Tag Archives: homelessness

that black forest

Well, I have a roommate for two weeks, so I guess that’s something.  Two weeks to find somebody else.  Or she might stay long-term.  Everything is still up in the air and unclear, and that makes me so anxious it feels unbearable.

And I’m sick.  I’m hoping it’s just a bad cold, but I just started feeling bad last night, and it’s already moved into my chest.  I couldn’t sleep last night because I kept waking up coughing and wheezing.  And OF COURSE it would happen on a Friday night, when I can’t get in to see my GP until next week.  We’re doing a Get Out the Vote (GOTV) dry run today, and tomorrow I’m going to be at a wedding all day.  Then next week is GOTV insanity, and I’m a staging location director.  I really do not have time to be sick right now.  I should probably try to get in to see my GP on Monday, but I don’t know how I’ll be able to get there.  It’s just that with my history of asthma, respiratory infections get really bad for me.  I’ve ended up in the ER having breathing treatments more than once.

I just…I don’t even know why I’m still alive.  This is my life now: constantly sick, constantly stressed to the max because there’s never enough money to cover even the basics, always one minor disaster away from being homeless.  People did not evolve to live with constant stress like this.  We evolved to deal with stress in short bursts–to escape from the saber-tooth tiger trying to maul us in the dark, and then to return to the safety of our village and the warmth of our fire.  We did not evolve to be mauled by the tiger and to have no village and no fire to return and no sense of underlying safety when the tigers aren’t around.

I just don’t know how to do this.  There’s just never enough to survive, but people keep telling me I’m obligated to survive.  What no one tells me is how.

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Why I Blame Myself

I can’t sleep.  I’m too busy freaking out about the roommate situation.  I’m afraid I’m going to end up in another bad roommate situation.  (I’ve had several of those, including one who didn’t wear clothes and didn’t pay her half of the rent.)  I’m afraid having to get a new roommate I don’t know will exacerbate my PTSD to unbearable levels.  I’m afraid that I won’t be able to find anyone else and won’t be able to pay the whole rent by myself, so then I’ll end up homeless again.  (Long story I don’t feel up to explaining right now.)

And somehow I feel like this is all my fault.  Like if I’d just planned ahead, I would’ve somehow solved this problem before it arose.  Like if I could just get ahold of my crazy PTSD shit, I wouldn’t have to freak out about living with people I don’t know.  Like if I’d just stop being so goddamn lazy and get a job already, I could afford the apartment on my own and wouldn’t have to worry about all this shit.

It’s illogical, I know that.

But I’ve always blamed myself for everything bad that happens.  I mean, Christ, when someone rear-ended me at a red light one time, I apologized to the guy!  I blame myself for my psychological distress, my isolation, my lack of support.  I blame myself for the UC and arthritis and fatigue.  I blame myself for my poverty.  I blame myself for all the abuse I’ve suffered.

It’s fucked up, but I think it’s comforting, in a way.  It’s easier to believe that all the bad things that happen to me happen because I deserve them than to believe they happen for no reason, because the universe is unfair and people are cruel and uncaring.

There’s this line from my favorite TV show:

“You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

–Marcus Cole, Babylon 5

I wish I could believe that.  I do, for everyone but myself.  But when I’m talking about myself, I’m not there yet.  I still believe it’s all my fault.  It somehow seems less painful, but probably it really isn’t.  I wish I knew how to let go of that.

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Last night, I dreamed about the time in my late teens/early twenties when I was homeless, crashing on friends’ couches and living in my car when I ran out of friends.

In my dream, I’d finally managed to get my own apartment.  It had been hard to get, although I can’t remember exactly how.  It was small, but it was safe and bright and mine.  I felt like I was going to be okay, finally.

And then one day I came home, and everything I owned was tossed in a pile outside the door.  I didn’t own that much, but a lot of it had already been stolen–I don’t know how long it had all been sitting there for anyone to take.  I tried to get into my apartment, but my key didn’t work.  The landlord had changed the locks.  I’d been kicked out.  I’d done everything right, paid all my rent on time and never broken any rules, but I’d been kicked out anyway.

I gathered as much of my stuff as I could hold and ran out to my car, but it was gone too.  There was nowhere of my own left.  I tried calling people I knew to come and help me, but no one was picking up the phone.  I was all alone.

*

I don’t know why I’ve been having these sad, hopeless dreams the last few weeks.  I don’t feel that way when I’m awake, and I’m not dreading going to sleep.  So where are these dreams coming from?

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June 15, 2014 · 8:04 pm

Poverty, Puritanism, Politics, and Predestination*

I don’t believe in fate, preordination, predestination, or anything along those lines.  Things just happen–because people do stupid things, or kind things, or cruel things, or brilliant things, whatever.  Or because that’s just the way the universe works.  To accept predestination, I’d have to believe in some higher power who’s at least somewhat malevolent, and I don’t.

