The Day We Realized We’re Homeless

OK, yes, technically, we’ve been homeless since Thanksgiving. But there’s reality, and there’s your perception of reality. Barring a few financial hiccups, we’re fine. Just to look st us, you’d probably never realize we’re homeless.

If you’ve never heard of imposter syndrome, it’s this thing where you feel like your achievements are some kind of mistake that you’re going to have to pay for sooner or later.

In our case, we could look out the window and see people sleeping in a storage unit or under a bench, and then dismiss our own reality. See, we’re not as bad off as those people. We have clean clothes and jobs. We’re not really homeless.

Well, our camping stove arrived yesterday. And first of all, we realized the best place to cook would be an abandoned motel. See, anywhere else we went, it was either explicitly not allowed, or we’d have been risking police hassling. So an abandoned building became a safe shelter for us.

And second, I couldn’t get the fire started. I’ve never done it before. I cooked on a propane grill, but this is my first encounter with charcoal. Kate had to help me. And during the whole process, all I could think is how unfair it is that we’re not allowed to just eat. Because we’re homeless. Because we live in a car.

Every post I write, I struggle with imposter syndrome. I mean, I’m just one person. I’ve done research, sure, but at the end of the day, I’m still fairly privileged compared to other homeless people. I don’t know really know what it’s like for someone living in a cardboard box outside a homeless shelter or in a park.

Today, I think Kate and I got over that a little bit. Sleeping in a car and having clean clothes doesn’t make us less homeless. It makes us lucky. It makes us pretty good planners.

I’m not a spokesperson for homeless people everywhere just because I started blogging. But I am genuinely homeless, and it’s OK to accept that.

 

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Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

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Faith in Humanity Restored

As you can probably imagine, after yesterday, Kate and I were in very low spirits. It seemed like everywhere we go, people drive us, even when we try to keep to ourselves and not bother anyone.

Well, we were driving around the other day, and we found a Catholic church complex. It’s a church, a parish building, and some kind of records office or maybe housing, all arranged in a semi circle around the parking lot. Which means it’s a quiet little cul de sac where cops won’t bother us.

Kate’s Catholic, so she suggested that we sleep there. It’s more brightly lit than the other church, but the further we can get from the road, the better. So we’ve been there for two nights now.

Today, the deacon came out to make sure we were OK (groan) and asked if we needed to use the bathroom or get some coffee. I was so shocked that I had to make him repeat himself. I asked if it was OK for us to be there, and he said yes.

I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop, and he’s going to get pissy and drive us off like everyone else. But for now, it’s just nice.

And we’re about to go cook food for the first time in a month. Today’s looking pretty bright.

 
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Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

Love is All You Need

And unfortunately, it’s in short supply. I’ve talked before about the hierarchy of needs. You have physiological needs (food, water, sleep), safety, love, esteem (feeling like you’ve done something that matters), and self-actualization (you have achieved your dreams and won at life forever). It looks a bit like this. Most people live somewhere between love and self-actualization, and self-actualization is the hardest to achieve. But when you’re homeless, you’re doing good to stay on the bottom level.

Kate and I live on the safety level. We struggle with food sometimes (the end of last month was a pretty good example), but we’re not worried about starving. If worst absolutely comes to worst, we can go back to her abusive parents and get money. We’ll do everything we possibly can to avoid that moment, but we’re not going to die.

We’re also not in danger. We spend all day in a library. When we can’t be here, we have two churches, a gym, and a Panera Bread to choose from. We live and sleep in a car, but we have enough blankets and warm clothes that we don’t have to worry about freezing to death.

So love is the level we struggle with. We love each other. We have friends who love us. But the rest of the country hates us. We’re homeless, and that makes us automatically criminals in a lot of people’s eyes. It doesn’t matter that we’ve never done anything wrong. One infraction is all it takes for people to condemn us.

I think I’ve mentioned our storage unit before. If not, we have one, which we pay $100 a month. The place is quiet and has a bathroom, so we spent time there on occasion. Until today, when the gentleman who works there lectured us about this isn’t out personal bathroom and we need to stop sleeping there (Kate was the only one sleeping; I was on my phone.) He informed us that we’d been spoken to about this before and refused to listen when I said we had not. I said it wouldn’t happen again, and he continued to lecture us for like two fucking minutes.

There are at least two homeless families living on the third floor of that building. A bag lady comes through with a shopping cart every single morning that we’re there. And someone is illegally storing gasoline near our unit. But we’re the criminals because we thought paying $100 every fucking months meant we could occasionally use the bathroom or sit quietly in the parking lot to watch a movie.

This is not the first place we’ve been kicked out of. McDonald’s has done it twice. Apparently, you’re not allowed to sit and eat your food in their dining room. You have to be out in 15 minutes. Take too long, even if you’re the only customer, and you risk getting kicked out. Dunkin Donuts did it once: same deal, though a little more understandable since they don’t have a proper dining room. Even our gym coach, who told us point blank that he wanted to do anything he could to help before we ever asked, told us we had to stop cooking there because someone complained about a smell.

