Christmas Tree Skirt

When we lived in the homeless shelters we weren’t allowed to decorate very much, if at all. Space was also extremely limited. So we’d make a small poster with secular Christmas imagery. Our first Christmas in the shelter we spent it alone and I made spaghetti. Rather depressing for someone who was used to a bunch of food. But we didn’t have a proper kitchen and we weren’t allowed to spend the night out of the shelter.

The following Christmas, I made a tree of sorts out of my daughter’s baby blocks. I used her gingerbread cookie blanket as a tree skirt. The “tree” looked more like a pyramid but my daughter was happy.

Xmas Eve 2012 (2)

(image is of a pyramid made of blocks surrounded by Christmas presents)

The next year I bought a small tinsel table tree, it cost about a dollar and some change. This tree was very small and it disappered when my daughter put some candy canes and a huge heart ornament on it. Once again, I used the blanket as a skirt.

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(image is of Christmas presents surrounding a very small tree, above the tree is a green and red arrow pointing to it , there’s a red and white stocking hanging from the wall with some toys in it, also on the wall are some Christmas cards.)

Last Christmas we spent it with some family although we did have a strict curfew at the shelter so our time was limited.
This year however we’re in our own apartment. I bought a full size yet inexpensive tree. We bought a few ornaments at the 99 cent store. We made a lot of ornaments as well. We’re going to cook Puerto Rican Christmas food and spend today with family and friends.

Every Christmas since my daughter was two, I’ve hung the stocking she decorated in daycare. And once again the gingerbread cookie blanket is out as a skirt. Old habits die hard and I also wasn’t going to spend money on a tree skirt when the blanket proved to work just as well.

Christmas Tree Skirt
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No Longer Homesless

Well, I finally moved in exactly one week ago. It wasn’t easy. Almost five years of homelessness and it’s hard getting used to all this space. All the other shelters I was in were small and cramped. I have to get used to having a full-size fridge. I was so used to buying the small size food items that when I went to the supermarket I grabbed those. My friend reminded me I could buy the regular sized butter, I can buy that ice cream! I can finally buy meat and be able to cook it properly. I have an actual, honest-to-goodness stove. I had become so used to cooking on hot plates that I forgot how to work the knobs on a gas stove. There’s so much storage space here. I don’t have to sign in and out every time I leave the building. I don’t have to worry about inspectors barging in. I don’t have a rude and loud neighbor. I feel so bad for the person who is in my old room now. That neighbor was the absolute worst.

Moving day was pretty tough. I had everything ready for the movers. They called me and said they were on their way. I started taking my things downstairs. It was hot and I was sweating a lot. At one point I got stuck in the elevator. I pushed the alarm, I banged on the door. I was stuck for about 15 minutes. I tried using my phone to call the front desk, but because life is cruel, my phone had frozen. Really, it was something out of a comedy movie. I’m finally freed and I hail a cab so I could meet the movers at the storage facility. After moving my things into the van, I then had to take another cab to meet the movers at my apartment building. All in all, it took about two hours to move my things from the room at the shelter and storage to the apartment. There were two movers. One was very friendly and helpful. The other while helpful was inappropriate towards me. He asked me when my husband would come home and he tried to ‘splain to my how I should clean my daughter’s things. I wanted to reply that my husband wasn’t coming home because I killed him, but being that this dude was moving my things I opted not to anger him. Men are the worst, right?

A friend came by and helped me unpack and sort through almost five years of toys and clothes. A lot of things were too young for my daughter so I’m donating them. I’ve taken in half of the laundry to be washed. I still have all the Winter clothing to wash.

I can finally work on applying for disability benefits. My daughter will go back to school soon so hopefully I can as well. Our first night here my daughter kept waking up, smiling and telling me she was excited to be in the apartment, then she’d go back to sleep. She seems so much happier now. We can have her Sailor Moon-themed birthday party. We can have a Christmas tree this year. I baked cookies for the first time in years. Such simple things but they mean so much to us. My first breakfast here were breakfast burritos. I don’t know if it was because I was happy or because I used an actual stove but bacon should not taste that delicious.

I’m so incredibly thankful to my friends and others who donated and shared my campaign. I would not be here in my apartment if it hadn’t been for them. My friends continue to be amazing. Thanks to them I got several things from my Amazon wish list, which helped a lot in setting up the apartment. I will never be able to repay my friends’ generosity. I’m truly lucky.