However, I do believe in history as a powerful force in shaping the present, especially when we’re not aware of its influence.  There’s a cultural narrative in the US (and probably in other English-speaking countries) that dates back to the Puritans, particularly Calvin’s doctrine of the Elect.  The wiki on prosperity theology explains it clearly.  It started with Puritans, but more recently this theology has been adopted by conservative, evangelical Christians, who are a strong force in Republican politics in this country.  I won’t give you the incredibly long history lesson, but the shaming of the “welfare queen,” and in fact the entire concept of the welfare queen, became very popular thanks to Ronald Reagan.  FDR-era social safety-net programs were slashed, which was justified by portraying welfare recipients as lazy frauds.  This intersects perfectly with the idea that poor people are poor because they are sinful, and the whole package deal creates in Republicans a belief that it is morally right to slash welfare programs.  They feel holy about it.

More recently, with a media culture that makes the effects of poverty and failing safety net programs more visible, we’ve seen conservatives condescendingly pretending they care about the plight of the poor.  (Take, for example, Paul Ryan’s recent poverty tour.)  These rich white men who’ve never actually experienced poverty tell us that they know how to help us, which is always by gutting the few programs that help us scrape out a subsistence survival.  (I can’t even call it a subsistence living because this is not living.)  They tell us it’s for our own good, these men who’ve never had to struggle to survive.

I do not believe in predestination.  I do not deserve this, and I refuse to listen to anyone who says or implies that I do.  I do believe things happen for a reason, and the reason is either 1) stuff people do, or 2) science.

I do believe in creating change.  I know that sounds like a hokey inspirational poster, but I am anything but that.  I work in politics.  I know how hard it is to change the status quo, but I also know that it’s possible.  It takes a ton of energy, and it takes way longer than it should, and it sucks while you’re working on changing things.  You know that some of the things you change will never directly affect you, or they won’t help in your lifetime, or they’ll help other people, or they might not change at all yet.  But it’s still worth the effort.  It’s worth hours on the phone and the computer.  It’s worth knocking doors in snow and rain and sun and mosquito swarms and getting lost because your map blew away and coming home with a sore back and sore feet but a finished canvass packet and a petition full of signatures.  I’ve been working on campaigns for three years, and my lot in life has not improved yet.  But I keep working on campaigns because I believe if we keep putting the right people in positions of power, eventually policies will change.  Once policies change, attitudes will start to change.  Things will get better.  Life will become more livable for me and for other people struggling to survive.  It can happen–not because it’s preordained but because we worked our asses off for it.

(You see?  I may be on welfare, but I am not lazy.)

In closing, I’d just like to quote from the best TV show in history, Babylon 5: “You know, I used to think it was awful that life was so unfair. Then I thought, wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair, and all the terrible things that happen to us come because we actually deserve them? So, now I take great comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the universe.”

*This and the previous rant were sparked by an online town hall in which the candidate talked about how we needed to end child hunger and help homeless families find homes.  I tweeted a question (the sanctioned format for asking questions): “You talk about ending child poverty and homelessness, but why not end ALL poverty and homelessness?”  His field director favorited my tweet, but I didn’t get my question answered.  I felt left out of the conversation, and this is not the first time.  I’m not a child, and I’m not part of a family, but my poverty matters too.  I’m made invisible in poverty conversations because I’m a single, childless adult and because I’m disabled.  I want politicians to talk about me, too, and all the other people in similar situations.

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When you talk about poverty, you’re talking about people.

Why is it that when politicians start talking about poverty, they stop talking about people?  Even the good guys, the progressives who want to end poverty, are prone to this. 

When you talk about poverty, you’re talking about people, even if you’re more comfortable hiding behind statistics oversimplified moral proclamations and judgments.  You’re talking about me, so let me tell you about me.

I’m 27 years old, and I’m disabled due to severe, chronic mental and physical illness.  I’m not stupid or lazy or morally lacking.  I would love to get a job.  I’d love to finish my undergraduate degree and go to law school.  Ever since I was a kid and realized I could get paid to fight with people, I’ve wanted to be a lawyer–but I’m not above working less professional jobs to get there.  I’ve worked in a fast food restaurant, a hotel, and a hands-on science museum.  I’ve worked as a nanny and tutor for kids with developmental disabilities.  I’ve volunteered coaching Special Olympics teams, doing home repairs for low-income seniors, working in an alternative juvenile justice program, and teaching creative writing to second-graders.  For the last two years, as I’ve been able, I’ve been working on a number of political campaigns and with issues advocacy groups.  I’m not opposed to hard work, and I’m not bumming off the welfare system.  I’m just too busy fighting my nervous system and my immune system to be able to work right now.

