Being Homeless With Kids

Again, I’ve been asked, “Where has Jenny been?”

As always, I struggle with answering these kinds of questions.

I suppose that a person who doesn’t bare her soul on the Internet might not answer the way that I intend to. They might say, “Well, I was moving.” Or, perhaps they’d say, “I had a family emergency.” I suspect that many who ask – prefer these simple answers.

My far more complicated response is that simple answers evade the truth. The truth isn’t always pretty. The fact is that a year ago my husband and I were forced to leave student/family housing at the University of Wyoming after I was unable to stay enrolled as a student due to severe health issues. Loosing the financial aid as well as the cheap housing that included all utilities was a severe blow to our little family.

We left the nice, new, cheap housing on campus last July and found the only place that would take us without good credit that we could find. It was a small trailer near the river in Laramie. I didn’t mind the place, in spite of the obvious water damage, need for repairs, and large rental fee because the new landlords told us that my husband would be provided supplies, given a fair hourly wage and thus offered the opportunity to improve the trailer while decreasing our rent.

The landlord ignored all attempts at communication once we signed our lease, did not provide supplies for repair and refused to reduce the rent. For the entirety of our lease agreement my husband and I fought frozen water pipes, a leaky roof, windows that wouldn’t seal against subzero weather, and damaged electrical and plumbing systems.

In May, during one of my attempts to force the landlord to fix the roof, his maintenance man punched my wall in a fit of anger at me calling the group of them slumlords. Being a woman, at home alone, when he did this in my house, I called the police, making our relationship with our landlord even worse.

After requesting that the violent maintenance man stay away from our home, we again agreed that if supplied with roofing materials; then my husband would fix the leaky roof and we’d pay rent after his labor was deducted. May rolled into June, with no response to our persistent pleas for roofing materials. We sent notice that we were refusing to pay June rent till the roof was fixed, and that if it weren’t fixed by July we’d leave altogether.

Shortly after Father’s Day we received notice of eviction proceedings being filed against us. The gas man came on orders of my landlord to shut the gas off because he’d been told that the place was vacant. The cable company received a call that we, the tenants, had left unexpectedly – and they shut off our TV, phone, and Internet with demands for large fees in exchange for turning them back on, even when we knew it was the landlord’s misinformation at fault.

My husband and I tried to imagine how we might afford a move while searching for a place that would accept us, our pets, and our poor credit history defined by piles of my medical debt. When we couldn’t find another place in the short time offered by the paperwork taped to our door by the local Sheriff’s department – We began to panic.

We had no place to go, no way to get there, and fear began to sink in our throats till we couldn’t sleep at night. We started packing our belongings for storage, calling friends to see if they’d take in our pets, and asking family if we could stay with them.

I cannot describe the feeling of failure, shame, embarrassment, and flat out revoltion I feel at sharing this tale. There is no bigger shame than knowing that you failed to provide shelter for your children.

When I ask myself if I deserve the shame I feel, when I trace our path and look for better choices in our history… I can’t help but feel that I have done something wrong in spite of being unable to find what that particular thing could be. Should I not have gone to the ER those times they report me unable to pay on my credit report? Should I have told my husband to work more and study less? Should I have ridden the bus more often? Should I have gone with the cheaper, less liked daycare? Perhaps I should have stretched a student loan farther, or given up pride and filed bankruptcy? The “what ifs” boggle the mind.

Today, I write from my mother and father’s basement in Cheyenne. My cats are in kennel. My turtles gifted to a friend. My dog, too dependent on us to separate from the family, is sleeping in a guest bedroom. My kids are at the library at this moment with their Grandma. My husband is working, always working, trying to earn enough money that we can again find a crappy rental, and be independent again soon. My father works, possibly checking this blogspace on a break or two, and for now, as always, he provides safe harbor in a difficult storm with his efforts by offering us his home.

After packing everything but our clothes into a five by ten foot storage locker, my husband and I hung our heads as we drove by houses with three car garages full of stuff. We looked at these accumulations of wealth, and then to our children in the backseat. We didn’t say a word to each other as the wheels on our car rolled on toward Cheyenne.

In our shame, it didn’t matter that we both know that the reality isn’t what my children are taught every time they turn on the television or listen to their peers at school. The reality isn’t that the whole world has three car garages full of stuff and we’ve got nothing. The reality is that the whole world would be lucky if they had only what we had in that car. If they had only the four brown eyes of my two sons, my husband’s leathery hands of hard work and devotion, or my determined heart and soul to drive them to a family home with Granddad and Grandma waiting, they’d be luckier than anybody with a full garage of stuff – or three.

Poverty, and physical illness are insanely difficult burdens. To carry them wears on a person’s spirit. It confuses even the most resolute and pragmatic amongst us into feeling desperate and ashamed. I’ve been thinking, about all the people who ask “what happened?” to me and my family during this difficult time, I think I know why they prefer a simple, “family emergency” answer: They don’t want to find out that “what happened” could easily happen to them. They don’t want to know that a fate filled roll of the dice could strike them with physical ailment or financial ruin. I can’t say that I blame them for preferring a blissful ignorance… But ignorance doesn’t change fact.

The facts remain the same as I reported them in one of my first few blog posts. A person, at any given moment in time, can always fail desperately at survival. I attribute little fault to those who stumble, who suffer poverty, physical limitations, or worse. I blame society.

I blame society not because I am convinced society is responsible for the fall of those who suffer… But because I believe that society is responsible for the net that catches them and maintaining enough empathy to have a strong resilient net.

Society should understand that the fall is a fateful one. Chance, more than any other factor in my experience, determines success, wealth and the accumulation of stuff that our society currently holds in high esteem. Chance also, more than any other factor in my experience, determines failure, poverty, and the lack of stuff on which society places such a heavy burden of shame.

I, in my travels, refuse to offer anything but empathy for those who suffer the fateful fall of chance’s dice. I know that but for the grace of love and luck… I could be a whole lot worse off and so could my kids. With that thought, I leave you, my faithful readers… till another day.

For those who are interested, my blog has been a saving grace for my family and you can help too. In the two weeks since we received the order to leave our home devoted readers have donated nearly $500 dollars by going to http:/ where you can click on the “Donate” PayPal button at right. All funds generated between now and our goal: a move out date of August 15th 2012 – will be reserved specifically for the purpose of getting us into our own home ASAP. We fear that delaying beyond August 2012 may jeopardize my husband’s employment, the ability of our sons to start school on time, and even the our vow to keep our pets furever as promised. All donations are graciously accepted and the more donations I get the sooner I get back online reliably for daily political articles!