This country needs to rethink its attitude towards homeless people. I am not a criminal. I am not trying to scam the system. I just want a place to unwind after work like everyone else. And you know what? I’m not even asking you to give me that. I just need you to stop taking it away whenever I find it.

 

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Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

The Cost of Eating Cheap

Well, it’s payday finally, and that means we’re no longer just this side of starving. Kate still needs her carbs, but the power inverter should be here tomorrow or Friday. At that point, I’ll be able to make her cracker/pancake out of tapioca pearls. Even better, we’ll be able to eat cheaper and healthier.

See, spam may be cheap, but it’s still $2 to feed both of us for a night. Or we can get a bag of potatoes at $2.50, a bag of onions at $2,50, and a pound of chicken cutlets at $1.99 and eat for days. And we’ll have potatoes and onions left over once the chicken is gone, so we can buy more chicken or or mix them with something else.

This is the trickiest part of being homeless for the two of us. Even discounting Kate’s food intolerances, we spend more money buying cheap prepared food than we do when we can cook. That’s why last month was such a huge problem. It took me too long to figure out that we needed a power inverter, and we couldn’t afford one by the time I did. (Thanks again for that, Zob. 😀 ) So we’ve just been scrounging for change and begging from our friends for a couple weeks now just to keep going for a few more days.

This is the month where it all turns around for us. I hope.

 

Please donate at http://paypal.me/tarengrant
Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

A Typical Doctor Visit

Today, I wanted to talk about why it’s so difficult for Kate to get help with her seizures. It seems like it should be a simple thing, right? But for a long time, we didn’t even know they were seizures. We only knew that she would flip out and start running. It was a good couple years before we realized (and yes, she didn’t realize either) that she wasn’t doing on purpose because she was pissed.

Our first neurologist was a 90-year-old man with a stubborn streak that bordered on denial. He told Kate she had myasthenia gravis and put her some pills for it. He said take half of one every day and started scheduling her for tests. He acted like this was the case that would make his career.

Every single test came back negative, and the pills stopped working once the initial placebo effect wore off. But the doctor insisted that didn’t mean anything, that myasthenia gravis hardly ever showed up in tests, and we should keep doing everything he said.

It took months of tests and pills and wasted money before the guy finally sent us to a myasthenia gravis specialist he knew. The specialist informed us that Kate should have been taking like four to six pills everyday, and also if all these tests were coming back negative, Kate absolutely did not have myasthenia gravis.

We went back to her family doctor at that point. He had previously told her that she had mononucleosis, despite not being contagious. He also insisted that she probably had chronic fatigue syndrome, which near as I can figure, is actually not a disease but a catchall term for a collection of symptoms that doctors use when they’re sick of trying to figure out what the problem really is.

He is now insisting that Kate has multiple sclerosis and also CFS and just generally filling her head with paranoia about incurable diseases and making her think her life is over. He’s a blustering bully (also literally a rapist who can’t keep a his hands off his receptionists) who has to be right and refuses to listen, and as I’ve mentioned before, abuse is one of Kate’s seizure triggers. So one day, she just explodes and flees the office, banging into things as she goes. The doctor sends a formal letter to the house refusing to treat her ever again.

Shortly after this, we got hit by a hurricane and had to move in with my family in Missouri. While there, we went to see the neurologist in my home town. The nurse practitioner was a very polite, attentive young fellow who listened very carefully and promised they would do everything they could. The doctor ignored Kate, claimed he couldn’t help, and sent us away.

It was also while in Missouri that we first began to understand how food triggered these episodes. Kate went from barely able to walk even while leaning heavily on a cane to moving freely in about a month.

Also let me just clarify here. Kate was weak, physically. She could barely pull herself out of bed some days. But when a seizure hit, that didn’t matter anymore. She still does something similar, actually. Nearly broke her knee while running because she smashed into a wall and twisted it badly as she fell. Neither weakness nor broken limbs can stop her from running when she has that type of seizure. It’s like a fugue state. She’s not really aware of anything, and her memory will be patchy when she comes back to me.

Anyway, when we finally got back, we saw a doctor who barely spoke English. He was nice enough, but I’m not sure he fully understood the problem. He latched onto the food issue we’d discovered and put us in touch with a handful of new specialists. Kate was tested for allergies, Celiacs, neurological disorders, and I think a couple other thing, but I don’t remember. All negative. In fact, the last specialist we saw listened to Kate’s story and suggested we just try alternative therapies, like controlling her diet as we’d been doing.

