In 2006, I was a single mom of two little girls and pregnant with a third. I was living in a trailer in a shitty trailer park, driving a shitty car and working 2 shitty part-time jobs. The only thing I was good at at the time, was being a mom… and I felt like I was failing miserably at that.
Every time my kids had dirty faces because we were saving water until the one time a day we could all take a bath real quick. Every time my kids wore torn pajamas to bed because I couldn't afford a new pair for them. Every time I had to share a blanket with them because I couldn't afford my own. Every time they longed for a baby doll they knew we couldn't buy. Those were all times that I felt like I was failing as a parent.
In the grand scheme of things, I did a good job with it all. I mean, the girls didn't know how broke we were. They were still little, and after all, they enjoyed sharing a blanket with mom and having a camp out in the living room. They didn't know we were sleeping in the living room because that was the only room with a space heater. They didn't know that the reason we shared blankets is because the others were hanging in the hall to keep the cold air out. They didn't know any of it, and I'm thankful for that. They still remember our “sleepovers” and “camp outs” as if they were fond memories – and for the girls, they were.
For me, they were not fond memories. I remember crying myself to sleep, snuggling them as tightly as I could to share my body heat so they wouldn't be cold. I remember wondering if my shitty boss was going to pay me this week or if I was going to have to figure out which other utility could be shut off before it was the end of the line for us. For me, it was absolutefuckinghell and I'd never wish it on my worst enemy. Well, maybe on a few of them… but not their kids. Definitely not their kids.
Summer came, and things were looking up. The girls were staying at an in-home daycare during the day, so I could work my job. It wasn't quite as shitty now that I had a new boss, and at the end of the day it was an actual paycheck so I tried not to complain too much. I kept to myself mostly those days, but my friends didn't know how bad my situation had been – or how bad it would get.
There are many details of this story I'm leaving out, because even my family members don't know why I ended up homeless to begin with, but we'll just say this — it happened, and it sucked… but it wasn't as bad as you might think. I wasn't on the side of the road, holding a sign and begging for money. I wasn't going hungry – even on the shitty days, we had food stamps. Food stamps were literally our saving grace. That is probably one of the reasons I put on so much extra weight – food was the one thing I could control in my life.
The girls and I ended up in a homeless shelter in July of 2006. I was 7 months pregnant. It was a new shelter and we were among the first to stay there. It was a maternity shelter, and each family had their own room. The building itself was a nursing home that they converted into a maternity home, so it was nice. Like, really nice. There was a parlor with several comfy chairs, and a huge living room (with a huge TV!), and even a play room for the kids.
There was also a computer room, which is where I officially started finding jobs to do from home. While the other moms were surfing Myspace and hitting up dating rooms, I was learning how to write resumes and then I sold them to job seekers. While at the homeless shelter, I “sold” templates – usually exchanged them for child care or chocolate milk or movie time – and then I would “teach” them how to fill them in if they weren't sure. I read up on which words were best to use, how to word things when you literally had no experience, and taught them how to dress for their interviews.
So, here I was, pregnant and “homeless”. It's a technical term – I didn't actually have a home of my own, but I also wasn't living on the streets so I hate to use the word “homeless”. But, it is what it is.
I got fired from my one job when they realized I was pregnant. The other job was too far away to drive to while living in the shelter, so I had to quit. I was making a few bucks by selling resumes, but nothing spectacular. I started posting on mom forums and ended up getting promoted to a paid moderator position. Again, just a few bucks, but it started to add up.
I had Sapphire at the end of August, and literally the week I came home from the hospital, I was in the computer room, working. The staff noticed my drive, and put me in for consideration for a new program the county had. It was like Section 8, but a little different. It had stricter requirements, and it was basically like a scholarship program but for housing. Things moved quickly, and it only took a few months before we were moving out! I got my own condo – it was amazing, and still the nicest place I've ever lived, to this day – and things started to look up once again.
A church helped me furnish my condo, and the Head Start right up the street not only took my kids while I searched for a job, they offered me a job and I accepted! I was making $10 an hour, which was more than I had made in the past. It was great! My job was within walking distance, so even when I had car problems, I could make it to work.
The one bad thing about the housing program was that it was limited. So, after we had spent four months in the shelter, we had a limit of 2 years in the condo with adjusted rent. The real rent would be like $1000. I was working from home, and bills were getting paid, but not $1000 a month rent getting paid. You'd think that would be plenty of time to get on your own two feet, but as a single mom with three kids (and never a dime in child support), it was difficult. I did it, but things were tight. We moved to a smaller place once our time was up on the program, and since then I've worked hard to teach the kids how important it is to give to people less fortunate – even when it might seem like we don't have a lot ourselves.
My story isn't one that is god awful. I wasn't shivering out in the streets, my kids and I weren't sleeping in a car (though that is a story for another day, because I have had to do that), and we never went hungry. Not everyone is so fortunate. Even in our worst of days, we were more fortunate than most of the homeless population in our own country – not to mention other countries that have it much worse.
I wanted to write this to show you guys that, you know me. You know I've never done drugs, or even smoked a cigarette(!), you know that I'm a good mom and you know I'm a hard worker – and I still ended up homeless. If it can happen to me, it can happen to many good people – and it does, every day.
If you skipped that huge long 500000 word story above, please just read this below. Our homeless population grows every day, and while it might seem ideal to drop a dollar in the plastic cup they are holding, or dig out some spare change, you can make much bigger changes with that money. Visit JustGives for more ideas.
What to Give Homeless People, Besides Money:
– shoes – we made friends with a homeless guy by our house, found out his clothing/shoe size, and hooked him up with a wardrobe one time
– gatorade and other sports drinks
– canned coffee – our homeless friends always loved this
– meal replacement bars
– a list of shelters in the area
– dog food, if they have a dog with them.
– a list of government agencies that help with things like food stamps and insurance
– a list of local truck stops, plus a voucher for the showers
– toothpaste, tooth brushes
– comb, deodorant, any “hygiene” items so if they're looking for a job they can be more presentable
– a kind eye, a listening ear – some will never experience this
Also, don't forget to donate to shelters! The highlight of my week was when these ladies would bring in all their old magazines and newspapers. We would read them, do crafts with them, and even do practice job interviews with the listings in the “Help Wanted” section.
P.S. The best thing you can donate to a shelter is your time. Consider it.
I'm sharing my story so others feel empowered to do the same. It's kind of scatter brained and really long, and might not make any sense… but I want you to know that it's not something to be embarrassed of if you've been on hard times. Sharing your story will help others.