PATHWAY TO HOMELESSNESS-GENERAL POVERTY: UNEMPLOYMENT/UNDEREMPLOYMENT

Date: Fall, 2001

Site: Outside of Family Crisis Center

Demographics: African American/f/35

My story is simple, but you won’t like it. I had a job and I made $9 an hour. But one-third of what I had went to the childcare center and nearly half went to rent. The rest went to food and regular bills. I got five kids. I got no other money. You can’t make it on that. It’s just plain and simple. I got skills. I went to school and learned to be a cook. I work good restaurants. I did what I was supposed to do. You just can’t have kids and make it on $9 an hour. When my daughter got pneumonia I had insurance, but the co-pay was high and the hospital wanted me to pay out $300 a month. I couldn’t give them but $20 or $30 and they took me to court. Then my boyfriend got married and wanted to get custody of my kids. I had to fight him in court. I paid $200 a month for a lawyer and he didn’t do nothin’. I had to get all the witnesses and do all the legwork. Then my car needed a new exhaust. And that was $1,000. Comes a point where something’s gotta give. With the car—I had to have that to work. The lawyer wouldn’t stop getting after me for the money I owed him. There’s just no way. I fell behind a little on my rent and got kicked out. Ain’t no way you can do it. You figure the math. They tell you, you got a skill and you be making $9 an hour. You can pay your bills—JUST pay your bills. Then anything come up and you’re flat. You can’t do it.
They say here that they will help me, and they do. But I can’t just convince them of the obvious. I’m off the streets now, but I’ll be back. Ain’t no way you can do it. I could do like these other women and sell a little pot, but I ain’t raising my kids in that environment. So I do it the way they say. Ain’t no way it can work. Do the math.

I’m trying now to find a job that will pay me just a little more, but so far no good. The good salad and grill jobs are way out by Waukesha. Then I’d have to have a better car and spend hours traveling and my daycare wouldn’t keep the kids that late. I don’t know what the solution is. I feel like it’s just no use. All I can do is get me some boyfriend that will bring a little money into the house. But then I have to feed him too.

Date: Summer, 2000

Site: St. Benís

Demographics: African American/m/40-45

I had a good job making $40,000 a year, but my job moved out to Atlanta and we downsized. I was there for 14 years. I got into this traffic accident and was in the hospital for 13 months. I got out and my wife found someone else and that put me out on the streets. I was married 13 years. That put me out on the streets and I was homeless. It was like a Cinderella story in reverse. I was in programs. I slept in garages, in cars, on one of those kidís slides. A lot of homeless people have to hide or you get a ticket. Iíve been on the streets 5 months. Iíve been looking for a job, but every time I get a job itís one of those temporary jobs and then they tell you they donít need you anymore. So I havenít tried to get a place until I get a full time job. Iím still at the Mission. Itís a blessing because it could be worse. I go out and see employers during the day. Iím a welder. My old company was good. I got my GED, I took up my own training. Iím not depressed but Iím anxious to get a job and get back to my old life and get reunited with my family again, which Iím not able to do right now. I was born and raised here and the job was here. My wife and kids are in West Allis. Sheís with someone else. I have three kids, one 19, one 12, one 5. Itís lonely to be homeless and frustrating. But you see love on the streetsósometimes more love. You learn how to survive, how to find the next place to stay, how to get the next meal, how to volunteer in churches. I go to the library a lot also. It has a good sideóbeing on the streets. Thereís no responsibility on the streets. It takes a long time to get it back when you get used to life on the streets. Now I miss my responsibilities. If you are a man you should take care of your kids. Iím not bitter. I went to jail for a while. I saw God then and it helped. Iím now a born again Christian and now I know I wonít be on the streets much longer.