By then, we’d done all we could think of, and our primary care physician didn’t have any new ideas. So we just that one specialist’s advice and focused on Kate’s diet. We got her going back to the gym, which helped further. She’d still enter the fugue state, but she’d  come out of it sooner, sometimes without running at all

While there, one of her sparring partners was a med student who was curious about this weird disorder. He told her the fugue state sounded like sn absentee seizure.

We now had a new direction to look in, but Kate wasn’t insured by her dad’s family plan anymore. And he’d been making such a big deal of blaming us both for her seizures and ordering us to see more doctors that the idea of doing so was becoming increasingly stressful. I was having panic attacks, and Kate didn’t want to leave the house except for gym. Even when we got her insurance taken care of, the idea of being jerked around by more doctors was soul crushing.

Then we were homeless. It was like flipping a switch. We didn’t ever have to succumb to their abuse again. Suddenly, everything seemed possible.

We got Kate a new primary care physician, and he was polite and attentive. They tried to do a nerve conductivity test, but Kate started seizing during it. (And the nurse practitioner thpught she was just shivering, but I guess we can’t have everything.) So the doctor gave the name of another specialist.

Now, I honestly can’t remember if I told this part of the story before or not. I’ve told a bunch of people.

Basically, the receptionist rushed Kate through some setup that involved being half naked in a freezing room while wearing only her pants rolled up to the knees and a rough dressing gown. Of course, Kate started seizing. The specialist made her wait for an hour, and then instead of noticing that she was in distress just demanded to know wjy the gown was on the floor. Kate attempted to describe her symptoms and was dismissed. She happened to mention we were living in a car, and the specialist decided that she was  schizophrenic. She told Kate to go to an emergency room because she was clearly having a psychotic break, and that her symptoms must be getting worse or we wouldn’t have been kicked out of the house.

As I’ve mentioned before, Kate’s symptoms have gotten about a hundred times better since we got out of that abusive environment.

She scheduled Kate for two conductivity tests and kicked her out. Total time: five minutes. And then they had the gall to charge our insurance company full price for that.

So now, we really don’t want to see anymore doctors again. We are still trying, but finding neurologists who’ll take her insurance has been…um, trying. Supposedly, you can check their website. There are eight neurologists in our area, and not a single one of them had a valid phone number listed. So for now, we’re back to our own brand of alternative medicine. It’s worked better than the healthcare system so far.

 

Please donate at http://paypal.me/tarengrant
Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

Boundaries

I got my first donation this morning! Thank you so much, SummerRain75! It helps a lot. You basically saved our whole day with that.

Kate and I were leaving the storage unit the other day. We were dawdling a bit, so we had the opportunity to watch a hatchback pull up and a family get out, two adults and a small girl clutching a blanket and a stuffed animal. That little girl stared at us the whole time we were backing out to leave, pretty much until she couldn’t see us anymore, and the adults kept glancing at us suspiciously.

Kate turned to me and said, “I bet those people are living in there.”

Sure enough, their car didn’t move again the rest of the night. The never left. They’ve been there two nights in a row now.

Being alone is hard. You’re lonely. You’re bored. It’s tempting to turn to drugs and alcohol to ease the mental pain. When you have even one companion, you have someone to talk with to ease the solitude and the long hours. But in exchange, you give up personal space. Your time is no longer your own. Everywhere you go and everything you do must be part of a joint decision. And, yes, that includes sleeping, too.

Kate and I have to go to bed at the same time. If, say, Kate is still awake when I crash for the night, then she’s just sitting around bored waiting to fall asleep herself. She has to be quiet so as not to wake me up so that I can get the sleep I need to function.

And that’s going to cascade into me waking up before she does, and then I get to be the one sitting around bored. I can drive us around if I want, and sometimes I do. But every bump and road noise risks waking her up, which means she’s not getting the sleep she needs to function.

It’s a delicate balancing act, which is why it’s so important to have boundaries. Sometimes, you absolutely need to say, “I know you’re trying to sleep, but I have to park in this noisy parking lot so I can get a shower.”

That was actually the specific event that spawned this post, in fact. I don’t have good boundaries, so when Kate protested the parking lot, I gave in and left. Then I brooded for an hour. Then I exploded at her for it. And that is the danger of being homeless with someone else. If you don’t have good boundaries and support with each other, it’s going to wreck your relationship.

We’re doing OK, by the way. We’ve weathered much worse in our six or seven years together.


Please donate at http://paypal.me/tarengrant
Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

The Penalty for Caring

So Kate’s fine after yesterday. She usually is. This time, the seizure wasn’t as bad as it was looking when I bailed on the post. So now, I’m going to ramble about something I saw on Twitter.

Basically, the president of this college found a homeless student with schizophrenia living in the forest. He can’t take the kid home (giving the kid a ride is apparently against company policy or something), and he couldn’t think of anything else to do. So he let the kid sleep in the library and gave him some money to refill his schizophrenia meds. And for that, he was fired.

