The Ripple Effects of Homelessness

I got a job and an apartment again. Now my life can return to what it used to be like. Or so I thought.

The Lady In The Van

I have 30 years of an almost perfect rental history — except for that eviction in 2011. And my life will never be the same. After my six-month lease is up, I am looking forward to moving to a nice apartment in a nice neighborhood, one with counter space and more than one outlet in each room. But no matter how much money I make, most of the beautiful apartments in the Sacramento area will be unwilling to accept me as a tenant. “No evictions, no criminal background, no rental debt.” The three qualities are lumped together as if they are synonymous.

Even though I may dream of granite countertops and my own in-unit washer and dryer, I am branded as someone not to be trusted, not to be allowed to sit in the lap of luxury. Most landlords and property managers aren’t willing to listen to a story, even in senior complexes. I can only hope to find another sympathetic landlord willing to take a chance with me.

These days, I try to not get too attached to things. If I can’t find a book, picture, or object in my storage unit, I have to accept that it must have been one of the belongings jettisoned when I lost my apartment. I sometimes think about the beautiful desk that I left behind, or the leopard fur coat that was too bulky to pack, or the favorite books that I had to give away due to lack of storage. But I have learned to cherish the things that I have left, including my mother’s Bible, my father’s fireman’s hat, the watch that my father bought me when I was seven, and the diaries chronicling my life since I was thirteen.

One positive thing that I gained from my experience was fearlessness. When the union at my new job was threatening to strike, many of my co-workers were afraid that a long strike would cause them to lose their homes. But I found that I didn’t share their fears. I’ve been without money. I’ve stood in a long line for my only meal of the day. I’ve spent a night in an airport or train station because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Those things don’t scare me anymore. If I became homeless again, by some unlikely turn of fate, I’m sure that I would survive.

I’ve been without money. I’ve stood in a long line for my only meal of the day. I’ve spent a night in an airport or train station because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Those things don’t scare me anymore.

When I work with homeless families in my job, I have a newfound empathy. I know what it is like to have people on the street turn their heads when you pass by with a backpack, as if they could deny your existence. I’ve seen the scorn on the faces of fellow shoppers when I used my EBT card to purchase food, while they perused the items in my cart to determine if my food choices were appropriate for a poor person. I’ve had government employees talk down to me, as if homelessness equaled stupidity, even though my years of government service and education exceeded theirs.

I know what it’s like to walk around feeling like there was with a visible “H” on your back, a letter branding you as unable, unwilling, and unwanted.

It is hard for me to imagine what my life would have been like without my homeless experience. Eventually, I would have gotten another job, probably not the one I have now, and stayed in my apartment for another five or ten years. Maybe my cats would have lived a little longer because I had money to afford vet bills. I would still have my beautiful desk. But as my mother used to say, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I’m a different person these days, not necessarily better, but hopefully smarter. I’ve come to realize that I’m not what I have, how much I make, or what I wear. I won’t let my finances, good or bad, define me.

Finances, like life, are fluid. They can ebb and flow. And I remain positive. Maybe there still are granite countertops in my future.

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