Living outside of Washington, DC you see awful examples of homelessness. Within mere blocks from the White House you see people sleeping on grates. Virtually every metro station has people standing with signs asking for food and/or money. It is really quite shameful. Many homeless are mentally ill or substance abusers. You can't help anyone that is unwilling to help themselves, no matter how hard you may try.
Outside of the grocery store I used to shop at there was always a young man who was obviously homeless. I would pick him up a sandwich while I was in the store. He never appeared to be high or drunk to me nor did he ever ask me for money. A couple of times I needed help moving furniture or something else heavy and I paid him to move the things. He never stole anything and did a very good at any task that I requested. Then I noticed I had not seen him in a while and read in the paper that the homeless man who had been hit by a bus had died after a time in a coma, he is his late twenties if I remember correctly. I assumed it was him. It made me very sad. He seemed like a good guy who was just down and out, and I has always wished I had tried to do more to help him.
I have spending some time recently at the Lincoln Memorial. It is one of my very favorite views of D.C. I have been taking one of my all time favorite people with me. We talk about our day, get some ice cream, and just share some time together. I want him to have a special memory of that place that every time he goes there he remembers the time we spent together. A trigger memory as it were.
Yesterday I noticed someone who looked familiar to me with homeless please help sign written on a beat up piece of cardboard. I almost never carry cash. I am debit card girl. So, I just kept walking to my destination. I had to use the bathroom and needed to walk past her again. I noticed she was reading Atlas Shrugged. Which of course I found amusing and ironic. I looked again, and yes indeed I did recognize her. She recently started showing up at some tea party and election events that I have been to in the past few months. I went over to ask what she needed.
When she saw someone coming with children with them she moved her sign. I went and asked her why she did that and she told me that she realized that children don't always understand the very real reasons why adults are hesitant to give money to strangers. These people didn't know her story and many assume she is addict or something. I asked if drugs were the reason she was here. She explained it was simply a recession issue for her. She lost her job three years ago and could only find a job in retail sales that paid her commission. She did ok for the first two years and but then she ran out of her savings. Her job then cut her commission level in half and then cut her hours in half as well. She even said Target turned her down for a job. She simply got an email saying that they were not interested at this time and reapply in six months. Something that left her very depressed and feeling desperate.
I asked her what her most immediate need was (besides a job that pays a livable wage) and she told me she needed to do laundry. She was almost completely out of clean clothes. I didn't notice anything with her and she explained she has a car and keeps her things in her car. I asked if her car was close by and it was. I went with her and picked up her laundry. I brought it back clean a few hours later along with the food I had in the house that didn't require cooking or refrigeration. Mainly snacky foods like Lorna Doones, Cheerios and Granola Bars. I also stopped and got her a hot meal from Whole Foods.
I remember hearing about a tent city that has erected in Seattle. While Seattle seems to be a Mecca of sorts of homeless because of year round mild weather and permissive city laws, apparently it has grown since the recession has been hitting the country. It got me thinking of how many other people who have just fallen through the cracks and end up on the streets. It really is quite sad.
I also wanted to know what led her to start becoming more involved with Tea Party events. She told me that she is a conservative person but not really a joiner. She was working hard to keep her head above water when the Tea Party first started and just didn't have the time or the desire to get involved although she agreed with the basic concepts. She admitted that part of it for her is a time filler and a temperature controlled place to go for a few hours. She has never spoken to anyone that I have seen. She comes in, listens and leaves a bit early.
She explained to me that she knew this coming for a while and held it off as long as she could, but just couldn't make the rent anymore. She thought she had prepared herself but has found out that it is an incremental experience. Your life becomes about surviving today. Having enough food for today. Finding a safe place to sleep tonight. Looking at tomorrow is hard and looking at next week is next to impossible. She went through a period of depression for the first month or so but has been able to shake that off. She realized that this is her life and only she can get herself out of it. She keeps herself clean and has started filling out job applications again. She has a job interview later this week. She told me that she has been able to keep her phone turned on so can find a job. She says that is one of her biggest fears is that she will lose her phone service or her computer will get stolen. She knows she will never find a job if those things happen. She has found places that she feels safe to sleep. The hard part now is filling all the hours without getting very depressed.
I talked to someone at my church today. They have an opening for someone to help with the summer camp. It won't pay much and it is only for a few weeks, but it will help. The pastor said there are plenty of other people around and they will run a criminal background check just to be sure. My church also has a house, but presently that is being filled by a woman and her kids who were being abused and needed a safe place to stay until she can get on her feet. So I am not able to find her a temporary place to live, at least not yet.
Since I love blogging so much I told her she should start a blog and keep a record of her experience. It may help someone else who finds themselves in similar circumstances. She told me that she did start one but gave it up pretty quickly because of the depression. I told her she needed to start it up again. She told me she would. Here is the address if you want to read her story. There isn't much there, but it is interesting reading.
I am going to try to find her later today or tomorrow and tell her about the summer camp position. Wish me luck in finding her and wish her luck in her endeavor to get her life back on track. I will update you later.