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.  

 

 

Big Wins in Peer Support

I have to share with the Universe what the Wins of Love Wins look like from my eyes as a Peer Support Specialist

Yesterday I had a guy who had been clean for 5 months and was struggling to find a safe place to stay clean and sober. I made a phone call to the Healing Transitions and spoke with the Peer Support Specialist and made arrangements for him to be able to go and get in their program. This gentleman showed up this morning with all the praise about how amazing it is over there and that he finally felt like he was in the right spot to stay clean. I was so thrilled.

After I spoke with this guy about the HT I checked the mail and there was a letter for the man that I had been trying to get enrolled into Wake Tech. HE WAS ACCEPTED!! He gets to start his education this spring! He was so happy that we both broke out into tears. We have time to find him the things he needs to attend school, and help him better his life!

Followed by that, I saw a young lady that had been having a hard time getting to her appointment to get her back on her meds. She had been looking very sad and down for the past week. I made sure the other day that she had what she needed to get to her appointment. When she walked up this morning she had a huge smile on her face and tears in her eyes. She made it to her appointment had gotten her meds. She was back to her old self and it was beautiful to see! She thanked me for helping her out and I told her that that’s why I love my job!

I know first hand what it feels like to be overlooked and ignored because you’re homeless. Hugh Hollowell acknowledged me when I was homeless. He saw that I wanted to do something about my situation and he gave me a chance to do that. Just being there and understanding me was enough that I was able to stand up and do something different. Because of that relationship he built with me, I am now able to work here at the center and give back what he so freely gave to me: hope. He gave me hope that I wasn’t going to have to be alone and homeless forever, and now I’m able to share that hope with others.

I’ve cried alot this morning already. Happy tears. Love truly Wins.

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.