September172012

Introspective Bullshit About 105 Days

No shit? We’ve really been doing this for 105 days now. It feels so much shorter and so much longer at the same time. To those of you who have been here since the beginning I don’t know how you can even begin to put up with me but I appreciate you doing so more than I could ever say. 




A lot has happened in the past 105 days. It’s easy to forget those first few days that were so tumultuous. I don’t know what the heck I was thinking trying to go through the women’s shelter originally. That place was dirty and terrifying. It was so hard that first day when I thought I was going to be stuck sleeping outside by myself. I was so thankful to find a somewhat more stable organization in the youth program. Though sometimes I forget how bad that first shelter was.





I forget how hard this was on me at first; how tired and sore I was. Having to carry a heavy backpack all day, having to be on my feet twelve hours a day; it was almost traumatizing to my body and my spirit. Eventually both became conditioned to this lifestyle though, and now I think little of it. 




I really wanted to  keep Spencer with me but I see now that it would have never worked. It would have made it impossible to do a lot of things that I need to do, especially now that he’s gotten so big. Spencer never would have been able to tolerate being a “street cat”. He’s been much too spoiled his whole life. 



I do miss having him with me. I miss having him sleep on my side and watch Disney movies with me. I know this was the best decision though because sometimes you have to make difficult decisions for what’s best. Spencer is in an excellent foster home now. I get to see him any time I want and he’s happy and healthy. I couldn’t ask for anything more. I am so lucky I have such awesome friends like I do that were able to just take him in. I would have slept outside before I gave Spencer away. 




I feel like I’ve changed a lot in the past hundred days. At first I was ashamed of being homeless. I wouldn’t sit on the side walk and I tried to pretend I carried my backpack for school purposes. This didn’t last long at all. I never realized how absolutely exhausting being homeless is. You’re on your feet twelve hours a day. It doesn’t matter if you’re sick or tired or about to drop dead. If you have to throw up you have to throw up on the side of the road. If you need to rest all you can do is sit on the ground. You have to carry everything you own on you. After awhile you just give up on not appearing homeless. 



At first I wouldn’t tell my friends I was homeless. I was afraid of being pitied. I didn’t want to lose these friendships. More and more I’ve been telling people and it has helped me realize who my real friends and family are. I worried for a long time that my friends that read this blog might be ashamed of me and the things I have done since being homeless. If they have felt that way they’ve never showed it. 



Instead when I was arrested my friend responded by showing me a picture of what she was wearing when she was arrested. They didn’t comment when I made questionable decisions for the sake of friendships with street kids. When I ran out of money I was afraid they’d judge me for frivolous spending but instead they sent money. Never once have I been asked to justify a single decision I’ve made, even when I put myself at great risk.



I think the worst decision I’ve made so far was to hold needles and buy drugs for my friend. I ended up getting pricked by one of her needles and will need to be tested for Hep C and HIV again in three and six months. At the time I don’t think I realized that I could be stopped and searched by the police at any time. If this had happened the consequences for doing such a thing could have been much more serve than I could imagine. On top of that I was enabling the drug use. At the time I thought I was being a good friend when in fact I was quite the opposite. 



I think the most tangible change in me has been the issue of theft. In the earlier entries of the blog I refused to allow people to steal with me present. I would get to my stomach at the very idea and insist they let me buy whatever they wanted rather than them stealing it. The theft started out of necessity. We ran out of food stamps. I needed to eat. The food at the day programs isn’t always edible and they require going there to eat at the precise hours they are serving, which isn’t always doable when you’re out doing whatever it is you do during the day. 



At that time the day program refused to give us food gift cards under the assumption that they would be sold. This left us with little option besides stealing. Once I learned I could get stuff for free it spiraled along from there. It’s addicting. Sometimes if I walk in a store I want to steal something just for the hell of it, or to get back at Republicans. At the same time I hate it because I sincerely fear being arrested again. When I steal I get sick to my stomach. I hate it. 




I talked to my case manager about this and I really think if they would have helped me when I ran out of food stamps I wouldn’t have developed this problem. He told me they wouldn’t help me because I was with Kitten Lady so much they thought I’d sell them. “She has a history of that after all,” he told me. 

