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Thanks for all the comments and good ideas!  Our summer plans are slowly coming together and I’m using several of your ideas!  We signed up for the kid’s free bowling – there’s a bowling alley not to far from us that is participating.  I’m applying for a YMCA campership for my youngest 2 (both 7); and my middle daughter (9 year old) has received invitations from friends in Virginia and Seattle and I can use  my soon to expire frequent flyer miles to send her to visit for several weeks.  My oldest is playing summer league basketball and is old enough (12) to be on her own for a bit if she needs to be.  We are continuing to explore options locally and I’m continuing to apply for jobs (2 more this week- one at a Naval Base as an environmental technician and one as a forest ranger).

Someone asked if I’d let Tricia or Ben babysit – and the answer is no, nor would the kids be comfortable with that.  Tricia is disabled – in fact she’s going to have a hip replacement this summer now that her medicare insurance has come through, and both Ben and Tricia have habits that undoubtedly help them get through life (smoking, drinking and possible other substance use) but that I don’t want around the kids.

Update – As a commentor mentioned the shoe rental isn’t included in the kids bowl free, nor are adults (although for $24 you can add adults to the bowl free deal for the summer).  Shoes are $4 per person.  We signed up and it might be something we do for a special treat. 

Heard from the Y – there are no scholarships available that would help us – too many people in the same situation! Camp for 2 kids would be $900 a month with a scholarship- half my monthly income, so that is out.

Click for post soundtrack – Lean On Me

When faced with stress or adversity, the experts tell us it behooves us to have a ‘strong support network’.   Stress, especially long-term stress, is debilitating.  It causes problems- physical health problems and mental health problems.  Media outlets are full of articles on the recession related mental health crisis – reporting that more people are seeking help from mental health professionals, the rise in prescriptions of anti-depressants, and at the extreme end, individuals beset by helpless feelings committing suicide.  It’s good to have a loving spouse, caring family, supportive friends, or a faith community to turn to when you lose your job or home.  People who do, we are told, are less likely to succumb to depression or lose hope.

Losing first our home and savings, and then my job, has been very stressful.  The first two months of being homeless were an adrenalized stress- I felt hyped up with anxiety and fear while we lived in tents.  I didn’t feel we were safe and my unemployment checks were tied up in a paperwork snafu.  Since acquiring and moving into our trailer my stress has morphed into a more steady and continuous pressure.  The uncertainty of our future weighs on me and after searching steadily for a new job without success, I doubt my ability to greatly influence that future. 

Where is our support network?  Well, it’s largely internet-based and I would characterize it as made of up people who know of me, as opposed to knowing me. And I appreciate every one of our cyberspace supporters! We do have caring family who offer what help they can but they live far from us and are themselves limited by the economy.  Locally what I perceived of as friendships with people from work and church have turned out to be more a matter of ‘club’ membership- and we don’t belong to those clubs anymore.  It appears I have a regrettable tendency to mistake friendly behavior for friendship!  I am a fiercely passionate and loyal friend and unreasonably expect an equivalent commitment from the people I befriend.  A commitment they might not want or find possible to make.  It is I expect, the reason I never married.  Too high expectations.   So now I draw what solace I can from my animals- always loving and sympathetic- and nature, cheap wine, and intermittent contacts with friendly people.  I guess one of the things I miss is feeling like I can be a friend- when people do contact us it’s in the spirit of charity, not because they like us or want to spend time with us.

I have always been a fairly resilient person – perhaps not overly strong or brave but not weak or fearful either.  I try to do what needs to be done.  As a single mom by choice I’m used to relying on myself and I’ve prided myself on my ability to be self-sufficient.  Like my own mother in times of crisis I try to maintain a sense of humor.  Perhaps it’s a bit darker than most people’s but I still find things to laugh about.  But this unrelenting stress has worn down my resiliency and lately I find myself feeling more fragile and less capable. It’s hard to be alone in this. I soldier on, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. But I have no sense of where we are going anymore.

I wish I had someone to lean on.  A shoulder to cry on, a chest to rest against, an embrace in which to find comfort.

Merry Christmas and many thanks to all who have helped to make our holiday a merry one!  We feel very cared for this holiday season with lots of nice gifts for the children, boxes of canned food and gift cards for mom.  And a very generous donation from an anonymous santa that allowed me to replace my dead laptop.  We are grateful, and a little overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness.  I am taking a mental break from the stress of job hunting and worries about our future and just enjoying the time with the kids and the fun they are having!

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.