I feel as if a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. It feels so weird not having any major issues to worry about. Getting in here was not easy, and I should not have had to wait so long. But I’m here now and I hope that this is the beginning of more great things in my life. Again, thank you all so much!

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Image above shows view from my apartment. Trees, some other buildings, a bit of the street are visible. Also visible, lots of sky and clouds.

No Longer Homesless

Deadlines Mean Nothing to NYCHA (UPDATE)

UPDATE Wednesday August 18th, 2015: I got the call today, just like the housing assistant had said. The supervisor I spoke with yesterday had no idea what she was talking about. She made me worry for no reason. I have my keys and move-in date. 

My daughter and I have been living in homeless shelters for close to five years. On Monday, July 17, 2015 I found an apartment in a low-income housing project run by NYCHA (New York City Housing Authority). I was told I needed to come up with 601 dollars by Friday, July 24, 2015 or I’d lose the apartment. I had no idea how I would come up with that much money in a week. My friends suggested I start a GoFundMe campaign. Thanks to the generosity of my friends and of complete strangers, I was able to raise the funds in less than a day.

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On Thursday July 23, 2015 I bought a money order and took it to the housing management office. The housing assistant told me the apartment should be ready within 15 days.  I saw the apartment and it was in need of a few repairs but nothing I deemed too worrisome. Since then I’ve called and emailed the housing assistant every day to find out the progress of the apartment.

On Friday, August 14, 2015 I received an email from the housing assistant saying the apartment should be ready by Wednesday, August 19, 2015. I called him on Monday the 17th, and he said the apartment may be ready by Tuesday the 18th but “not to hold (him) to that”. We had agreed I would call him that Tuesday morning; today. One of the shelter case managers has been in contact with the housing assistant as well, and the case manager was told the same thing.

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I did call and was told he wasn’t in today. I asked to speak to the supervisor. She told me and I quote, “We have no idea when the apartment will be ready. The housing assistant should have never told you it would be ready by Wednesday.” When I reminded her that it had been close to a month since I gave them the money she simply replied with, “Yup. Sometimes it takes more than a month. When the apartment is ready you will get a call to pick up the keys.”

It’s simply unacceptable that I as a homeless single mom, came up with that much money in such a short amount of time lest I lose the apartment and now I have to wait. My daughter goes back to school in less than a month. I wanted to transfer her to the school near the apartment. I don’t know if I should leave her in the school she’s currently enrolled in. If I register her in the new school and I’m still living in the shelter, she’ll have to be bussed. She was bussed last school year. She was a victim of bullies. I do not want to put her on the bus again. But I will be forced to if I’m not moved in before school starts. The bus and train fare in NYC is $2.75 for a one-way trip. I cannot afford 55 dollars a week to take her to school, but she has to attend because otherwise I run the risk of having CPS called on me for educational neglect.

All I want is to move. On August 24, 2015 it would have been a month since I gave them the 601 dollars. They have been telling me “soon, soon” and now this. I feel like the apartment is being held in front of me like a carrot. We’ve been homeless for so long. I have so many plans but I cannot move forward with any of them until I move. My daughter wants to move. She’s so excited about finally having her own room. Her birthday is coming up and this is will the first in our own apartment. Hopefully she can have her Sailor Moon-themed birthday party. This Christmas would be the first time she’ll have a tree. These are simple things but to us they mean so much. My five-year-old suggested we sneak into the apartment and just start living there and if anyone walks in we should freeze like statues.

If I haven’t heard anything about the apartment by September 1st, 2015 I’m going to reveal the name of the housing project, office telephone number and names of the people I’ve been speaking with. I’m tired of waiting and I have to do something for them to take me seriously. NYCHA  cannot jerk me or others around and think they can get away with it.

Deadlines Mean Nothing to NYCHA (UPDATE)

I am not your Teaching Moment

I’ve recently come across two well-meaning but horribly misguided posts concerning homeless people and I’d like to discuss them here. The first deals with a care package and the things it can contain. I’ll explain why some of the things inside aren’t a very good idea.