"But I don’t."

"I know, but you guys were so intertwined the association was there." 

"You guys should have had more faith in me than that." 

"I agree."



Regardless, the damage is done. So that I could eat I learned how to steal. Because I learned how to steal I started stealing more. Because I started stealing more I got cocky. Because I got cocky I got arrested. 



In all honesty it doesn’t really matter how I ended up started on stealing. I need to be responsible for my own actions. It’s not something I feel guilty about nor do I feel I’m doing something immoral. I don’t understand why I should pay billion dollar corporations what little money I have for something with a 500% mark up. I think the whole idea of having to pay them so they can get their next mansion is immoral. However, stealing is not worth risking being arrested. It’s going to be my first habit on a long list to be broken when it no longer is a necessity. 



Being homeless I picked up a lot of bad habits I never had before. Of course there is the stealing. However, I also do things like litter, smoke, talk in slang terms I never used before, use improper grammar (oh my!), go out without putting effort in my appearance, losing things…the list goes on. Sure, not all of these are serious. God forbid, I stop having nightmares about comma slices! Yet, these were things that are so unlike who I was before. I hardly if ever littered and I would have died if I heard how I talk now. Grammar was important to me. So was being organized and timely. 



Picking up smoking again was just a matter of being around such a stressful environment all the time. I picked it back up when I was in Alabama dealing with my father’s drama. I always say, something will kill me before the cigarettes do, but now that a friend I grew up with is fighting lung cancer I don’t feel that way anymore. And the horrible eating habits. God. Being homeless and only being fed carbs has killed my jean size!




The past 105 days have been really hard. It hasn’t been “rock bottom”. It hasn’t been the absolute worse phase of my life. It hasn’t been the end of the world but it has been hard. There have been times where I’ve worried I’m losing myself in all of this. I don’t think I have though. Maybe some things about myself have changed and I’ve picked up some bad habits but I think overall the changes in my life have been good. 




I’m a lot less focused on physical appearances now. I’ve spent a large part of my time with someone who walks around in public wearing a face mask for Christ sake! I find it a lot easier to look past someone’s outside appearances and get to know them based on things much more important. I’m not talking just about pretty faces. I’m talking about sitting down and hearing someone’s story and not judging them by their struggles. I thought I did this previous to  my current situation but I didn’t really. I judged people who dropped out of high school. I wouldn’t touch a drug addict with a ten foot pole. If you didn’t value your education you were wasting your life. I’m glad I’ve been able to see past these preconceived notations now.




I think I’ve also developed slightly more confidence in the past 100 days. I no longer care what people think about me. I haven’t been afraid of speaking my mind because what do I have to lose? I also have had NO privacy. I never have my own space. To top it off, I have even less privacy than most homeless kids because I have this blog. 




My mission was to give an honest representation of what it was like to be homeless. This meant no omitting details, ever. I spared myself no shame. Trust me, I was not excited about writing my shitting on the side of the road experience. I’ve tried to tell you the things I’ve been thinking even when I didn’t want to share them. Trust me, that isn’t always easy. It’s not just strangers that read this. My friends read this religiously and you better believe they aren’t afraid to tell me what they think of my adventures! 




Still, this blog has helped to keep me sane. I don’t think I could have survived the last 105 days without it. It has given me an outlet. Knowing that people have been reading has kept me going when I have wanted to give up. I couldn’t just give in to everything around me because then what would I have told you? 




I’ve changed a lot. I’ve grown a lot. I’ve learned a lot. Now I have a lot of big news for you. 




I think at this point my homeless phase is almost finished. While I was working on this very post I received a call from my aunt. She is going to loan me the $735 to get back into school. This means I now meet the qualifications to get into housing. This means in exactly a week instead of sitting in Whole Foods I’ll be sitting in my dearly missed classrooms. This means I’ll have financial aid again. This is almost over. I get to go back to my home, my school, my family. I have never been more thankful for anything in my life. 



