Homeless with Gratitude: Coming Out As Homeless

section 8

I get by with a lot of help from my friends.

Sam let me live in his garage when I was stuck in Lodi. Marty took me into his home when I was injured.

When I was mobile homeless, Jon was always good for a pit stop, a beer, a good dinner, and an occasional couch.

One time, I made a deal with Dick and Shelia to let me set up my computer (before laptops) in Dick’s art studio. I could work and live in their house during the day when they were at work. Except for a party or an invitation, we never actually saw each other for months.

Sophia gave up her bedroom so I wouldn’t be homeless.

So, yeah, I’ve gotten by with a lot of help from my friends. And in this series, you’ll see how they and others ganged up on me last summer and gave me a brand new attitude of gratitude.

Sophia and I had agreed I would move out when my subsidized housing came through. Although the Section 8 voucher was useless, I had qualified for a subsidized, one-bedroom apartment in a building run by the USDA.

I’d been declared eligible for the apartment, effective Sept. 15, 2015. But there was a waiting list. I was told I should get an apartment by Sept. 15, 2018.

Yeah, right.

In the spring of 2018, after months of badgering, I finally wheedled a building official into telling me where I was on the waiting list.

#19.

At that rate, I could die before I got housed. I could see the shadowed worry in Sophia’s eyes when I told her my number.

Even though we’d agreed I could stay until Sept. 2018, I decided I’d imposed on this dear lady long enough. I wanted to leave while we were still friends and didn’t want her to regret her kindness.

I convinced Sophia that it was okay that I was going mobile. She was not to feel guilty. She had given me two wonderful years of respite. But now, I was choosing to leave with eternal gratitude for what she had done for me.

In the two years I lived in her house, I’d managed to build upon a minor reputation as a local freelance writer/photographer.

I was already known for my arts & entertainment writing, doing PR for a new nonprofit, photographing events and concerts – and occasionally dropping provocative op-eds on the editorial page.

An established presence on Facebook, I was also known for my eclectic postings and videos. I began expressing my bitter opinion about the utter lack of affordable housing situation and the cruel joke of Section 8.

(Out of the last round of 50 Section 8 vouchers, only two applicants found housing.)

I pointed out that I never missed a rent payment, have a credit score over 800, have no criminal record, possess a world-class education, am not an alcoholic/addict, have a Social Security-based income, and am an active member of my community with stellar references. The only thing I didn’t have was a steady job.

A former colleague kept encouraging me to write an op-ed about my dilemma. I didn’t want to do it. Finally, however, I wrote an anonymous piece because I didn’t want it to be about me. It was to be about all the people being forced into homelessness by no damn housing.

The newspaper wouldn’t run it without my name. I considered abandoning it, but finally I got emotionally naked and wrote Give Us Shelter, Please. (Gimme Shelter was too aggressive I thought.)

I railed against the lack of affordable housing to qualified renters. I explained I’d given up on the open market. Now it was all about who you know. Like the best jobs, the best housing is rarely advertised. Networking is the name of game. (I wish I had believed that when I was in Hollywood.)

Although it was not my intent, predictably, I got offers. Curiously, they all were for trailers.

Even people without trailers were telling me to rent or buy a trailer. Trailers were apparently the go-to alternative to affordable housing. Of course, living in a trailer (outside of a trailer park) is mostly illegal in California.

Nevertheless, I did take up an offer from some acquaintances in a Friday drinking group I hung out with. I didn’t really know Duncan and Laura very well, but they seemed like very nice, extremely good-looking people. Seriously, they look like movie stars.

Duncan and Laura offered to let me live in their pop-up travel trailer on their 14-acre property for a couple of weeks while I tried to find a permanent place. They made that offer before my rant was published. I trusted that. They made the offer because they knew me. I wasn’t just somebody they’d read about in the paper.

In the searing heat of the summer of 2018, I moved into their lightweight travel trailer, leaving most of my stuff in storage. It was cool. I felt like I was on vacation.

I knew nothing about trailer life. Duncan patiently taught me the basics. Sometimes he would have to teach me several times, but he was always kind about it.

“It’s not as glamorous as living on a houseboat,” he joked, “but it’s not as much work either.”

Living in a trailer was a challenge, but I was just happy to be there.

After a few weeks, Duncan came by the trailer one balmy evening as I was working on my computer.

“Laura and I were talking last night,” he said. “We like you. You’re welcome to stay here – but you can’t stay in that trailer. You’ll freeze to death. If you can get your own all-season trailer, you’re welcome to stay here as long as you want.”

Wow. That was an offer I didn’t want to refuse. But where the hell was I going to get a trailer?

In part three, my search for a trailer changes my life. Click here to read part one in this series.


Tom Durkin

Tom Durkin

     

Tom Durkin is an award-winning freelance writer and photographer. He has two degrees with honors from UCLA. He has been episodically homeless since 1979. At age 40, he was diagnosed as bipolar with three personality disorders, childhood PTSD and ADHD. "Well, that explained a lot," he laughs. Presently, at 71, he lives illegally and happily below the radar in a trailer on some friends' wildland property in the Sierra Nevada Foothills.

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