Date: Summer, 2000

Site: St. Benís

Demographics: African American/m/40-45 

I worked for [major industry] for 35 years. I took an early retirement and early social security. It didn’t leave me with much to live on. I didn’t have any insurance after [age] 63 and I had to have a bypass. It took all my savings and I still have to pay for the hospital bill each month. I started drinking heavy after that. I was lonely too because I didn’t have any kids and all my brothers had died. With the drinking and the low cash, I lost my house. I rented for a while and then ended up in a rooming house.
Now I live like six months homeless and six months with a room or something. I try and make sure the six months homeless are in warmer weather. I don’t really care. I don’t have nothing to do anyway. So I stay in my own little secret place, then I go to the meal site for breakfast. Then I come here and read about world religions. It’s nice to read, but I wish my glasses was better. Most of the time I just gotta take them off and read real close like this. But I like the reading. Sometimes I get the big print books. They got these in mysteries and all kinds of things. The library folks are nice to you as long as you don’t stink or go to sleep or bother nobody. I try and keep clean so I don’t look homeless. But they know I am.
Then in fall I have enough money saved to get a little place. Sometimes the money lasts for the whole year, but mostly it don’t. It’s okay the life I lead. I do a lot of praying and I feel real close to God. I am learning all about the ways that people in other lands worship God and it gives me a perspective. The library here is nice—quiet, pretty, and a spiritual place to be. I feel a kind of inner peace. I learned that the Hindus do this—go out and leave their homes and seek the inner light. That is what I feel like. I don’t regret nothing that happened to me, because it all happens for a reason.

 

PATHWAY TO HOMELESSNESS--GENERAL POVERTY: EVICTION/PROBLEMS WITH ABSENTEE LANDLORDS

 

Date: Summer, 2003

Site: Grand Ave. mall

Demographics: m/African American/32

I was homeless once. I had a bad apartment and I kept telling the landlord. The toilet didnít flush and the bathroom sink was plugged up. I had to keep the bathroom door closed because it smelled like an outhouse. So I said I wouldnít pay the rent and he tells me to leave. I refused until they called the sheriff. I tried to call one of them TV stations to complain but I couldnít get through. My brother took me in. But the wife didnít want me to stay, so three days later he dropped me off in front of the Guest House. But they were full. He never even brought my clothes with me, so I couldnít change for work. [YOU HAD A JOB?] I had a job at this [fast food place] out on Moreland Road. I used to take the Coach line bus to get there. The first night Iím homeless itís pretty warmóitís October, so I find a park bench and sleep there. So I go to work but I didnít shave and the boss asks me why and I say Iím homeless. So he says I got to do something to look better for the customers. And I try again at the Guest House. Then the Mission. The Mission takes me in, but I donít get woken up early enough for my job and then they tell me to wait until Iíve got my life together and I should come back to work. I get my check from my boss and rent this room. Then my brother brings my clothes and I get cleaned up and the job takes me back. But it took a long time to get my life back in order. Then I started going to the meal sites to save money, like now. And I get free clothes from Casa. I tell everyone I am living creatively and they all laugh. I been able to figure out thingsówhere to go to get the good rent and the free food and clothes. If you work it out well enough you can live on almost anything. But I wonít ever deal with no landlord like that one again. And I ainít spoken to my brotherís wife in two years. What they done to me shouldnít happen to no brother. My brother, he felt bad, but she never said she was sorry. My employer was good though. [ARE YOU STILL WORKING FOR THEM?] Uh huh. Four years now and two months. I still take that bus out there every morning. 