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“Blessing Bags” to keep in the car when you pass homeless people. Something special you can do with your children or grandchildren to teach them about caring/giving for those in need!
Gallon Size Ziplock bags
Chap stick
Packages of tissues
Travel size toothbrush and toothpaste
Travel size mouthwash
Comb
Soap
Hotel size shampoos
Trail mix
Granola bars
Fruit cups
Crackers
Pack of gum
Band aids
Coins or predetermined dollar amount, say 5.00 (could be used to make a phone call, or purchase a food item)
Hand wipes
You could also put in a warm pair of socks
A packet rain poncho
Tampons (for women)

The ideas could be endless!

Assemble all the items in the bags, and maybe throw in a note of encouragement. Seal the bags and stow in your car for a moment of providence…or….drop some off at a food shelter place.

The toiletries and socks are a great idea. Those are always needed. Feeling clean and warm is so important in feeling human. The menstrual products are a good idea too, although I would suggest asking the person you intend to give them to if they’d prefer pads. Foods like the ones in this list and shown in the above picture are good to donate to food shelters, but they should be avoided as hand outs because you never know what allergies a person may have. Sure, they could just say no thanks, but unfortunately a lot of people don’t take very kindly to a homeless person refusing help. Even if it could be something that could potentially kill them. Giving money, or if you feel weird about that, offering to buy the person some food is usually a better way to go.

I would rather not be used as a lesson in kindness for your children. I’m a person, not a teaching moment. It feels incredibly condescending to me. “Here’s this person that needs help, let me parade them in front of Jimmy so he can see just how kind I am? Aren’t I kind? Where is my kindness cookie?” It feels like you aren’t helping us because you want to, but rather because of how much you can pat yourself on the back afterwards. Which brings me to this post I found on Facebook. It’s a pretty long post and I’ll be addressing the points that I feel miss the mark, to put it kindly.

I spent Friday on the streets of Portland and learned so much. Here it is:

1. It’s not a big deal to hold a sign asking for money, because everyone ignores you. I found an unoccupied corner right off 405 and stood there for an hour holding a sign saying ‘Local business owner trying to understand our homeless problem. All funds to be donated’. Nobody made eye contact with me. They fiddled with the radio, texted, looked everywhere else. I did make $25.52 in that hour, thanks mostly to one woman that gave me $20. All the people that gave me money were women. I plan on donating $250 to Sisters Of The Road in honor of this experience.

To the people who stand out in whatever weather with their signs, it’s a big deal. Whether they’re ignored or not. Feeling ignored isn’t a very nice feeling especially when you’re in such a vulnerable position like asking for money from complete strangers. 

3. I saw a man washing his clothes in the Saturday Market fountains. He then laid them out to dry in the sun. They looked great! I was impressed.

You’d be surprised how crafty and resourceful homeless people become. 

4. I had some wonderful conversations with complete strangers. I wore my ‘Kindness Matters’ t-shirt and a woman commented that kindness is often mistaken for weakness and we had a deep 5 minute conversation on the philosophy of kindness on a street corner. I now also know everything about poodles, the breakdown of society in Somalia and the different types of immigrants (economic and political). These were deep, smart conversations.People are very lonely and just wanted someone to listen.

So then they’d become bit players in your pat-on-the-back story of kindness. She had a FIVE minute conversation but it was so deep, y’all.

5. It’s exhausting being homeless. My body hurts from walking and carrying a backpack. There’s nowhere comfy to just relax. By 4pm, I was exhausted and took a nap on a park bench. All of these years, I thought that the people sleeping on the sidewalk in the day time were just totally strung out druggies. I’m sure some are, but the people I met told me that they sleep during the day because it’s safer. They can’t rest as deeply at night and they are tired! After one day out there, I was grumpy, tired and dehydrated. It sucks! I can’t imagine the toll that a week out there would take on a body and spirit.

Oppression is not a costume. At the end of your day, you were able to go home and eat well, sleep in your bed and not worry if you’d eat the next day. Homeless people do not get that luxury. How incredibly generous of you to concede that not all homeless are “druggies”. So what, should those particular homeless people with drug addictions not be given the same consideration? This is why I’m wary of this post. When you so flippantly refer to people with an illness as “druggies”, you’re only adding to the stigma. 

7. Nobody tried to sell me drugs but 3 people asked me if I had some for sale.

Explain how and why this is relevant.

