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.  

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