At the bottom…

This morning I got a very big reminder of where I came from, an how much farther I still have to go.

One of my customers at my day job came in and confessed she was homeless and struggling just to try and keep her things from being auctioned off. She’s been struggling for a while, and you can tell from talking to her that she’s frazzled, and losing hope. I don’t know how she got to her situation, or if there was anything she could do to stop it. But I did see how other people reacted to her, and I can’t even say I’m that surprised.

I hate selling customers units most of the time. I’ve had them on the phone with me crying their eyes out, begging for me to stop the auction and it really sucks. But I also know how freeing it can be for a person. After the lose, after the heart ache, they lose a huge chunk of stress from their plate, and they don’t have to worry about that bill that’s been keeping them behind every month. It doesn’t feel like a good thing when it’s happening, but eventually, I hope, they realize that it was a good thing.

This particular customer in her frazzled haze reminded me of me. I was in her situation once. We were evicted from our apartment, lost our car, and were down to two hundred bucks a month to just try and sustain a family of five. We couldn’t even get food stamps or health care for a while because we “made too much.”

And they were right. We did make too much. My ex had a job, and the total on that pay check should have paid all the bills. But when the courts garnish your wages for medical bills due to life saving surgeries, and  child support, there isn’t much left for the family living under your roof.

We were homeless. We had a tent that we pitched in his sisters front lawn and let the kids have a camp out. Slept on couches. Showered in someone else bathroom. Ate out of cans. Eventually got a tiny airstream trailer to stay in out on his mothers property with no water, no electricity, and no septic. And we made it work for two years while we got a bankruptcy for the medical bills, and tried to make things work.

No one understands how hard it is to come back from being homeless. “Get a better job” they say. Hell, the case worker for his child support told him to get a second job since the first one wasn’t paying enough to live off and pay his child support. They failed to take into account that if he made more money the state would take more each month for child support. Some people suggested that I get a job, and failed to realize that any job I had would go into paying for child care and there would be nothing to take care of the house with. Basically I’d be out at a “real job” instead of spending time with my children so someone else could care for my children. It was pointless.

Once we finally got all the court issues taken care of, and finally got our finances stable we tried finding an actual place to live. One with running water, a fridge, and a toilet that flushed. You have no idea how much those things matter until you don’t have them. Just being able to buy and keep fresh meat, or fruits and veggies for longer then a few hours saved us so much money. Being able to soak in a tub instead of a quick solar shower made me feel so clean. And AC! It was 120 degrees for a lot of the summer and we had no AC. It was amazing to finally get it again.

But I jumped ahead a little bit. I said we were looking for an apartment, but the apartments were too expensive. Most of them wouldn’t even let us live there because we had an eviction on our record. They didn’t care how we got it, or what happened, they just didn’t want to risk having to evict us too. We searched for a while, trying to find anyone that would take a chance on us. Eventually we found a little RV place that let us rent an RV from them. With a large down payment. I think the manager let us move in because she felt sorry for the children.

Every step of the way out of homelessness took help. We did eventually get some food stamps. I hated using those things but it was the only thing that made feeding ourselves without a working fridge manageable. It was expensive to buy food every day. Not to mention the fact we lived an hour from town down a tiny dirt road that flooded in the winter.

The point was… it took the kindness of people who didn’t know us to get back on our feet. Someone helped us. Someone offered a place to stay. Someone else offered a little gas. Someone else took us in when the worst of the heat hit so we didn’t get heat stroke. Someone else helped us make sure the children got home from school walking down the mile long dirt road. We made it.

And that’s what I told my customer today. That I made it, and so can she. I encouraged her to take help from anyone who offered it, and try whatever she could to get ahead. I told her that losing her storage wouldn’t be the end, even though it felt like it, and that she’d overcome it.

She thanked me. I hoped it helped knowing someone else had been there, and she could do it too. I know it helped to remind me of where I’d been, and how far I’d come.


7 thoughts on “At the bottom…

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. I also understand this struggle. I didn’t hit the floor as hard as this, but I’ve been homeless a number of times. I’m definitely the textbook example of the starving artist. I could go into all insane things I’ve experienced because I have little, but generally, it goes like this:

    After years of bouncing between homelessness and terrible roommate situations, I met my wife and we found a tiny gross apartment to live in. We pinched pennies (literally paid bills and groceries with spare change) and constantly hunted for a better situation. But no one wants to rent a room to a couple. And we couldn’t afford to rent a room separately.

    A family member allowed us to stay with them for a year. Good timing too because our first born came along around the time that family member took us in.

    We managed to get our own place that wasn’t the worst apartment ever created (with the worst neighbors to match) or wasn’t on the floor/in a spare room of a friend or family member’s. We’re building now and we’re slowly casting our sails to catch the winds of success.

    The experience taught me a lot about poverty and those who have a hard time supporting themselves. It also taught me a lot about the human spirit. I’ve always been ruthlessly optimistic, but being stuck below the line with no one to help you is a position that can break you down.

    Hit someone enough and they will not get up.

    Great post!

    • I fully believe without those friends helping me out I’d still be stuck in my no where situation. I have returned the favor a few times offering help to others in a bad place, even if it was just a kind word or an ear to listen. It feels so good to give back to those around me. I wish more people would. If the world was occupied with helping each other instead of helping themselves, or blaming others, then poverty would disappear.

  2. I don’t think anyone should feel any shame in accepting food stamps if they’re down on their luck as long as they are making a genuine attempt to get back on their feet. After all, everyone pays into the system when times are good for them.

    I have sometimes heard people talking about those on government support in disgracefully unsympathetic ways. I think they might consider the fact that many, many people are only one unexpected lay off or one major medical emergency away from abject poverty themselves.

    • Quite true on all counts. It’s partly that we stress so much that “you make your own destiny” in this country. Really that is only partly true. Yes you can work hard and you can do everything in your power to get a leg up, but a lot of it comes down to luck, or knowing the right person. Just being in the right place at the right time. No one does it on his own. We all get help, advice, or teaching from those around us. I wish more people understood that.

  3. Couldn’t agree with you more. The whole point of being human is that we live together in social groups and help each other. Anybody who thinks that isn’t true should try a month by his or herself in a jungle and see how they get on. I know President Obama got a lot of flak a couple of years ago for saying nobody does it by themselves, but in the sense he intended it there is absolutely no doubt that he’s right!

    • Exactly. Every millionaire got there by utilizing the blood sweat and tears of their employees, friends or family. Maybe they had a great idea, or programed some fantastic application, but they never would have sold it if there weren’t customers who wanted to spend money on it. It always takes someone else, and we should treat those others, be they customers, employees or just our neighbors with the respect they deserve.

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