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According to an email I received yesterday from Vanguard The longest recession since the Great Depression is likely over based on the first rise in real gross domestic product (GDP) in more than a year.”  Great!  So where do I go to report to work on Monday? 

Then there’s the small print – income is flat, personal spending has dropped, consumer confidence falters, new homes sales dip….somehow I think I’ll be blogging about this recession for a while longer.

So far, in the months of searching there’s been one job that I was qualified for in my field.  It seemed geared for someone of my level of experience and skill and I thought the interview went well but in the end the job went to an entry-level person (and at that point I found out that it paid an entry-level salary- approximately $50,000 less than my last job).  Granted the slow to appear unemployment benefits are more of a pay cut but even so that job would have been an enormous step backwards. 

Being unemployed gives one time to think about retooling, considering other career paths, but the incentive isn’t there when there don’t seem to be jobs in other fields either.  So while I contemplate various work at home and part-time options (should I register to be a process-server?  finish bartending school and become a bartender? answer surveys online for *cash*? sell Avon?) and continue to look for a ‘real’ job, I also mull over other money-raising options beyond eBay. 

Here’s one that someone out there might have some ideas about.  I have a judgement against my former renter/squatter for about $10,000.  But he’s disappeared and I don’t have a social security number. Collection companies have not been willing to take on the job of trying to collect.  It’s a small sum (for them) and I’m not likely to provide repeat business.  If anyone has suggestions on how to get some of the money he owes me I’d like to hear them!


We are an acquisitive culture.  The American Dream is all about what you can get and that’s certainly been obvious in the past few decades with the McMansion neighborhoods that have sprouted throughout the suburbs and all the Hummers and other ostentatious vehicles on the streets.  I’ll admit to buying into it somewhat myself- when we made our move to the Best Place to Live we went from a 3-bedroom/2-bath condo to a 5-bedroom/3.5 bath house.  Of course there are 5 of us so it seemed less an extravagance than just moving up to something comfortable.  But then there were so many more rooms to furnish and a patio and yard that cried out for all those outdoor living sets and yard tools!  Hey- the more space you have, the more things you need! 

That’s all in the past now.  Over the last 7 months – since March when the house was repossessed- we have been shedding possessions, simplifying our lives and lessening the burden.  Or so I tell myself.  What have we lost?

Well, the house obviously.  And my life’s savings including retirement plans that were cashed out at the height of the crisis.  Our credit rating.  All of our furniture except for the 2 Tibetan chests that I brought back from China and the dresser that my sister painted for my first daughter.  Most of our library of over 1,000 books.  All large toys and anything relating to yard work or ‘outdoor living ‘(except the camping gear, naturally).  Lots of other household goods (what’s left is in a storage compartment).  Two of our toy rat terriers.  I knew we would have a hard time living on the streets with 4 dogs so we found good homes for 2 of them.  Health insurance.  Our sense of security and a good deal of our self-confidence and self-esteem.  Privacy- impossible when living in a 26-foot trailer with 4 other people.  Friends.  Our church- this was more of a coincidence as there just happened to be a bit of a shake up in leadership with which I strongly disagreed at the same time we moved onto the street. We no longer feel welcome at that church and sadly still remain unchurched. So it was a loss of my spiritual mentor and friendships.  Income.  Space. Patience and my sense of humor. Faith.

What have we kept?  Two of our dogs.  Some special friends. Our mini-van (paid off, insured, registered, and thanks to a friend has had a recent oil change).  The most important possessions- letters my mom wrote me over the course of my life, photographs, many of our books, things that relate to the children’s heritage, the family bible, camping supplies, a few household/kitchen implements that are stored in the event we ever have a real kitchen with counterspace, some clothing, a portable dvd player, my laptop computer and cell phone (our lifelines) and an hp all in one printer.  Our YMCA membership (now discounted). A sense of determination. My sanity. Our dignity.

What have we gained?  Our trailer- a snug secure roof over our head (the floor is a little less reliable we’re finding), complete with AC, a fridge, cooking facilities and a private bathroom.  Our little cat.  Cynicism.  Anger.  Frustration. Sleepless nights.  Anxiety.  High blood pressure. Support- both emotional and practical- from people we have never met in person.  That’s the best thing.

cat in window

I mentioned we are part of history- granted it would be nice to be on the winning side of this historical snapshot- maybe one of those bankers who, even post-bailout, get enormous bonuses- instead of the losing side, but regardless I find it an interesting position to be in.  Mind you it might be interesting because it still doesn’t feel entirely real- frequently I feel more like an observer than a participant.  As a middle-aged, middle class professional with a master’s degree, I just don’t fit the homeless demographic.

