Being homeless in the United States may seem several times more tolerable than being trafficked or kidnapped by a power-craving, blood thirsty militia, in the grand scheme of things. But damn, something is wrong when girls, women, and children are without housing in a country that boasts a leading economy, competitive technology, and a sanctuary for human rights. In spite of everything I do to chip away at glaring injustice - like homelessness in the wealthiest country, this issue still gets to me.
No one wants to tell this story, but I know what it's like to be homeless. I was homeless. I didn't do anything wrong to end up homeless. What I did do was pour my trust, earnings, faith - everything I had into family. I thought we were going to make it together, by helping each other. The problem? My name wasn't on the lease.
I got myself together really fast after that. I vowed never to return to that house. (After some time, I went back. We were family. And I regretted it.) I turned down job offers, and I left (2) jobs, because the plan we agreed to in advance was for me to focus on building a successful legal career. Then I got hit with that reality check - again.
I felt so stupid. Once again I listened to family: "just focus on your law degree and pay a smaller rent here." Then Boom! Reality check!
The reality was that I didn't have the option of going to school and just focusing on building a legal career. My first priority had to be to have a roof over my head - where I was the lease holder. (Yes, I have trust issues now if the subject is housing. I am still traumatized after those experiences. I will never again trust a housing arrangement if my name is not on the lease.)
If you are at this point now
1. Find safety
Housing you do find is likely going to be temporary at first, and probably not that comfortable, but you at least need to make sure that you are safe.
Tip: The public library is a good, relatively safe place to spend daytime hours, if you don't have any where to go during the day. Most U.S. states have a public libraries. If you have no place to go during the day, consider volunteering at a local small business.
2. You have to tell someone (or several someones)
A young girl, woman, or child on the streets will get eaten alive! (I'll tell you more about my experience in a later post.) If you're out of options, and afraid to contact a crisis center, ask for help at a hospital, police, or fire station. Go into your local government official's office and get help. If you belong to a school, email several professors on the same email. You have to be BOLD.
3. Find God
This may sound crazy, but every person who goes through something really difficult finds God. You need to stay sane throughout this ordeal. Find God.
4. Don't make a bad situation worse
Drugs, alcohol, prostitution - just don't. It will be much harder to get help if you engage in these behaviors.
5. Get smart
Don't be like me and return to a situation that landed you in this mess. Don't fall for it: your priority #1 is finding safe housing in a sustainable situation for you. This may mean being temporarily uncomfortable until you get there, but keep your eye on the goal.
6. Get healthy and stay healthy
Money may be really tight (I've been there), but you cannot risk your health with everything else going on. (Water is free. When I didn't have much money and I needed to eat, I chose nuts or popcorn over other snacks, bagels over donuts, and green tea (it has antioxidants) over coffee when free food was available.)
7. Distinguish yourself - get skills
Come up with a way to come out of this stronger. Take any free learning experience that you can get, but prioritize experiences that will give you a competitive edge and propel you into a career. Choose something that you can turn into a source of income.
Tip: alison.com offers free online courses in several disciplines, including STEM fields, marketing and public relations, and paralegal training. *This isn't a perfect solution because many jobs will require you to have a traditional education. But, this site does offer diplomas (there may be a cost for the diploma, but the diploma is optional), and many jobs will hire candidates who can prove they've mastered a skill. This will distinguish you from others in the same position who are not seeking new skills.
8. Build a community
This is the biggest mistake that I made (after putting myself back into that situation). I isolated myself, became depressed, and lost valuable time that I could have used to find a solution. (Seriously, you may have to Jedi mind f*ck yourself into believing that the situation isn't that bad, but you have to do it.)
Tip: start a blog, find free events on meetup.com, many colleges offer events that are open to the public, and local community representatives frequently ask local people to get involved. Use any opportunity to create a network. Any of these contacts could be an invaluable resource for you.
9. Be realistic, be humble, be gracious and learn from this
You are down on your luck today, but you can come out of this. You will come out of this. Your options will vary because our situations are different but remember that this is temporary.
When everything seemed hopeless and I thought I would die of complications from poor nutrition - and I had no access to medical care - I accepted that I would die, and I started to live meaningfully for what I thought were the last months of my life. Oddly enough, that fight in me, that wanted so desperately to leave something good of myself for the world to find after I had departed, seemed to be the answer to my prayer. Those were the happiest, boldest, bravest, and most meaningful months of my life! That isn't something that you can replicate. Finding new life or hope after you were certain that you were finished is the greatest sensory experience you can ever have.
10. Don't give up
Every time something gets to me now I think back to the time when I made my peace with God, because I knew I was dying. I give thanks that he spared my life, even when I was so tortured by my circumstances that I probably prayed for death at the time.
With everything I have accomplished, I am not where I want to be in life. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy. But I also have goals - really big goals. For example...
Hopefully, one day, preferably soon(ish), you'll read a Reality Check blog post on how I ended homelessness.
Have faith. You're going to make it.
Do Something About It
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