hit by a bus once and a car recently.  He works here at Love Wins like it is his full-time job.  He is treated as staff, however, we haven’t been able to pay him.  We want to change that.  We want to provide a salary for Billy and find an apartment or living situation that costs no more than $500/mo. that is on a bus line so that he can get around.  These shouldn’t be lofty goals, but they seem to be these days.

In Billy’s ideal world, his housing would be safe and quiet.  He keeps to himself and likes to keep his things tidy and in good condition.  Billy has mastered the art of keeping things safe and in good condition outdoors- he could teach a class on it.  It would be manageable with his current disability income plus an additional income if he could have that.  As Hugh said to me yesterday on the phone “If someone can keep themselves so together living outside, if they had an apartment, they could rule the world!”

Birthday morning!

Billy has never asked for anything, but he really wants a job.  Here is what I propose: can we raise a salary for Billy?  Even just $100/week would make it so that Billy would have a chance to be able to be housed at current market value somewhere.  If we could raise $400/mo. to be able to provide that for him, it could only go up from there.  He can’t make more than $800/mo. without losing his disability, and right now, that’s a really important factor.

I’ve started the paperwork, and we may have to ask the Universe for forgiveness instead of permission.  If you would like be a monthly contributor towards our Nutrition Program and a salary for Billy, please click here, and don’t hesitate to leave us a note!!!  We want to know that you support Billy, our nutrition program, and creating a salary and housing that directly affects one person that you really do know.  We can end homelessness for one person this month.  I believe it.

*Billy is one of my closest friends.  If you know of an apartment, house, or living situation that is safe, clean and quiet, please don’t hesitate to contact me at maranda@lovewinscec.org . I want the best for our Billy, and I want him to not be sleeping in that park anymore.  

Softening Young, Tough Hearts

Today we got a visit from Officer Winkle, but it wasn’t a bad visit.  He had stopped by to let us know that “Whatever you all are doing, keep doing it.  I’ve seen a big change in *Mike.  He now talks about positive things, and instead of looking for trouble, now he’s trying to avoid it.”  Officer Winkle has known a lot of our folks for several years.  He’s known Mike for 6 years.  This was a huge compliment, and it lets us know that sometimes, this stuff works!!!

We’ve had a new volunteer in the kitchen this week!  This young man has lots and lots of energy, and in the past he’s been a handful at times.  He’s always asked about volunteering, but didn’t really like any of the available jobs.  Yesterday he asked us if he could volunteer in the kitchen.  I talked to Chef Billy about it, and he agreed to give it a test run.  It seemed like a great option, because this guy has, in the past, had an obsession with not liking what came out of the kitchen.

Working in the kitchen is a great way to gain skills and empathy for what it is like to cook for 40-70 people every day.  He’s doing a really great job so far and we’ve enjoyed having him back there.  Working in the kitchen changes people.  I’ve seen it over and over again.  He has been very proud, and asked all of his friends to please eat because he was volunteering.  It made us all smile.

Today’s lunch: Chicken Stir Fry with rice, steamed vegetables, green beans, garden salad, and a choice of pineapple or lime infused ice water.

Our volunteer, Tony, always jokes that the young people are “MaRanda’s kids”.  I have to admit, I have a soft spot for kids who are tough as nails.  I feel like I can really see them; I empathize with them deeply.  I was a “tough kid”, getting into mischief wherever there was some to be had.  Doing whatever it was that I shouldn’t have been doing at the time.  Skipping class in favor of going downtown, hanging around coffee shops with the college folks, sneaking around the Rose Garden smoking cigarettes and cursing up a storm with my friends.  I see pieces of myself in them.  I also see tremendous potential and a huge capacity for love and kindness.

We’ve heard that Love Wins has a radical approach.  We give hospitality that isn’t dependent on what you give us, but we’ve found that what we receive is worth more than any tangible thing that I can hold in my hand, except maybe another hand.

If you would like to contribute to our ongoing work with people who are experiencing homelessness, poverty, food insecurity, housing insecurity, or are simply at risk for all of these things, click here for our donation link.

*Name changed for privacy.  

An Uplifting Friend

Being the Peer Support Specialist at Love Wins Community Engagement Center gives me a look into the lives of our community members with a unfiltered eye. I get the opportunity to sit with quite a few of them on a one on one basis, learning their hardships, what makes them who they are and why they are in the positions they are in. My job is to listen with no judgement and a open heart.

Ally* was 19, living alone in a tent after her boyfriend went to jail. We did our best at Love Wins for her to get her resources, but there was only so much we could do. So we threw it out to the Universe (and Facebook!) that this young girl was alone in the woods and had potential to do great things if given the chance.

Someone reached out to me the next morning and offered to help. I got up, put on my shoes and started looking for her – our people are hard to track down at times. I managed to find her at The Oak City Outreach Center. As soon as I told her what was going on I could see the excitement in her eyes.
Ally was being given a chance. I went with her to go talk to a couple of people about a place to lay her head for a little bit and the possibilities of jobs. She got to take a shower, eat a good meal, and sleep in a safe environment.