Date: Winter, 2000

Site: Casa Maria

Demographics: f/African American/35-40

I was working 44 hours a week at the hardware store. Mother of two children, two sons, 14--no 13, and 12. He is so grown I think he is 14, he’s 13. . . My husband has some problems with drugs. I got out of it. I‘m okay. I have to take all the responsibility for myself and my children. We were okay with what was going on. My husband kept his friends and everything to himself. The way we got here though, I moved into an apartment without having to pay a security deposit. Landlord lost the property, instead of rerenting this property, they were boarding it up because he lost it, I guess the city is taking it or whatever, so we were asked to move. This was like the middle of the month and the manager told us that we had another month before we had to move, which wasn’t true. The fourteenth of the month came by and he said you guys got to go to court in two days. I said, “Why do we have to go to court in two days?” “Because we’re evicting you.” “Well, you said I had 30 days to move and it’s not been 30 days.” So we were to go ro court.
We knew we were going to have to move anyway, so I never went to court. Two days later, the sheriff person showed up with a 24 hour notice. He said you gotta be outta here in 24 hours or you what what they were gonna do.
I called [that hotline] and here I am. Myself and my two children are here and my husband is wherever he can be. He’s staying with one friend and then the other, wherever he can, but he’s not here with us. . . [She apparently lost her job when she became homeless.]
I don’t worry about me that much, although I worry about my sons. They’re a very impressionable age and they need a strong person to say this is things you’re gonna have to do. You know, if you get into this situation and I’m not here you’re gonna have to know how to talk to people, you’re gonna have to know how to deal with people, you’re gonna have to know how to ask for help. And that’s what I’m teaching them. And I hope it’s gonna help them. If it comes to that and I hope it’s gonna help them. In the meantime I’m trying. I’m trying to be strong for them.

Date: Spring, 2000

Site: Hope House

Demographics: f/African American/21-13

Before I was homeless I was abandoned [by a male], three babies, working a job, struggling, no help, no welfare, no family child support or anything. I managed to work on my own for four years with no help. Jobs went from $7 an hour to $8 an hour, very hard. There were some harsh conditions. Housing which was rat infested, roaches, as far as my wages would allow me. [SHE TAKES PICTURES OUT OF HER POCKET TO SHOW ME. ONE IS OF A CORNER OF A ROOM WITH SOME LIQUID OOZING OUT UNDER THE WALL IN THE CORNER. TWO ARE OF THE GROUND, CONCRETE. EACH SHOWS A RAT TRAP WITH A MOUSE TRAPPED IN IT].
This is the house where there were like two, three, or four or five rats. And this is the condition my children were in. From one slum house to the next. People were being allowed to rent for outrageous money. Ninety percent of what we’re making. Dilapidated house that were rat and roach infested. We had to tolerate that because our rent [money] would only allow that. . . You’re working and you have no money. All your money you were getting was going toward rent, light, gas, phone. And you had 60 cents left over and felt less than a human being.
. . . So I had to make a decision and either stay there and allow my children to be in a situation where there are rats, roaches, and mice are running around all day and pay $400 or try to better my situation. I refused to pay the rent any longer in that condition. And that’s why I’m here, hoping to find another place. . .

 

PATHWAY TO HOMELESSNESSó ALCOHOL AND DRUG ABUSE

Date: Summer, 2000

Site: Outside Family Crisis Center

Demographics: Latina/f/25

Before I was homeless I was, um, an alcoholic and drinking a lot. The money was coming from disability. The thing is, I had all the food I could eat, and I had my rent paid, limited budget. I had all the cigarettes I needed and all the food I needed for a month, and I was bored. I used to sit in my room and drink 40-ouncer after 40-ouncer, and that was the first thing I do in the morning. I was so depressed, I would just sit there and drink and drink until I would pass out and forget about life. I lived in such flophouses, just being in a stale room, and my landlords got tired of me. Even though they were such flophouses they wouldn’t sometimes let me live there. The thing is they probably didn’t even want me there. I went down a long road of debauchery and drunkenness and I started to bleed internally and tried every type of care I could find manageable to get treatment for my alcoholism, but when I got through with the programs I would just start drinking over again, even though I had a place to stay and stuff--a place to go home to.
There were times I would take the homeless in, offer them a place to stay.
What a loser I am. I feel very grateful in what I have received from this country and my benefits for being mentally ill, but I have not only cheated myself, but cheated but cheated the system because I’ve been an addict all my life and I am not able to recover.
I was bleeding internally and I was moved from house to house to house. Some places [were] better than others with higher standards, and I would be evicted from the worse ones as much as right up to the best ones. And I would wind up out on the street. The one time I was really evicted where I wound up on the street for a long time was when I began to smoke crack cocaine. I hustled for it and others shared it with me. I would sell things my parents bought me and stuff. The reason I was really homeless was I had such a need for cocaine. I knew that if I drank anymore…well, I was in intensive care three times from internal bleeding from alcohol. They told me if I touch another drink I would die. You have an artery inside your esophagus ready to burst. You drink one more time you’re dead. So I had been experimenting with crack and went out on the streets. I was only on the streets for 6-9 months but it was wintertime. I don’t remember that time very well.
I believe I participated in helping a friend pay his rent, and I had to wait until he got back from work to get in. And we were always hustling money—he and another friend. We were going out hustling, saying we were homeless and we needed money for food and it was cold outside. We wanted to get off the street, we said. The most I ever panhandled in my life was $100 at one time—one person gave me that. But I could go out and get $50, $60, maybe $70 a night in the wintertime. We did this on Downer Ave. and by Farwell by Ma Fishers and stuff. Drugs are not what they’re cracked up to be.
[ARE YOU HOMELESS NOW?] No, I’m not. I was just recently on the verge of being homeless. My counselor had this little conversation with my landlord. The landlord really likes my parents a lot so I was given a second chance. Today I come to the Grand Ave. Club and drink sodas and smoke cigarettes. Now I’m better off [doesn’t say if he is in recovery or not in recovery].