Nevertheless, the face of homelessness has changed over the past couple years.  No longer can homelessness be characterized by the older unemployed man, down on his luck, perhaps afflicted by chronic medical conditions or addictions.  According to the National Center on Family Homelessness one in 50 children in America experience homelessness each year. That’s over 1.5 million children.  

Among industrialized nations, the United States has the largest number of homeless women and children.  Not since the Great Depression have so many families been without homes.  National Center on Family Homelessness.

And if that isn’t history, I don’t know what is. 

The majority of homeless families- and we came into contact with several this summer, easily differentiated from true campers as they, like us, kept coming back to the park, week after week- are headed by single women of color who lack a higher education and in many cases have a history of domestic violence in their past.  Over 92% of homeless mothers have experienced severe physical and/or sexual abuse during their lifetime.  Wow.

 But I think as a homeless subset middle class professionals are increasingly becoming noticeable and noticed as evidenced by stories on the downfalls of former professionals such as “Mom forced to live in car with dogs” and ‘Ranks of homelessness swell as middle class teeters.”  Stories on what many social service providers are calling the newly homeless – people who would never be destitute, without a place to live, if the national economy were not collapsing.

 In some ways it’s reassuring – it’s not me, it’s the economy, and I’m not alone in my situation.  But that’s a very superficial reassurance when you have four school-aged children in the box car with you.

Two years ago we were living in Mountain Time Zone.  We’d followed some friends there in search of a better life.  It was, after all, touted as ‘the Best Place to Live’ and the cost of living was lower than in the state we’d left.  But it wasn’t a good fit for us.  It was the best place to live for folks who fit the existing demographics- white, married, 2.5 kids, conservative- and those folks jealously guarded their best place against any newcomers whose family didn’t resemble theirs.  An older single mom with a multi-cultural family wasn’t exactly welcomed. The spaces were wide open, the minds narrow and the hearts closed.  And the thin mountain air didn’t suit my son whose early heart issues had left his lungs somewhat compromised. 

So we turned around last year and headed west, back to the Pacific Time Zone and both a lower altitude and a more open attitude.  And in doing so we lost our home.  We, or rather I, lost our home because I was careless, disingenuous and stretched too thin.  With the housing market depressed I opted to leave our house in the hands of a renter, a pious church-going fellow, recommended by a friend.  I was frankly glad to find an easy out- I was focused on moving the family and menagerie, and settling into a new job, and the thought of dealing with realtors and staging and showing in a down market while packing and moving was daunting.  I figured the rent would pay the mortgage and my income would pay our rent in our new city and we would wait to sell until the market had recovered.

Well, this story is complicated and unpleasant to recall and recount.  Suffice it to say the renter did not pay rent, apparently never had any intention of paying rent, and managed to prolong the complicated legal process necessary to evict him to such an extent that the bank stepped in and took the house. 

Since we were now renting we lost our house without becoming homeless.  Nevertheless it was a real body blow.  My entire life’s savings had gone into that house, along with a lot of hopes and dreams.  This sort of loss can derail a life and I found it hard to bounce right back.  On top of that were work worries- my firm had gone through two rounds of lay-offs and by the start of summer it was apparent that another one was on the way.  We did support work for developments – permits and such- and too many of our jobs were being mothballed or cancelled as developers opted out of projects.   In July the boom was lowered and I was laid off.  Our landlord quickly evicted us and having spent much of my savings on legal costs and flying back and forth to deal with our house situation, we found ourselves out of a home and out of funds as well. 

We sold nearly everything and I filed for unemployment benefits. For two months we lived in a couple of tents at local state parks, with the occasional weekend break in a motel.  After 45 days I received my severance pay and purchased our travel trailer.  Due to a series of snafus and an overloaded unemployment system we haven’t actually received any benefits yet but I’m told ‘the check is in the mail’.  We’ve been relying on helpf from family and friends and selling things on eBay. Anyway, that’s the background- how we got here.

We’re the Box Car Kids.  Remember them?  Four spunky, resourceful orphaned kids and their dog living in an abandoned train boxcar in the woods?  The first book was published in 1924. Fast forward nearly 100 years and that’s us.  Only we don’t live in an abandoned train car; we live in a 26-foot travel trailer- Mom, 4 kids, 2 dogs and a cat.  We’re part of history – just another family touched (if you call being drop-kicked into an abyss being touched) by the Great Recession of the 21st Century.  I’m unemployed – laid off this summer as part of an ‘overhead reduction’ – and some people (the school system for instance) consider us homeless.  I prefer ‘alternatively housed.’  Homeless was the 2 months this summer that we spent living in a tent in various parks and campgrounds.  This is our story.

Box Car Kids

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