For the next week I saw her less than I normally do, but I knew she was going to be ok. She checked in with me regularly and let me know that she was making new friends. I was so happy for her.
For our folks, living arrangements can change fast, and they did for Ally. I got a phone call at 10:30PM that she was going to be outside, in downtown Raleigh.

I got out of bed and put my shoes on. I wasn’t going to let her stay downtown with nowhere to go. I would have wanted someone to come be with me, to answer to my call when I was homeless, alone, and unprepared. I know the gut feeling you get alone at night as a young woman. I told her to stay where she was I was coming to her.

I was walking so fast I was probably running. I told her it would take me 20 minutes, tops, to get to her, but I was determined to get there before 15. I think I ended up getting there in 12. As I walked up over the little hill I could see her in the distance in her bright blue interview blouse she had worn all day while job hunting. She did a little hop and started in my direction.
I let out a sigh of relief when I knew she was safe, but now we had to discuss what was our next move, which was to get Ally a safe place for the night.
By 5:30 the next morning she was up and going. We developed a list of things that she needed to do that day and we sent her on her way. She hustled hard that day, found a side job to make a little cash and was able to find a safe place to be. All on her own.

It’s not the place she wants to be but it’s a safe place to be for now. She has a job working on Saturdays and Sundays and every now and again she picks up a side gig. She hasn’t given up. She won’t give up. Even though she looks like a porcelain doll, she definitely isn’t, for she can’t be broken.
Ally* and I will keep doing what we can to keep her moving forward. And I’ll be there with her as her friend that uplifts her. As Hugh Hollowell put it so beautifully once, “I may not be able to pay your light bill, but I’ll come sit in the dark with you”.

I will sit in the dark with her. Or anyone else that doesn’t want to go through it alone. That is what I do. I am a Peer Support Specialist.

From Homeless to Housed

We’ve been spending the week trying to get our family moved into their new place; we’re so happy that they have a home to call their own.  People have been offering furniture, bedding, kitchenware and kid stuff-it’s been beautiful to see.  We need more love and beauty in this world.

I recently went to see “Won’t You Be My Neighbor”, which I encourage you to see if you haven’t yet, because one of Fred Rogers’ beliefs is that people need to love and be loved in return.  One of the most important things that we teach our children, and each other is that we are worthy of love, and that we are also capable of loving others.  Mr. Rogers passed away in 2003, and I wonder how he would feel today about the current state of our country and politics.  I hope that he would continue to preach love, and that people would listen.

I’m very excited to say that our big family moving into their new house isn’t the only win we have this week.  One of our community members who has been living in a tent also got housing, and the Love Wins volunteers have been busy getting him set up with sheets, bedding, household items- everything that he needs to enjoy his new space.  We’re also proud to say that tons of folks got jobs in the past few weeks!!!  We have dressed up people for interviews, made sure they had what they needed and tomorrow, I’m even taking our artist, Matthew to a job interview!  We’re so proud of our folks, and we use love and kindness to get them to the next step of their life journey.  They’re our friends and our neighbors.

I was talking to our volunteer, Reanie today, and she said something that rang so true.  She said “Everyone I’ve talked to today is experiencing grief.”  The loss of someone dear is a key part of nearly every person’s story here at the center.  We allow people to grieve, we talk about that grief, and help people process their grief in their own time.  I feel as though, if more people understood that, they would have more empathy for homeless people.  I feel like Mr. Rogers was the type of person who did for children what us, as every day adults can do for one another.  “I like you just the way you are.  Your feelings are scary, I understand that.  You feel sad and try as hard as you can not to be sad.  We’ll get through this together.”

After people travel through this journey, they come back to our mainstream society as our neighbors.  They move into houses, apartments, rooms, and have jobs everyday, working right beside us.  I can’t tell you how often I meet someone at a social event, tell them what I do, only for them to tell me, “You know, I used to be homeless once.  It started after *insert loss here*.”  It’s far more prevalent than people think.  Welcome people to our community with open hearts.  Give them space to heal, and when they’re ready, remember Mr. Roger’s words: “I’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like you.  I’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with you.”

To my friends who are now indoors, we’re so proud of you, and we’re happy that you’re our neighbor!

 

A Family that Stayed Together

We’ve heard so many heart-wrenching stories about families being torn apart, I thought that we could use a story about a family that stayed together against all odds. What makes this even sweeter? You all helped keep them together.

Many of you all are familiar with our family with 2 sets of twins and a toddler. If you aren’t, please check out this blog from March 2018 to read their story and how immediate their needs were at that time.  Our family had been staying at a local mission and were coming up to the end of their stay, which at that time, if they had nowhere else to go, CPS would be called and the children taken away from their parents, leaving Mom and Dad both homeless on the streets.  Through the power of Love, we were able to get them accepted into a program with Family Promise, here in Wake County, but it was going to be a while before they could start.  We had to intervene.

