I’ve been with Real Change since 1994. I’d been homeless repeatedly. I don’t want to ever be homeless again. I don’t want other people going through it. Real Change is about change that can end homelessness.
I was born in 1949. My father was in the army. Sent to Korea, he saw the start of hostilities. He returned on my first birthday. My mother was drunk when he arrived and demanded a divorce on the spot. A fight ensued. I was in the middle and received a concussion. They thought I’d die from it.
My parents decided to cover up their violence by driving the car into me. The plan: I’d die, it would look like an accident, and the one driving would get a DWI.
When I didn’t die right away my father changed his mind and called for an ambulance. I spent four months in a coma. I saw records years later corroborating my memory. My father did get a DWI.
Released to their care, my parents acted as though everything was my fault. They treated me like an animal they never wanted as a pet.
I coped with their abuse by retreating into fantasy worlds, including that of mathematics. I excelled at it and eventually took honors in mathematics at UW. I was accepted at Cornell University where I worked toward a Ph.D. with a teaching assistantship paying $300 per month plus tuition. That was enough in 1971. I found a room for $60 per month.
Three years into graduate school I was evicted. My building was bought by a rich real estate developer. He evicted everyone and made “renovations” (they turned out to be trivial) to skirt rent control laws and raise all the rents.
The same developer bought out most other buildings in the area. He demanded six months rent in advance for anyone moving in. I didn’t have it.
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I wouldn’t return to my parents. I wanted to remain in graduate school. So I became homeless for the first time. I slept on campus, hiding from security, until I could save up the money I needed. This lasted a year.
By 1980 I had the doctorate and a wife. My parents had died, and we lived in their old house. But after I earned my Ph.D. I started having severe symptoms of delayed stress syndrome due to chronic PTSD (from the child abuse). So I was limited to teaching at colleges in the Seattle area because it was less stressful than research.
We had a daughter. Soon after, I realized I couldn’t teach any longer. I became a cab driver, thinking it would be less stressful. It wasn’t. My symptoms worsened. It didn’t pay enough. Soon the marriage collapsed. I was homeless again. I lost the house and my daughter was taken away to the East Coast.
That was the only time I was homeless due to the PTSD and had symptoms of mental illness throughout. I could drive a cab at night but was not able to earn more than about $12 per 12-hour shift. I might have been homeless that time for years, but $1,000 in leftover inheritance allowed me to move into a cheap illegal boarding house after about eight months.
I believe the most important thing people can do to help homeless people is not criminalizing homelessness and not harassing homeless people.
I was treated worse during that bout of homelessness than any other. I was blamed for my circumstances. I was often told I was mentally ill and homeless because, in their eyes, I was no good. Security guards who caught me trying to sleep, even in places where it was legal, would harass me, saying, “It isn’t fair you don’t pay rent. Get a job and pay rent like decent people.” I told them I had a job as a cab driver, and being prevented from sleeping cut my earnings short, because I would have to sleep on the job. They didn’t listen or didn’t care.
The cheap boarding house was eventually demolished by a new owner. I became homeless a third time.
This time a friend helped me after a few months by letting me into a place he was leaving.
Later I worked as a janitor for a small company. The company’s contracts were all with one real estate manager. One day he switched janitorial companies and all of us in my company were out of work. After the unemployment ran out, I became homeless again.
I never used shelters, because of the PTSD. I know what they can be like from having been a janitor for one.
I believe the most important thing people can do to help homeless people is not criminalizing homelessness and not harassing homeless people. Before telling homeless people to leave a campsite, have a secure home for them.
If you can’t house them and can’t hand the keys over right then, leave them to survive their way.
The Homeless Speakers Bureau is available to any organization, school or business. Host organizations pay a $125 honorarium to Real Change for two speakers. This payment covers $50 for each speaker, plus transportation and food for prep meetings. Speakers may be scheduled two or more weeks in advance of the event. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 206-441-3247 x 212.
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