8. I fell in love with Portland in a whole new way. This city is alive and I felt alive in it. I saw a TV show taping, dancing in Directors Park, a dude beautifully playing a flute in front of Powells, three different music acts at the Bite, a miniature stonehenge made out of bananas, numerous history plaques, another band and the movie Grease on Pioneer Square. I walked by hundreds of people on their phones missing the whole thing.

 This sounds a lot like a platitude. There is no beauty in homelessness.

10. There are different groups of homeless. There are those interested in drugs down on the waterfront, there are those with mental illness wondering around everywhere, but most of those I met were having a crisis of spirit and trying to find themselves. There was an executive from Seattle whose life fell apart when his wife left him and he is trying to pick up the pieces. There were many people here from other cities because Portland is a great place to be homeless. I understand this after spending a day falling in love with the city too.

Drug addiction is a mental illness, dearie. “Portland is a great place to be homeless”, this is where I would flip my laptop over but I won’t because I can’t afford a new one. Listen, there is NOWHERE ON THIS EARTH where it is great to be homeless. There may be places where there is better access to resources and help, but that does not mean that it’s a great place to be homeless. You spent one day out in the city. You do not know anything about being homeless. You spoke to a few people, but you haven’t spent days starving, wearing the same clothes, hoping someone, just anyone will give you a few bucks for a cup of coffee. You know nothing, Renee Spears. 

11. What can we as a city do? Clearly we need to address the bigger issues of poverty, mental illness and addiction but we can do better right now. We need more public restrooms. There aren’t enough and they are too far apart. We need more water fountains. We need a public laundromat and bathing facility. We need a public place for people to come in from the elements and relax in safety. We need a place for people to store their belongings so they don’t have to carry them around all day, and it litters up our city.

Finally, something we can agree on. I’d also add that we need to talk about sexism, racism, bigotry against LGBT folks, especially LGBT youth who are disproportionately affected by homelessness.

13. I ended up going home in the early morning hours. My intention was to learn from the people there and I did that. I didn’t feel unsafe for one minute. I found the people kind and friendly. I wondered what would change if we all just opened our eyes to what is happening instead of ignoring it.

We are not your teaching moment. We are not your inspiration porn. We are not your feel good moment. We are people. It is incredibly condescending to think that you know anything about what it’s like to be homeless. Your social experiment has a lot in common with the social experiments of the woman who put on a fat suit to see what it was like experiencing fatphobia, John Howard Griffin putting on black face, non-Muslim women wearing hijab to “experience” anti-Muslim bigotry, men wearing skirts and heels to see what is like to be a woman and rich folks going on so-called Food Stamps diets. They’re offensive because however well-intention they may be intent isn’t magic. You all get to take off the fat suit, the hijab, the skirts; you get to go home to a warm bed and a stocked fridge. You don’t know what it’s like to live in the oppression you wear as costume because for you, it’s just that, something you can take off at the end of your experiment. For me and others, it’s our whole life.

I am not your Teaching Moment

“Just be positive”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told to “stay positive” I would have been able to leave the shelter a long time ago. I always get this when I express any feeling other than absolute fucking joy. Do people not understand that after being kicked so long it’s hard to just believe things will work?

When I went into the shelter almost five years ago, I was optimistic. I was on my own with a baby and scared. However, I just knew things would work out. I just had to believe and I was positive things would go well. After going back and forth from a hotel to the main office while they found a domestic violence shelter that would accept me, I was positive. Every day, several phone calls to different shelters, and I was there positively positive.

I’m placed in a domestic violence shelter but told it’s only a 4 month stay. If I’m not accepted into low-income housing, then I have to go back to the office and start over this time in a regular shelter. But I was positive. I would be placed somewhere.

I wasn’t. And so I had to take a two-hour train ride in the middle of Winter during a particularly cold day with a baby back to the office. Then wait and wait and wait for a new shelter. But it was OK. Things would work out. I was positive they would.

But then TJ got food poisoning from the lunches they served at the office. Things would be OK though. I just needed to remain positive. Hadn’t things worked out so far, albeit with a few hiccups?

I was finally placed, but I had to get there myself. The drivers were out and they didn’t know when they’d be back. If I wasn’t in the shelter in four hours I’d lose my placement. That was OK though. I was a little worried having to carry a suitcase, a stroller and a sleeping baby to the train which had no elevator at 11pm in NYC but I’d be OK. I was positive I would be.