Several selfless gifts from folks who support our work, allowed them to live in a long-stay hotel for a month and have regional bus passes.  They got to work on getting all of their appointments lined up in preparation to enter the program.  Five car seats are VERY DIFFICULT to move, and it took me calling in all of the favors to get them moved out of the mission into the hotel.  Before we secured a safe place for them to be, it was very scary.  I stayed up, worried.  The family was worried every second that something bad would happen.  Luckily, we were able to keep them safe until they entered the program.

We called in favors again and got them moved into Family Promise as soon as they had an opening.  Dad found work, and things were looking up.  Everyone thought that things would be okay.  Mom was still nursing tiny babies and they were relying on Dad’s paycheck to make it though the program.  Then we hit a big bump in the road, and Dad got arrested.  Mom was alone with 5 kids at the tail-end of an 8 week program with no job of her own.  She called me in tears.  They had come so far, and now it was just like starting over.  I helped her pack up some things to exit the program, and a church friend of hers was able to get her and 3 of the 5 kids to a hotel room while our friend, Amanda kept the tiny babies for us.  We had to figure out a plan, the room was only for 1 night.

I arrived at the family day center the next day and started calling hotels.  It was graduation weekend, and every hotel was maxed to capacity and the ones that weren’t were charging premium rates.  Then another person at the day center reminded me of a long stay hotel that was a little further out than most and might now have hiked their rates.  I called, and with $100 that a friend gave me, got them a room for two nights.  We packed all 3 kids, Mom and her stuff in a tiny Fiat, and I drove them to the hotel.

When we got there, it was actually less expensive to rent a room by the week, so even though we didn’t have the money, I decided to go ahead and do it and ask the Universe for forgiveness later.  Mom settled in, and Pastor Hugh wrote about what we were doing on Facebook.  You all came to the rescue like troopers!!! Individual donors stepped up and paid for the room until the end of the month!!!  The family had been accepted into a program called “Passage Home” that helps people find places to live that they can afford, we just needed to keep them safe and together until a unit was found.

I’m proud to say that I got a phone call yesterday, and they did it!  They signed the lease on their townhouse yesterday through Passage Home and the lights are being turned on today.  Mom was a success.  She is taking classes in administrative work so that she can secure a good job so that she and her family will never fall through the cracks again!

Here’s what I want to do.  She’s given me permission to come over, do some Facebook Live about their journey, and show you all the house!!!  I’ll get a list of some furniture and such that they need, and then we’ll load it all up to the YouTube channel, and I’ll post the link back on this blog so that future readers get to see it too.  I’m so proud of our family and I’m so proud of you all!!! If you would like to donate towards us being able to keep other families from being separated because of homelessness, click here to help someone in your community that really needs a hand up.

Homelessness doesn’t get a snow day

When people who have regular jobs hear cold icy weather is coming, thoughts run through their head: Do we have bread and milk? Should we put salt the driveway for the morning just in case? Am I going to make it to work? Will school be canceled?

Here at the Love Wins Community Engagement Center, our worries are different: Does everyone have a sleeping bag? Do we have enough hats? Did we give out enough hand warmers? Where are these people going to sleep tonight?

So on Wednesday when we heard nasty weather was coming, we started trying to help our community members to prepare. We handed out socks, the few sleeping bags we had, hand warmers, gloves and hats. When there were no more gloves, we gave them socks for their hands.

Some of our people go to the shelters, but quite a few don’t, and those folks would be sleeping outside. It was difficult to watch them walk out Wednesday afternoon, knowing we had done all we could to get them prepared to get through the night. The staff members had decided that we were going to do whatever it took to be open for them the next morning. They just had to get through the night.

When I woke up on January 4 to a snowy landscape, I knew I was gonna to have to walk the 2 miles to work. Our people were gonna show up, and someone needed to be there.

I started walking. It was a cold windy morning and not many people were out and about. There wasn’t much traffic and what was out was moving at a snails pace.

When I rounded the turned at Love Wins there were no foot prints in the snow, but there was one car in the parking lot with 4 community members sitting in it, waiting for me to get here.  I go through the door and plugged in the coffee and the hot water kettle for hot chocolate. Then I took a breath and shed the 4 layers of clothing I was wearing.

I knew MaRanda was coming, and Alyssa had phoned to say she was stranded with her kiddos at her apartment in the suburbs. But for right now, it was just me.

People were coming, and they were going to be cold and hungry – my thoughts turned to  starting breakfast. Something hot, something quick, and something heavy… Oatmeal! I made it with milk and coconut cream, and then added some cinnamon, brown sugar, and a little butter.

MaRanda showed up 15 mins before opening time with a ton of coats people had donated – good, because we were going to need them!

“Open the doors! Let ‘em in!”, she told me, and so I did. I ran to front and slung the door open. Only six people walked through, but boy were they happy to see us there! And we were just as happy to see them!

Throughout the day more and more people would come through. I don’t think I had gotten and given so many hugs in my life. It was a warm feeling to see our folks coming through the door saying, “I knew ya’ll would be open!” and for us we knew we had helped someone survive a really cold wet night. And the next morning, when they woke up cold and wet, they knew we would be there for them.

Homelessness doesn’t get a snow day. So neither do we.