When you go out into this world, remember: compassion, compassion, compassion.
When one thinks of a homeless person, the first image that usually comes to our mind is usually that of an alcoholic and a drug addict, a person who is mentally ill, or simply of a person who chooses to be homeless. Stereotypes, yes, but, while not entirely false, only present a small fraction of the reality of today's homeless people.
The reality is that the face of homelessness is changing. We are seeing more and more elderly and disabled people becoming homeless as they become displaced by the rising housing, food, and medical costs. Women and women with children are are finding themselves homeless due to poor job skills, domestic violence, high price of childcare.
Jane Doe is one of my clients. A woman in her 50's, she lives in the shelter downstairs in my office building. She has been living there for about six months now as the workers try to find her some kind of affordable place to live. Jane is the new face of homelessness. She has a Master's Degree in business and has worked most of her adult life, saving to fulfill a lifelong dream of owning her own little craft store. And, then she got sick. Because she always worked in management and not in the union, she was not allowed to participate in the health benefits available to the union workers. She preferred saving all her money for the store, so she never paid for the high-priced health insurance available to her. She always thought, 'It will never happen to me.' But, it did. And, don't we all tend to think that way?
Joan Doe, another client, was forced to flee from her abusive husband. She now lives in what they call a Tier II shelter with her two teen-age daughters. These are a bit more comfortable than the regular Tier I shelter as most of these shelters are run by nonprofits and offer a bedroom along with on-site services such as day care and job training. The problem is, after the job training, the jobs just aren't there anymore, and even if Joan should find a job, how is she going to pay for the two-bedroom apartment she is going to need when she gets her 5 year old son out of foster care? The rents here are far too steep for a single woman with three children, and the housing programs which once offered assistance are no longer there.
It's scares me; it really does. I'll soon be 65, and I am only one paycheck away. That possibility of being homeless hit me firsthand last week. When I first moved into this apartment, we overpaid. I laid out $1150 for one month rent, $1150 for security, and $1150 for the real estate agent. After signing the lease and handing over the money orders, it turned out the wrong price had been quoted and my rent was instead lower....$1114. I was told that they would figure out the difference and subtract from my next month's rent. Meanwhile, I had paid a full month's rent for December and did not move in until the 15th. It was my choice, yes, but even if I had wanted to move in sooner, I couldn't for I would have had no kitchen. The sink and counter top ordered was too large and had to be replaced.
So, when I entered the building on the 30th of December, I found the super handing out the rent bills. There was no bill for me. The super said I should be happy. Having never lived in a building before and believing that the above was being taken into account, I took it for granted that they were still working on my payments. You can imagine what went through my mind when I finally did receive my bill on January 28th, and it was for $2158 dollars. Luckily, I had the cash and didn't have to clean out the rest of my bank account. I raced to their office on the 30th, before work, and paid the money. Part of that was going to be for our sofa, but I guess that will have to wait for awhile.
Then, on the 31st I came home to find a letter from the building management waiting for me. Again I 'assumed'. This time I figured it was probably another copy of the rent bill. Can you imagine the thoughts that raced through my head when I saw those big letters on top of the letter which said 'Eviction notice'. The letter went on to state that I had three days to pay the bill or legal fees and late charges would be added on. I was devastated, so upset I couldn't eat...couldn't sleep. The management office was already closed. There was nothing I could do but wait. The first thing the next morning I was on the phone. Fortunately, I discovered the letter should never have been mailed out. 'Disregard the notice', I was told. (Sigh) Oh, what a relief, but...
...it really opened my eyes as to 'what if?' What if I hadn't had that extra cash? What if I didn't have a month's rent on hold in the bank? What if something happens and I lose my job? What if? I am one paycheck away from being a 'client'. 'By the grace of God, there go I'. It's a frightening thought. And, it could happen to any one of us.
The story of any one person's real experience finds its
startling parallel in that of every one of us.
James Russell Lowell