Thursday, March 6, 2014

Phases Of Homelessness

From time to time I attempt to define, or at least describe, the causes of my homelessness.   This is something I've been doing for several years - hopefully I'm getting better at it - becoming more accurate.   I wouldn't be surprised if their is some contradictions between my earlier and later writings.   It's a sign of growth, hopefully.

I will now attempt to list and describe the different living situations I experienced, and what caused them to fall apart, resulting in homelessness.
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Raised by my parents, I lived with them until near the age of 21.   I had no plans or prospects of moving out of my parents house, but I was informed by my father that he expected me to be moved out of the house by the time I turned 21.  Although my parents were aware of my mental health issues, (running away from home, attempts at suicide, etc) my father believed that "kicking out of the nest" would solve things.  Shortly before that deadline, I had taken a minimum wage security guard job, and moved into my own apartment.  About 2 months later I was homeless.

The job I had taken was on the graveyard shift - watching over an empty parking lot from 11pm to 7:30am.  Adjusting to a night schedule proved difficult.  I went days without sleep.  On other days, when I might have gotten some sleep, my neighbors below me would get into shouting matches lasting for hours.  That too would prevent me from getting sleep.

Because I made so little money, I have to live in one of the poorest sections of town, which just happened to be some 20 miles away from where I worked.   Nightly commutes to work were scary as I'd often fall asleep behind the wheel, driving on the highway.  The lack of sleep and type of work I was doing took it's toll - depression set in.   Being socially isolated because of my Asperger's, my immediate family, became the extent of my "friends", but with having to move out of the house, I no longer had them to socialize with.  I was completely alone.  My life wasn't much different than being in solitary confinement in jail.  I fell into depression and despair.   Not long after, at the end of my work shift, my supervisor berated me for not being in proper security guard uniform. It was winter, and cold, and I was wearing a knit cap to stay warm, which was not approved.   So, I left my security guard gear at the job site, with a note saying I quit.   I drove home, slept for a couple hours, loaded my car with the few valuables I owned, and drove east.  I had become homeless at that very moment, for the first time.  It was 1982.

I eventually landed in Nashville, spent some time living in my car, and eventually made my way to the Rescue Mission. After being homeless for several months in Nashville, I sold my car and used that money to return to San Diego, via Greyhound.  After a couple days with relatives I rented another apartment, again using proceeds from selling the car.    But,I could not find work, and my funds quickly ran out.   With no other options, I joined the Navy.    Years before this, I asked my father if he could get me on where he worked (he'd gotten my older brother a job there).  His response was, "I'll get you a job.  I'll take you down to the Navy recruiter."    With that idea in my head, and no other options available, I joined the Navy.

The Navy was my home for a couple years, still I was unable to successfully fulfill my obligation to the service - again for problems I was having socializing and the depression that followed.  I was given an early administrative discharge, "For the good of the Navy,"  and was again homeless.  My family would have nothing to do with me, at that time, and with Nashville being the only other place I was familiar with, I returned there to live.  Upon arrival in Nashville I moved directly into the Rescue Mission.

There, I learned from another homeless person how to apply for financial aid for college.   I received the aid and was accepted to Belmont College.  After one semester I moved onto campus where I lived for nearly two years.   Again, I fell into what I began calling "moments of great despair".  My grades dropped, I lost my financial aid, and eventually was dismissed from the school.  And with no where else to go, I was again homeless.

My relationship with my parents had improved some during this time, they were impressed with my efforts to get a degree.  They let me move back home, with the understanding that I get a job and get back out on my own as soon as possible.  Though my father expressed disappointment at my choice, I took a job in a camera store.  I had worked there until the end of the holiday shopping.  In January I returned to Nashville with the idea of getting back into the school.  I did not plan things well and I returned too late to register for the semester.    I had some money saved up from the camera store job, and used that to move into a multiroom house with several roommates. Not long after that, I took a job as a car valet.

Some of my room mates failed to come up with their share of the rent, which I helped to cover - and they never repaid.  Then one month, one of our room mates collected rent from everyone, told us he was paying the rent, but instead pocketed all the money.  When we asked for our money back, he said he had already spent it.  We were evicted.  The others had options, or family to move back with.  But I was again homeless.  I returned to the rescue mission.