 

PATHWAYS INTO HOMELESSNESSóPERSONAL CRISIS

Date: Summer, 2000

Site: St. James

Demographics: Latino/m/30-40

I had a job and a family and things went okay. Then bad things started happening. My brother-in-law got killed in a gang fight. My sister who ain’t married got pregnant. My mother died. All of it was too much. I started drinkin’ a lot and taking drugs—all kinds of drugs—uppers, downers, heroine, crack, weed. I lost my job and my wife and kids moved in with her family. I stayed with my father for a while but we didn’t get along because he was still grieving for my mother. Then I went to my brother’s house but he didn’t want me to be using around the kids, so he kicked me out.
I been staying mainly in parks because the weather is good. I do some work for [odd job place]. I can’t do too many drugs because I ain’t got no money. But I pray and I think that God will get me back to where I was. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to be where I was. I think things happen for a reason and I will just let God lead me where I am supposed to go. I go to church every day when I’m clean and sober. Things happen for a reason, you know.
I applied for a couple of jobs, but it’s kind of hard to get one, you know, when you are homeless and don’t look too good, and you got no number they can get you at. But when the right one comes along, I will get it. I just got to take care of myself until the right time happens. In the meantime, I read the bible and go to church and get in touch with my spiritual side.

PATHWAYS INTO HOMELESSNESSóMENTAL ILLNESS

Date: Summer, 2000

Site: Public library

Demographics: African American/m/50-60

I can hardly remember when I wasn’t homeless. Sometimes over the years I got a room, but mostly I was in the room a week or less. Then I would leave.
[WHY?] I got this mental illness. I can’t stay long. I can’t take the medicine because it makes me sick. I been hearing sounds since I was a teenager. Most of the time I get messages that I shouldn’t be somewhere or I should move on. So I go to a shelter and some case manager tries to get me on medication, but then I get sick again and leave and go live in a parked car or an old bus or up there [points to MacArthur Square].
But I’m not unhappy. Sometimes the voices are like my friends and they might be better friends than those out here. I know the messages aren’t real now. I used to think they were real. Sometimes I still do, but when I got older I come to realize it was just a lot of noise in my head. But I got used to the noise and I looked forward to the messages. So I come here every day. I just can’t go to sleep here or else they ask you to leave. But I read books, look at travel pictures, listen to my friends [I assume he means in his head].
I think I will always be homeless. I don’t know where I would go. Even if I had a place to stay for free, I would get a message telling me to leave. Being homeless ain’t that bad. The only thing is to take a shower. Some places have showers you can do sometimes, then that’s good. Cause I don’t like being smelly. But I don’t do drugs—well, hardly ever—and hardly ever do drinking. I don’t have the money.

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To reach Jill Florence Lackey email jflanthropologist@sbcglobal.net
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