The stroller got stuck on the platform. No one helped me. The train was coming. I missed it. I was still stuck, wanting to cry. But I wouldn’t. I would be OK. I just needed to remain positive.

I got lost on my way to the shelter in a strange neighborhood in NYC. But I would be OK.
I was in that shelter for two years. But I didn’t worry. I was tired and the word “positive” made my eye twitch but I still clung to it. If I lose this, I’ll lose everything. I was always hearing how hope is the last thing you lose. I didn’t want to lose hope. I had already lost so much.
I get an opportunity to leave the shelter. I was ecstatic. TJ could start kindergarten as a non-homeless kid. I could have peace of mind and go back to school. My mental health would improve drastically. I was excited! I rarely ever got excited about anything anymore. Positivity had worked.

Two months later we were back in the shelter.

More misery. More tears, more failure. But why? I had been so positive.

I realize this all may sound a lot like faith and isn’t that weird because I’m an atheist? But no, not really. I wasn’t praying to a god. I was just hoping that I’d finally catch a break. I was just hoping that once, just once, the system would help me. But the system isn’t there to help you. The system isn’t broken but it does break you. I had been broken.

So, I kept living and surviving like I always did. I had no other choice. But I no longer had any dreams about my career or schooling. I wasn’t fooling myself into thinking I’d get out of here soon.

So it’s more misery and suffering and failures.

Along the way though I’ve met some wonderful people in online spaces. They care about me and TJ. They’re affirming and gentle and loving. If I’m in a tough spot they rally around me and help. But I was hesitant to accept that at first. I didn’t believe I deserved it. Hadn’t I been suffering alone all this time? Why were these people here trying to help?

I’ve recently found an apartment and my friends helped me share my fundraiser for moving expenses. We reached our goal within a day. But the idea of my having an apartment; of finally leaving the shelter is scary beyond hell.

The apartment has been on my mind nonstop since I found out I was accepted. I go through feelings of happiness, to anxiety that it’s happening, to disbelieving it will. Then I remember that I just need to give them the money. I signed the paperwork already. Then I get this really calm feeling and think “what if this is the break you’ve been waiting for? What if this is it?”

Then I panic because I don’t how to live other than being scared and panicked. I don’t know how to live without feeling like I’m constantly on the edge of disaster. If it isn’t one crisis, it’s another. I don’t know how to relax.

I go on these emotional roller coasters and my friends let me vent and validate me. Then the well-meaning but misguided “positivity preachers” show up. They tell me to relax and calm down. I just need to be positive.

But positivity won’t make the anxiety go away. Positivity didn’t get me the apartment. Positivity didn’t get the money raised. Sometimes “be positive” just sounds like, “Shut up. You’re making me uncomfortable thinking about the hardships people face”. It feels like a silencing tactic.
I’ve found that the people who go on about positivity are either privileged people who’ve never experienced much oppression, or people who are like I once was. People who haven’t been kicked enough times. This is completely cynical on my part, but I do believe that they’ll eventually come to my realization that positivity is bullshit. Whatever good things I have haven’t happened because I was positive. They happened because the friends I have are kind people, and because I’m slowly learning to accept people’s affection and help. Positivity, in the sense that’s it’s some wish granter, hasn’t helped with that. That has been a lot of work on my part.

I’ll tell you though, one thing I am positive about is that I’m lucky to have these wonderful people in my life. I’ve survived this long and that’s a positive thing. TJ is thriving and that’s positive.

I am OK. I do worry. Sometimes the worry is justified, others it’s just my anxiety getting the best of me, but I need to be able to vent these feelings.

Whether things go smoothly or not has nothing to do with my thoughts. If I could so easily control outcomes just by being positive, I would have left the shelter long ago. Unfortunately platitudes don’t put bread on the table.

“Just be positive”

The Instability of Poverty

It terrifies me to think I will never get out of poverty. I don’t expect to be wealthy. But I would like to be able to provide for my child and myself without having to sometimes choose between one basic over another. It terrifies me to think Thinking Jr. will grow up still on welfare. I don’t want to be dependant on this system forever.
I don’t want to be in this shelter forever.
While I’m grateful that at least we are not on the streets, I would like some stability for my daughter. It also terrifies me that I’ve never known housing stability and that once I get into my own place, I could lose it at any minute.

That’s a major thought that’s always with me: The instability of poverty.

The Instability of Poverty