A few months later I met a young lady, a local who would eventually become my exwife.    She had no experience with homelessness, but didn't seem to mind that I did - except that she didn't want her family to know.   After a few months heavy courtship, I devised a plan.  I would return to San Diego, move back in with my parents, and  get my job back at the camera store.  There I could save up enough money to eventually return to Nashville, cash flush, and move right into an apartment.   The plan worked.  I was back in Nashville after Christmas. While I was gone, my girlfriend had scouted out an apartment for us.

Our relationship had some problems but we eventually married.  We had a couple kids, bought a house. We were married approximately 6 years.  Then we divorced.   Though I was not aware of it, or perhaps in denial of it, my Asperger's had caused too many problems with our relationship - for not knowing the cause of my problems there was nothing we could do to fix things.  During the process of the divorce, I attempted to keep my own place, but that failed.  For a period after our divorce, I moved back into the house, but that eventually caused problems as well, as my ex was wanting to move on and date other people.

After the divorce my depression and despair had no bounds - I'd never felt so bad, emotionally, in my life.  Then my ex took steps to prevent me from seeing my kids as well.  The pain was unreal and took years to overcome.  I was no longer motivated to attempt getting out of homelessness - instead of experiencing homelessness for months at a time, now it was happening years at a time.

Years passed as I lived in shelters in Nashville.   Then I found out about a church that was to open a halfway house for the homeless, and I was first they invited to live there.   The only requirement was that I had to find a job.   Within a week I was employed.   I lived in that halfway house for a year.  After a year on the job I was promoted and given a raise - I then moved into my own apartment.   About 3 months my apartment building was gutted by fire.   I returned to the halfway house for a couple months until I could save up and move into another apartment building.  I continued to be employed and I lived in that apartment building for over a year.   I was even able to visit with my children for a short period.  But then I was let go from my job - the store was going out of business.  Losing the job was depressing, but even more so, my exwife stopped bringing my kids around for visits.  Again, depression set in - I was unable to find another job and was evicted from the apartment.  Back to being homeless.

Again, years passed.  I was exhausted, was having a hard time just keeping the pace of living in shelters.  I'd lost motivation to try.   This had become apparent to a shelter volunteer i'd known for a few years.    She got involved in an attempt to find me a place to live through the city's newly formed housing development program for homeless people.  She took me to appointments to get the paperwork filed.   Then we waited, and waited.  It was taking much longer than was expected, in getting me approved for the program.   So she went to the office of a Tennessee senator to look into the delay.   A short time later I was accepted.  (As a side note - if you are having problems with government or legal issues of any kind, try your senator - just the mention of their name can often get amazing things done.)   It was a full year from the time I filed the paper work until I was accepted into the program.  I was assigned to a team of very qualified, very professional case managers who really took care of me.   Still, it was another 4 months before a unit was made available to me, and I moved in.   I then had a place of my own.

An apartment.  Tiny, it totaled less than 200 sq feet - it was equipped with a full bathroom (shower, no tub) and a kitchen - stove, sink, refrigerator/freezer.   Case managers and a few people I knew helped me to stock it with necessities.   I lived there for several years.  Then, without warning, I was removed from the case management program.   They had assessed, without talking to me, that I no longer needed the case managers.   I admit that I didn't need them much, but I did need them still.  The official word was that I was being "transitioned" into another case management service - but that turned into no case management at all.

Instead, the process had begun to have me declared disabled (for my depression and anxiety issues) so that I could receive SSI benefits.  Still, I no longer had a case manager, and as per usual, my life (what little there was of a life) fell apart, depression and anxiety over burdened me again.  As much as a help the SSI benefits are, being declared disabled due to mental health issues can really mess with your sense of well being.  I hated the place I was staying, it was more depressing than living in a shelter - it was a small building (just 16 units) where other defective people lived and sometimes died.  After 5 years of living in that place, I did not recertify for my section 8.  Losing the section 8 mean that  my rent payment would jump from 50 dollars a month to 500 dollars a month.  I could not afford that much rent with my SSI.  At that point I knew I would have to go back to the streets, and it dawned on me that I didn't have to stay in Nashville.  I could go anywhere.    San Diego, my home town, had been on my mind a lot lately, so I left Nashville for San Diego.   After a couple weeks of living on sidewalks in San Diego, I was able to get into a "shelter" people call "the tent".  The quotation marks are to emphasis that this really isn't much of a shelter - it's as bare minimum as you can get.   About the only difference between the sidewalk and the tent is that, in the tent the cops don't harass you.   The "tent" doesn't even have a floor, just the asphalt of a parking lot.  I have now been in the tent for 6 months.

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