What does homelessness feel like?
By Ken Boeri, Glen Ellen
I recently retired from the financial industry, the last nine years of which I spent as a retirement counselor for Prudential Financial. Throughout my career, I saw a glaring need to educate clients about how to manage their money. Almost everyone I met with said something like, “I wish someone had told me about this when I was a child. I would be so much better off financially today if I’d known the basics of money management earlier on.”
Rather than stop using the knowledge I had acquired in my career, I decided to volunteer in the non-profit sector by teaching financial literacy. Education, as I see it, is a way to help people to be empowered to improve their lives.
After much consideration, I felt that I could have the most substantial effect in improving lives by focusing on helping the homeless. Though there are many local and national organizations that work with the homeless, I felt that the homeless population that would be the most motivated to get off the street would be women with children.
My research led me to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in Santa Rosa known as The Living Room Center, a resource center for homeless women and their children. In the past 22 years it has grown in size, services offered, and community visibility. Today, the Living Room offers two meals each weekday, childcare and a resource center where people can take classes, wash their clothing, shower, and use computers. It seemed like the perfect place for me to show people how to manage their money as a way of finding a permanent solution to their housing challenges.
Over the past few months, I have learned how little I know about who the homeless are and what day-to-day challenges they face. Most of the women I have worked with are over 50 years old. Most are sane, drug-free, and anxious to do what they can to better their situation. Some are talented writers and artists. The majority have been homeless for more than a year.
One of the women I work with, “G,” is a writer who wants to start a blog to help educate people on who the homeless really are. The stereotypes are troubling for her. If she could only show how similar the homeless are to the rest of us, perhaps there would be more support and empathy of those less fortunate.
Here is a sample of G’s writing:
Feeling homeless“I am a homeless woman. I have been homeless for approximately 18 months. Though no one has ever asked me this, I have polled my homeless friends asking them what, in a few words, best describes their feelings about being homeless. Their answers match my own – shame, fear, boredom and too little time to do anything beyond getting through each day.
“No, we aren’t all the same! Homelessness has so many causes and effects. Eviction probably tops the list of causes. From what I hear, the usual reason for eviction is unaffordable rent increases. There are also the financial crises that come with sickness and injury, overwhelming medical bills, disability, loss of a loved one, and old age. As for mental illness, drug addiction and alcohol abuse, it’s hard to say which came first, these problems or homelessness itself. We all cope with homelessness in our own way, some better than others.
“Regardless of what caused us to become homeless, our circumstances vary as widely as they do for anyone with a home. I recently spoke with a young homeless woman who told me that she has no time to take care of her basic needs. Instead, she cares for her homeless and disabled mother. I recently helped them to get their car started. It’s falling apart and isn’t likely to run much longer. But it’s not just a car, it’s their home! Owning a car makes them one of the luckier ones since it provides them with a place to store their belongings and feel safer than they would were they sleeping on the ground. Sleep is so necessary since it helps people get through the daily stresses we all face. And I think there are few things more stressful than being homeless.
“This young woman’s route out of homelessness could be to either continue her college education or find the kind of work that would allow her to save the money she needs to get off the street. But she wants to do the right thing. Like so many of us, her choices are limited and solutions often seem insurmountable. How do we make the right choice – what we feel is morally right or what we need to do to survive and prosper? Both choices are core to living with dignity. The choices we make for ourselves and the people we love are often difficult. Though our circumstances are different, aren’t we too part of the American family?”
On July 12, the annual “Loving the Living Room” fundraiser will take place at the Wild Oak Saddle Club, from 5-7 p.m. This is your chance to find out more about this vital organization and help raise crucial funds.
Enjoy tasty appetizers, local wines, and fun silent and live auctions. All proceeds will benefit programs for homeless women and children. Tickets are $100, and are available online at www.thelivingroomsc.org, or by calling 579-0138.
The Wild Oak Saddle Club is located at 550 White Oak Dr., Santa Rosa.