When I was 20 years old I was living in Green Bay, Wisconsin and working a full-time job at a print shop making food packaging. It was a decent enough job for a guy in his young 20′. Despite having this job and paying my bills, I eventually ended up homeless. In the end, I was asked to leave my apartment because I had an non-leased tenant living with me who had a dog. Since I had breached the contract, the landlord had the right to terminate my lease and ask me to leave by the end of the month.
Unfortunately, the day I was served the notice was the 27th of the month and a Friday. At first, I was angry that the landlord was unwilling to work with me, but it was my own fault. I figured I would be able to find an apartment in a few days, so other than a hassle it was no big deal. Well, I searched all weekend with my roommate, but to no avail.
At this point, panic set in. ‘What if we don’t find a place in time?’, I thought to myself. That thought then became reality as the weekend passed and the last day of the month came. I loaded all of my belongings into a truck and took them to a storage shed, wondering what I would do that night for a place to sleep. The day passed and we had no place to go. Neither of us had any family nearby, and we only had a few acquaintances between the two of us. I thought about sleeping in the storage shed, but there was no room. In the end, we decided to sleep in my roommates car for the night and hit the apartment hunt hard the next day.
This was the cycle for the next few weeks. It is hard to describe the feeling of despair that comes with each day passing when you are homeless. Countless days passed where I would sleep for a few hours in a hot car on leather seats and then use a grocery store bathroom to wash up and brush my teeth. I worked 12 hour shifts, so needless to say I was ripe after a few short days. My roommate and I would rent a hotel room every few days just so we could bare our lives. The hotels were a short-lived escape from the reality we were living. Though we were down, I recall several times where we thanked our lucky stars that we at least had jobs.
The search for an apartment continued, but time after time we got the same response: You have no credit and a blemish on your one rental record. Sorry, but no thanks. There was one place early on that would have accepted us, however, they refused to take any pets. I couldn’t ask my roommate to give up the dog he had for 8 years, so we kept looking. Truthfully, I am glad that my roommate had his dog, because for some reason she helped to keep our spirits up and kept us motivated to keep looking for a place when all seemed lost.
After each rejection, I couldn’t help but think how easy it was to end up in this situation. When people think about homelessness, they often associate it with mental illness, or perhaps some issue with not wanting or being able to work. I never realized that people ended up homeless in a matter of days for making a stupid mistake. Undoubtedly, I learned my lesson the hard way.
Finally, after 8 weeks of looking we found an apartment to move in to. Our new neighborhood didn’t have the strongest reputation, but at least it was a home. Once we found out we had a place to live it was like having a weight lifted from your chest. You can finally breathe and maybe even crack a smile. I don’t think I have ever been so happy to unpack my belongings. It is true when they say that you do not really realize what you have until it is gone. When it comes to your home, I think that message applies even more.
After my experience with homelessness, I found I had a new understanding. Since then, I have met quite a few homeless folks. The conversations I have had have ranged from silliness to the merits of certain political systems. Regardless, I have found that many homeless people have interesting stories and are deeply misunderstood. I know that with my experience, I will never look at homelessness the same way again.
A FEW FACTS ABOUT HOMELESSNESS:
-Estimates on homeless populations vary, but range from 2 million to 5 million. An estimate of 1 million to 1.5 million of those are kids.
-200,000 of those homeless were Veterans.
-Almost 40% of the homeless do not have access to homeless shelters and live on the street, in cars, etc.
U.S. HUD “ResearchWorks Home (Volume 6 Number 1 December/January 2009)” http://www.huduser.org
National Coalition For The Homeless “How Many People Experience Homelessness?” www.nationalhomessness.org
National Coalition For The Homeless “Homeless Verterans” www.nationalhomessness.org