On the one hand, this seems like a pretty clear case of the homeless prejudice most people seem to have. “Oh, circumstances beyond your control have left you without shelter, food, or options? Well, fuck you! You should have tried harder!” There are no extenuating circumstances for this student. It doesn’t matter that he could have died from exposure out in the woods. He’s not allowed to sleep in a nice, warm library, and President Carroll has to pay the price for allowing it.

On the other hand, there are other options here. Carroll gives the student money. He couldn’t have paid for a motel room? Help the student arrange for alternate housing? I mean, it’s a for-profit college, so there’s probably no dorm system. But they could have looked at shelters or called acquaintances until they found a couch for him to sleep on.

I guess…I don’t really have a lot of insight here. Something important happened. A man was penalized for caring about another human being. Even if he didn’t go about it the best way, I don’t think he deserved to lose his job.


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Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

Update

The last two days were rough. I’ve had a lunchable so far today. They’re usually out of my price range, but they’re on sale for $1 at the moment. So that was a nice treat.

Due to our late start on getting work done last month, we’re a little strapped for cash at the moment. And thanks to all the holidays this month, we’re a little worried how the next one is going to go. It was shaping up to be better, but we’ve been fighting hunger and depression for about a week now. I’ve been burning through my stock of dried cereal, and Kate’s had almost nothing but bananas and milk. So we’re both sick and half starved, and work is going very slow.

On that note, I’m going to start putting a link to my paypal at the bottom of every post.

And things have taken a turn for the awful. Kate looks like she’s about to start seizing right now, so I’m going to cut it short here.

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Even a single dollar makes a huge difference to us.

Camping Stove and Sundry

Wow, I have been really bad about posting everyday, haven’t I? It’s been a pretty exhausting few days. The lack of a warm meal is wearing on me. We used to plug in our hotplate at the gym, but some people complained, so the coach told us we couldn’t do that anymore.

It’s funny how people keep saying they want to help, but they won’t give us the one thing we need. We have sleep accommodations. We have plenty of clothes. We have jobs. We have internet. We have transportation and storage. We just need a place to cook food. Yet the only thing people are ever willing to help with is googling homeless resources and letting us sleep on a couch.

Well, that’ll be solved soon. Friend of ours (Hi, Zob! 😀 ) bought us a power inverter. I’ll have more to say about that when it arrives, but the important thing is we’ll be able to plug our hotplate into the car. At that point, it’ll just be about finding a place to cook where no one will bother us. The church parking lot where we sleep is too exposes, and the gym is too busy. So we’ll probably try the storage facility parking lot for a while. There’s hardly anyone there, and we can hide around the back of the building with no trouble.

On that note, let’s talk about carbecue. Because we tried it this last week. If you google “cooking on a car engine,” you’re going to get a wikihow article that is way too complicated. The pictures make no sense (to me, at least), and it talks about using an ambient temperature thermometer to find the hottest spot on your engine.

If you’re in our position, you probably don’t have an ambient temperature thermometer. You probably can’t afford one. You definitely don’t want to buy one to use once for a couple minutes and then never touch again.

Anyway, here’s my experience. We turned the car on. The engine didn’t get hot enough. We turned the heater off, just in case that was hindering the temperature. The engine still wasn’t hot enough. We left it run for an hour. I could lay my hand on the engine and leave it there with only some mild discomfort. We gave up.

Much better plan is a camping stove. You can even make one yourself. You’re probably eating a lot of canned food, and some cans is all you really need. Just google “DIY camping stove”. Some of these things get really elaborate. I can’t speak to how well any of them work, unfortunately. But if you don’t have a hotplate and power inverter, camping stove is probably the way to go.

A Warm Meal

Well, we made it through the night. And you know what? It wasn’t too bad. It got down to about 17 this morning, and that was the only time I had to wake up and run the car heater. I managed to sleep in my coat and gloves, which was my biggest worry. And we both stayed pretty warm for most of the night.

So since sleep went well, here’s something else I was thinking of today. I’ve mentioned before that depression is a huge problem when you’re homeless. Well, eating cold food all the time can contribute to that. Especially if it’s food that’s not supposed to be cold.

Does that seem weird? You might think having food at all is enough, and in some ways, it is. We’re not starving, and lack of gratitude for what I have isn’t the problem here. The problem is humans need comfort as well. When your basic physical needs are cared for, you step up to the next level on Maslow’s pyramid. Kate and I have food and shelter, so we move up to safety. We also have safety, so we move up to love and belonging, and here is where we struggle.

See, we have each other, so we definitely have love. But we don’t have anywhere to belong. There’s no warm bed to snuggle into. No kitchen to cook a hot meal. No couch to cuddle up and watch Netflix. And that’s what this post is about. A hot meal (that isn’t junk food; McDonald’s doesn’t really count) would go a very long way right now.