As a result, I’m completely dependent on SSI and SSDI to survive.  I am allotted $740 per month, which comes out to $8,880 per year.  For comparison purposes, the 2014 poverty line for a household of one is $11,670 per year.  I share a one-bedroom apartment with two other people, and that costs me $400 a month.  During the winter, our heating costs–we have a pellet stove and oil heat–often top $100 per month.  I can’t afford a car, but public transit where I live is severely underfunded.  I have to take at least two buses each way just to go grocery shopping, and it’s 3 buses and a half-mile walk to my doctor’s office.  My regional transit authority offers reduced fares only for people with mobility impairments, not other disabilities, so I have to pay full fare for these trips.  There’s a food bank in town, but it’s not on a bus line, so I can only go there when I can find somebody to give me a ride.  I get a little over $200 per month in food stamps, but my illness requires a very restrictive diet, and it’s more expensive than the average diet.  By the third week of the month, I’m usually down to eating rice and peanut butter because that’s all I can afford that doesn’t make me sick.  Sometimes, I even run out of that.  I have medical expenses that aren’t covered by my insurance, and many of those bills have gone to collections because there’s just no money.  I alternate paying my phone bill or my electric bill each month.

And now Social Security has decided that they over-paid me last year.  See, on disability, you’re not allowed to have more than $2000 saved, but that’s laughable because I’ve never been able to save anything since I became disabled.  But the SSA has decided I have $1500 in a secret bank account.  The bank tells me that the account number the case worker provided me with doesn’t exist, and I have given her documentation attesting to this.  But now they’re going to take $75 a month out of my checks each month until the alleged overpayment is repaid.  Yes, you heard that right: I’m being penalized for money I don’t own and my bank says doesn’t exist.

But when politicians talk about poverty, this isn’t what they talk about.  They don’t talk about the utter hopelessness of a system that traps you in poverty and penalizes you for imaginary errors.  They don’t talk about what it’s like to ration grains of rice so that maybe you won’t be quite so hungry at the end of the month.  They don’t talk about what it’s like for it to be 5 degrees outside, but you don’t have heat or hot water because you can’t afford to buy more oil until next month.

Occasionally somebody mentions child hunger or homeless families–everyone feels sorry for kids because they didn’t do anything to deserve to live in poverty (yet).  But the implication is that if you’re an adult who’s impoverished or hungry, it’s your own fault; you deserve it.  I mean, you should just go get a job.  It’s not that hard.  Pull yourself up by your bootstraps or starve to death quietly.

(This post brought to your by the letter P and a very frustrating online town hall by a candidate who calls himself a bold, progressive leader but only talks about CHILD poverty and hunger and has staffers who won’t give him questions about why we shouldn’t talk about ending poverty, hunger, and homelessness for EVERYBODY.)

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I’ve been gone.

 

I don’t really have any good explanation as to why.  Nothing dramatic or remarkable happened–I guess I just got tired of hearing my voice.  I still am, really, but I’m more tired of being alone.  So here I am again.

 

I’m at the tail end (I hope) of another UC flare.  Wound up at the ER on morphine when my gastroenterologist tried to take me off steroids.  He put me back on those and upped my 6-MP, and I’m finally doing better after about a month.  I also spent that whole month fighting my insurance about authorizing Zofran, which is important because both the flare and the 6-MP make me nauseous.  I finally got approved for 15 a month, even though it’s supposed to be every six hours–you can do the math there.

 

I still don’t have a place to live, and I have to be out of my place by December 31.  I’ve barely even started packing, so that’s fun.  I did meet a couple, J and N, friends of a friend, who also need a place to live, so we’re looking for a 2 bedroom apartment.  But budget is a big problem.  J is also on disability, and N is temporarily out of work because of a severe burn.  So we need something that’s under $900, and there’s just not much.  What there is within our budget is, well, not somewhere you want to live.  We looked at one that smelled like dead fish, had a bathtub that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned since 1950, and still cost $895 a month.  We’ve also got to have somewhere on a bus line that runs frequently because none of us can afford a car, and the bus service out here is spotty.  There are much cheaper places to live out in the hill towns, but there’s no public transit.  I just don’t know how we’re going to make this work.

 

I think I have to get a part time job, which scares the shit out of me.  I’ve always struggled with work because I can’t deal with stress.  At all. Literally, the last time I was working, my coping method was to go to the bathroom and cut on myself until I felt like I could go back and deal with people.  The jobs I’m going to be able to get with my situation are going to be stuff like food service or retail, which are going to be really stressful for me.  I mean, in an ideal world, I’d be able to get a paid gig on a campaign, but I don’t even know how you do that.  I mean, do I just send a resume to campaign directors or something?  No one tells you these things, and my impression is that campaign jobs are mostly by invitation.

 

I’m also terrified I’d screw up somehow and lose my disability.  The rules are so complicated, and if you screw up, there goes your disability.  I can’t afford to lose that.  There’s no way I could work enough to survive without the disability money.  Everything is just so stressful, and life feels like it’s more than I can handle.  But what choice do I have?

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December 22, 2013 · 6:55 pm