By Tina Turvey
I was not a stereotypical homeless person. I was 4-6 years old. I felt vulnerable and scared most of the time. I was terrified and my mother who was also homeless was abused in front of me. We were never safe. I never felt safe and secure, and these feelings are still carried over into adulthood. I can honestly say as an adult I feel more afraid of becoming homeless now than getting cancer. I am scared of being in trouble with the landlord and eviction most of all.
October 10th marks the international homeless awareness day. Anyone looking up the demographics of homeless people will find the stereotypes are not accurate. Many homeless people are children and adolescents. Many work but cannot afford a place to live–such as those working minimum wage. Most are homeless for short periods of time, less than 2 years. Not everyone who faces instability in housing does so because they are alcoholic or criminals. Many are veterans.
With so many people living paycheck to paycheck all that is needed is a job loss or a medical crisis to land in eviction court or a shelter. With evictions showing up on credit reports for 7 years, many landlords do not want to “risk” a troubled tenant. Many suffer from mental illness also–making life skills such as paying (such as paying bills on time) difficult. This has been compounded by the current covid crises.
I come from a very troubled young mom who was not financially stable with untreated mental illness. My stepfather was very abusive and did not want his wife to work. This led him and the rest of the family into homelessness. I do not remember much about being homeless. My earliest memories were of “couch surfing” and having beds made up for me on the floors of those willing to take us all in. I have a brother that was 1 year younger than I that suffered with me as a kid. My grandparents took us in for a time; (my brother and I sleeping on a hardwood living room floor and my mom and step dad sleeping in a tent in the backyard).
The happiest day of my young life was the purchase of a dilapidated mobile home trailer. I was glad at the age of 7 to have a bed. I will never forget my humble beginnings. Today there are efforts to provide transitional or housing programs but is not nearly enough. The waitlists are often months or years. There are things which can be done. I try to vote in my local elections on the basis of help for the homeless and affordable housing. I also try to advocate. When people ask “why don’t they just get a job?” I respond with “do you know any HR managers who would offer a living wage job to someone with inadequate interview clothes, or no address or good hygiene? If so you tell me–I will pass the info along.