Home > Social Awareness > Cardboard signs and a nagging inner voice…

Cardboard signs and a nagging inner voice…

After driving my husband to his carpool dropoff/pickup spot and seeing the traffic that faced me on the return home, I decided to take an alternate route. By alternate route, I want you to read this as: Kella had no idea where the hell she was going and her GPS couldn’t figure out where she was. Turned out I was in the neighboring county by the time my GPS unfucked itself. (Yes, that’s a word. I swear…) Armed with a newfound sense of computerized direction, I began the trip home, by way of a Target to buy my child (who was being abnormally well behaved for a toddler) diapers and socks.

On the way home, there were homeless people at every single stoplight and overpass.

Now, I’m not unaware of the local homeless problem; there is a crowd of homeless people that congregate at the Del Taco where my husband’s carpool meets us every morning and evening. There are also a handful of homeless people that hold up signs at the freeway off-ramp near where we live. On occasion, I give them whatever food items I have in the car. One night, I had three burritos and an unopened Coca-Cola in the passenger-side cupholders and handed them out the window. I always feel badly that I don’t have the cash to give them. Allow me to elaborate on this statement: I sometimes do have the cash, but not the personal budget. My husband, myself, and our daughter are all on a thin edge, financially, and are trying to find a place of our own to live.

I also have a somewhat unique (for my family and circle of friends) perspective, having been homeless.

Eight years ago, during the falling-apart of my first marriage and the subsequent first battle with my mother’s family for custody of my eldest child, I spent a few months couch-surfing and, finally, residing at the local Salvation Army. Because I was working (an unusual thing for a homeless person, apparently), I often couldn’t get back to the shelter in time before the doors closed and wound up searching for a place to camp out — where the cops would leave me alone — until the doors opened in the morning and I could shower before work. After I got laid off in the summer, I spent the days at the homeless “day center” next to the shelter, trying to find work and a place to live. It smelled horrible, the food sucked, and (although there were case workers and “resources”) it was assumed that if you were there you were a drug addict, alcoholic, or general layabout. I lucked out and found a case worker, Mack, who pulled out all the stops, got me some interview clothes, and found me a place to live in a HUD apartment complex. He even got the funding together to pay for my deposit and first month’s rent.

I swore that I’d die before I wound up in that position again. I’ve come close a few times, due to horrible circumstances that just kept rolling up at me, but never again have I been the shadow on a shelter’s doorstep, knock on wood.

So, it’s not that I don’t feel bad when I see a homeless person. I do, genuinely. Not just in that “oh, what annoying eyesore, can’t they clean up our streets?” sort of way, but that way you feel when you’ve been the one holding up the sign that says “Please, I need a job, hire me!” under a bridge. But I also know, firsthand, that some people who get that low entrench themselves in bad habits and can’t find their way out. Moreover, they refuse to look for the way out, thinking they’re unhelpable. (Another new word?) When I was homeless, I’d see people holding up signs that would take the cash they were given and go straight to the local liquor store. Then I’d see the people next to them go straight to the grocery store for food. Unfortunately, without stopping to observe these people when they don’t know you’re doing it, there’s no way to tell the difference between them. As a result, I always give out non-perishable food items and blankets… sometimes coupons for free meals when I come across them.

When I was living with my first two children in that HUD apartment, as a single mother on food stamps and cash assistance, I’d portion out the food stamps. At the end of every month, whatever my children and I didn’t use I’d spend on canned or dried foods and throw in a cheap can opener and a box of plastic cutlery and plates. I’d go to the park next to the apartment complex, where those who were too proud to go to the shelter camped out, and I’d distribute the goods. On occasion, I’d get bitched out for not bringing money, but those people were quickly shooed off by the people who genuinely needed the help.

Today, the woman I gave the paltry sealed fruit cup and spoon to (since it’s all I had on me today), broke down into tears as she accepted it. She didn’t want to be there, and I could tell that she’d been ignored the entire time she’d been out there, and mine was the first offer of help she’d received. She wasn’t young, and her pride was becoming a memory. If my daughter hadn’t been in the car with me, I would have driven her to the local shelter and marched her in for a meeting with a case worker.

As tight as things are right now for my family, I still wish I could do something more than just a random bag of groceries. I can’t afford to donate to an organization with high overhead costs that keep most of the money from going where it’s needed. I don’t have the time or ability to volunteer at a soup kitchen, either, since I’m the sole caregiver for my toddler.

It’s going to require some thought, which is unavoidable since it won’t leave my mind right now.

I keep gravitating towards Crowdrise, however…

In the meantime, please consider knitting a blanket for the woman by that off-ramp, or putting together a care package for that man who sleeps behind the dumpster in that shopping center. At least until we can figure out something better to do…

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Categories: Social Awareness
  1. April 9, 2011 at 5:19 pm

    Hi, found you from @thebloggess the other day. Taking some quiet time now to read your blog.

    Haven’t ever read a first-hand perspective from someone who has experienced homelessness. Food for thought. I never know what is the right thing to do when we encounter someone asking for money. Your line about the woman whose pride was becoming a memory was heartbreaking.

    • April 9, 2011 at 5:28 pm

      I always tell them I don’t have cash (which is usually true, because I try not to carry cash with me) but that they are welcome to the non-perishables in my possession. I also try to use my knitting powers for good.

      Been toying with the idea of putting together a food and blankets BBQ at the local park… Come for the free meal, pick up a free pillow and/or blanket on the way out, along with a list of non-religious resources to help you out of the situation you’re in if you want it… Of course, I need to stabilize my own financial situation first, methinks…

  2. June 17, 2011 at 10:34 am

    I guess that is the thing right…there is always a way…there is always a solution and despite what someone looks like or what they smell like they are human and deserve a hand up…not necessaily a hand out!

    I had the misfortune at one point to have to accept help from the Government …it never go to the point of being homeless but it was still a gut wrenching soul sucking experience. I used every possible resource I could find to get out of that situation. It didn’t take long but you definitly see the good the bad and the evil when you are walking the same path.

    Good for you for helping out how you can!

    • June 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm

      Right now I’m too broke to do anything but view the world from my soapbox… I’m hoping that changes soon and I can do more.

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