Sun, May 26

Letter: Heaven help the homeless


How does it happen? I used to think homeless people were "ne'er-do-wells" who for some reason just couldn't make it in society. You know, drug addicts, alcoholics and other "derelicts." But a college educated, working, single female? Let's get real.

To shorten my story, after my divorce my income was lowered, and yet I still had responsibilities - rent, phone, electricity, water, car, insurance, student loan, credit cards ... along with groceries and gasoline, etc.

My world became a downward spiral -- lack of self-esteem and depression made it difficult to fine, or keep work (not to mention I had relocated to leave behind unhappy memories), and the instability made it difficult to pay the bills. I ended up living in my car. Now, there are those who would say, "that isn't homeless."

True, I had shelter ... how much worse for those truly without. In addition, along the way there several epiphanies. For instance, I am much more organized that I ever realized; we are never truly alone; and happiness does, indeed, come from within.

First of all, I was fortunate in that all of my belongings went into storage. The $45 a month fee was considerably less than my $600 a month rent (no water or electric bill, either). Secondly, I organized the trunk of my car. I had a suitcase with my clothes (underwear, socks etc), and my dirty clothes basket, a flashlight, an emergency radio, small ice chest, and then a small overnight bag with toiletries, toothbrush, deodorant, etc.

I am fortunate in that the driver's seat in my car fully reclines; many nights I would actually believe I was home in bed. At the time, I was in a city; the good noose is, it's easier to "blend," the bad news is there's a higher crime rate. Somehow my concern was always less for my safety and more for the fact that I may be arrested for vagrancy with no one to call. At night I would drive to an area, sleep for several hours, then wake up and move to a different location. At first I had a cheap travel alarm clock, then I "upgraded" to using my cell phone alarm. Bills were paid online by using the local library's computer.

Luckily in a city there are several 24-hour establishments (even now). Having always been fastidious about my appearance, at night I would drive to a 24-hour pharmacy and wash my face, brush my teeth and use the restroom.

In the morning I would find a filling station (they usually have single, private baths). I would wash my face, my hair, wash the "important parts," and brush my teeth. Then apply my make-up, deodorant, change my clothes and leave. Using either the heat or a/c in my car as my hair dryer I was on my way.

Although I had a small cooler in the car, it was difficult to keep groceries, so I would get a salad for the day, or a sandwich from the local grocery store (about $3-$4). If I had any extra money I would buy granola bars or some other non-perishable snack to keep in the cooler. I was using the cooler as a cupboard, not a refrigerator.

At night, I would find my spot (usually in a parking lot under a light), recline my seat, open my car windows ever so slightly, then throw a blanket over all of me, so perhaps a passerby might think something had been left in the car, rather than someone. I slept with the doors locked, the key in the ignition, and the "club" (an anti-theft device) at my disposal.

I figured the worst-case scenario was, if someone tried to get in, I would whack them with the club, then start the car and head out of Dodge. The keys in the ignition also came in handy for changes in temperature, as I could wake up and start the car for either heat or a/c.

In my part of the country (the Southeast) we have a neat store where everything costs $1. Toiletries and snacks could be purchased here, and it only cost me about $10 per month. After Hurricane Katrina, I found my self in the same dilemma, and the only thing I got from Katrina were people yelling at me saying I was evil and deserved to die because I had lived in New Orleans. Nice. My response was, because I had evacuated, I made several small purchases and donated them to the local church to be sent to those "less fortunate."

The next time you see a homeless person, all I ask is that you take a moment and "check-in." Ask yourself, what happened here? Can I help? Please don't disgustedly throw 50 cents at them, or say. 'Tsk, tsk, I'm a Christian, too bad they aren't."

You don't even have to give them money because you are concerned they will only use it to "feed their habit." You can, however get a bottle of water, or a sandwich. With today's market as it is, and the natural disasters, don't assume anything. It can happen to anyone; yes, even you.

God's abundance is given that it might be shared, not hoarded. It's time for a change in consciousness. The homeless among us are not the weak, but the strong. No one envisions this for their future.

For my part, I was supposed to be rich and famous, not a statistic. Think about it.

No longer homeless.

Allison Reese

Former resident of Cottonwood