September152012

Day One Hundred and Five

     ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

In the morning I straighten my hair for the first time in God only knows how long. I look in the mirror and groan at myself. I look like shit but I’ll fix myself up the rest of the way once I get to the day program. I’m going to go to the TJ Max interview and I’m going to rock it. I need to start finding a way to get some income. Thing is with this job I honestly don’t care if I get it or not. I just want to start trying.

Once I get to #1 I change into a skirt and my brown boots. It’s not what I would normally wear to an interview but it’s all I’ve got. I spend fifteen minutes in the bathroom trying desperately to cover up blemishes and the bags under my eyes. I update my resume one last time and print out the application to attach to it. A lot of the kids are intending on going to this interview but for whatever reason I’m the one that catches the attention. They joke with me and allow me to stay late to get ready. I walk there by myself and see Moby walking out as I go in. He says it was quick and painless and they’ll call people they intend to hire on the 21st. “It’s all customer service questions,” he tells me, “You’ll be fine.”

I’m taken back almost immediately for the interview. I haven’t worn heels in so long that I feel like I’m the little mermaid in the original fairytale, where when she gets legs every step feels like walking on knives. I smile anyways. I tell him I was referred by the youth program as this is supposed to give us an upper hand. The interview takes about five minutes. When it’s over I sit down and pry off my boots and walk back to the day program bare foot.

I ask the receptionist if I can be let upstairs to get my shoes from Bernard’s office. She calls but he doesn’t answer because he’s in an interview. I tell her to call another case manager and this continues on until I throw a tizzy fit and a staff goes up to get the director of case managers to open my locker for me. Success. :)

I go to the library until 1pm. I go back to the day program to talk to Bernard about this whole school thing. I have to make him understand that the school is my home. I need to get back there. He is pretty much useless. I roll my eyes and decide to try and call the dean on campus. I’m surprised when I get through. It’s a Friday after all. As soon as I state my name he warms up to me, he wants me back at school, particularly on the paper. He tells me to email the student accounts and CC him into it. I draft the email and have Bernard check it before I send it to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

After I send it I’m not ready to sit still on this so I call student accounts and argue with her for twenty-five minutes. I get her to tell me who it is in charge of the committee that decides which students can be refunded. I’m in luck. I know the lady in charge. I forward my email to her and leave her a message. By the time I’m done with all this I’m drained and my head hurts. I walk out and see Houdini sitting on a bench outside of the day room.

"What are you upset about now?" He asks me.

"I just want to go back to school. I would do anything to just get back into school."

In between nodding off he tells me I should try the #2 education program or start selling dope, see which one can help me. Brilliant.

I decide I need out of downtown and I need groceries so I take the max to Gateway to get groceries at Winco. Once I’m done I take the max down to Whole Foods where I wait for shelter to open. In shelter I heat up a tamale for what may just well be my best dinner in 105 days.  I sit with Yougio and another one of the guys. We go through the house agreements editing them to present our proposed changes for the next house meeting. I realize I forgot to get my sleeping meds refilled so I take three Clondine to try and help me sleep. This works and I’m out fairly quickly.

—mm

11AM

Thank You Captain Obvious

Yesteday morning the following article was on my Facebook newsfeed:

http://www.registerguard.com/web/news/28745912-57/fluoride-portland-public-fluoridation-vote.html.csp

A similar article was on the front page of The Oregonian. The overwhelming response from Portland natives? Well duh. (At least the ones I know).

I’ve always kind of figured the corrupt and violent police officers that roam Portland were old news to rest of the world. We make national headlines about it on a regular basis. The list of people Portland police have murdered for little to no reason only seems to continually grow more. The list of injuries is even longer. I will never forget trying to get to school the day they shut down the Occupy Portland movement. It took my bus over an hour just to drive through downtown. (Normally it takes like ten minutes.) Why? Well mainly this:

The thing is Occupy Portland was a peaceful movement. I know; I covered it for my newspaper. I walked through the protest on a fairly regular basis and never once felt unsafe or threatened. I considered sleeping out in the protest more than once just to experience it first hand. (The reason I never did was due to health concerns as I was preparing for surgery at this time.) When the police came out to shut it down they came out in armored cars and full riot gear. To me this seemed completely unnecessary. Occupiers were not hurting anyone.  I wasn’t even all that sympathetic to the movement. I agreed with it but I didn’t think they were going about it the right way. I felt they recognized the problem but offered no solutions and “occupying” the park didn’t seem like it would accomplish anything to me besides burdening tax payers with having to renovate the park once they were gone. Thus I was kind of apathetic on the whole thing being shut down. That is until I saw how they intended to go about cleaning out the park. 

