Sunday morning, I was browsing through The Denver Post, looking for sales and coupons when I came across an editorial that grabbed me and didn’t let go. “Trying to Live, Trying to Learn.” I read it with deep emotion and shock at the feelings of anxiety it raised in me. It may surprise some to know that I had been fighting against homelessness on a daily basis for the last 6 years. My every action had the soul purpose of providing a stable home, transportation and food for my young daughter. I still feel this struggle deep in my being even though I have good, stable employment for the last seven months. Still, I live in fear every day, that the rug will be ripped out from under me again.
The extended editorial focused on children “the invisible homeless” and the lives they live. It told the story of how the laws, the schools and social programs either completely ignore the needs of children and their families or “Band-aid” the problem. It defined the invisible homeless child as one that attends school, and does not wave signs on street corners. They are young children who want to play, learn, and wants their parent or parents to be happy and less stressed. The children feel the world sees them as rubbish. They hear the judgement of teachers on their appearance and behavior without attempting to understand the underlying causes. The children themselves, don’t understand nor are even aware how to control their own emotions because the stability of a home life is a fantasy that they can’t even share. It’s heart breaking.
The article shared statistics that help give meat to all human factor stories in hopes it won’t be dismissed as a “touchy feely” tear-jerker designed just to make some feel guilty and do something, or loudly protest the assumed lifestyles and declare the children as so much refuse of those choices. It ends with an uplifting story of a family who finally found a home in the last month, although they may need to forgo electricity and water to pay the rent, while the children are forced to change schools yet again.
I don’t have a criminal record and I only have one child, but I know the struggle. I still feel it even though different circumstances led to my battle. I was borderline for six years walking along on the precipice and nearly fell off more than once. I heard the noise of people passing judgement on me and felt the heartbreak of having to swallow my pride and ask for and take any help that was offered. I felt the wind rush by as I windmilled trying to fight the gravity well of social services, indifference and intolerance. Being broke in today’s political climate is painful in a way that it may never be able to be explained to those who’ve never truly been close enough to feel rock bottom.
What resonated with me in the story was the feelings of the children and how people acted towards them. I see similar things in my own daughter. We once lived in a spare bedroom of a friends and came close to sleeping in the car on more than one occasion. My daughter knows all too well what poverty is. She grew up watching me eat slowly and pass food from my plate to hers as she ate making sure she had enough. She witnessed me try to hold back an emotional break while working to help her understand something. She knows I never slept because I was always working hard to build a better life for us. But she also has lost some of the fun of being a child, and struggles with her own emotional control. She is nearly seven and takes heat from many sources for sucking her thumb. Her teachers have labeled her a trouble maker because she distracts easily, or wants to physically interact with her world. Although she is not actually behind in grade level, some of the problems she has with reading and writing are due to an eye injury she suffered and some due to a belief that she isn’t good “like other kids.” After one year in the public school system, she developed a poor view of her own self worth.
Although, I still poignantly feel my financial struggle as I drag myself, inch by inch, further from the precipice, I have a new battle. I still fear the rug being ripped from under me, but now I must fight to build my daughter up again. We are stable, and she is now able to have and do “stuff.” Her new girl scout troop is collecting donations for a social service we just graduated from a month ago. While the girls in her troop are taught what poverty is, my daughter struggles not to let on that she already knows.
It’s a strange middle ground to be in now. The nightmare is still not over but it is changing. My daughter is still invisible because of my continued fight. In my current situation, that is a good thing, but a year ago, it was terrifying. We were among the group of “first timers.” I’m happy to say we “made it out” mostly intact. There are still children on the battlefield though. This article focused on just a few of them and resonated with me, but this is not a call to action. This is just a reflection for me. I have no amazing words to share. I’m just feeling and sharing. Getting it out. What would happen if I had fallen? It’s terrifying. Homelessness is and has always been my second biggest fear since I was a kid. Those whom have never been down this low will never know, but hopefully someday, no child will ever have to be down so low. That’s all.