Watching them drive by on the bus was both exciting and terrifying. It was hard to believe it was real; it was too much like a movie. I was excited to be caught up in this moment of history but at the same time the police made me feel more unsafe than the Occupiers ever did. Seeing military vehicles with what looked like GI Joes riding on them was scary. I wouldn’t even stay in downtown for fear of being mistaken for a protester and getting hurt or arrested. 

This image made national headlines last year during the Occupy protests. I feel like it requires little comment. It just speaks for itself, especially the woman standing right next to the girl being pepper sprayed holding up a peace sign. To me the protesters are not the ones who look dangerous in this image. 

Portland has a bunch of rent a cops that ride their bikes around the city wearing yellow and black. I call them the bumble bees. They are called the “clean and safe” police but in reality their whole job is to shuffle homeless people around. The only other purpose is to just make sure the police have their presence felt in downtown. I resent this. 

I could list endless news stories about police brutality in Portland but I don’t think that would make for an interesting blog post. You can easily find that information on your own. Instead I’m going to tell you how this police brutality affects me, the rest of Portland and everyone as a whole. 

Two Christmases ago I wasn’t homeless. I lived right behind a Kmart in a two bedroom apartment. To get to the Kmart I had to walk through a little back alley in Oregon City. Oregon City is a fairly safe community so it rarely if ever bothered me. That year I had to buy my roommates something for Christmas that I didn’t want them to see. I hadn’t had an opportunity to sneak away to get it yet so I decided to wait until they had gone to bed one night to walk to Kmart to get it. In the parking lot was a cop car. I didn’t think much of it, just noticed it. 

On my walk home a man drove up to me in a car then proceeded to get out of his car next to me. In a back alley at two in the morning you better believe it scared me. Clutching my pepper spray I ran to the cop car as fast as my stubby legs would carry me. The police officer said he would just drive me home to make sure I arrived at my door safely. He had to run a background check on me to get the ride. “I have to make sure you’re not a serial killer,” he told me. 

When he started driving I asked, “So I guess I’m not a serial killer?”

"Well if you have you haven’t been caught yet." 

I personally felt safe in the back of that police car. The security guards at my school would walk me home at night because I lived in an apartment right behind the campus. I trusted the police officers and security guards to keep me safe despite the fact that they were armed and could easily over power me when left alone in a back alley with me. 

I wasn’t homeless then.

Today I’d rather take that guy getting out of his car in an alley over a police officer. Once you’re homeless you aren’t even a person to the police anymore. You are trash that needs to be cleaned up and thrown away. Our lives are disposable. And I’m lucky because I’m white. If I were black I’d really be screwed. Portland is one of the most racist liberal places I’ve seen.

Every time Houdini is arrested the cops beat him. It never fails. One of the times he was arrested they beat him so badly they had to drop their charges against him. That kid is paranoid more than anyone I know so he is actually more complaint and toes the line more than I even do. (Despite of course, the drugs he has been addicted to since he was fourteen but that’s a different issue.) Yet, even when I’m the one stealing things and being naughty he’s the one that’s accused. Why? He’s black. And that is honest to God the only reason. We run into this often and it never fails to piss me off. Yes, he does do scandalous shit sometimes but he’s not nearly as bad as he gets treated.

My only time running into a campus security guard was on Day 28 when I attempted to go to the financial aid office to see about getting back in school.  The campus was closed but as I was trying to get information off the door on when it would be open again a campus security guard came and hassled me in a way I had never been bothered on campus before. I didn’t look as neat and tidy as I used to. I wasn’t clean cut and making straight A’s but I was still the same person and I had every right to be on public property regardless of whether or not I’m homeless.

When Jesus had his fake gun that he made the cops were called on him constantly. It was a legit concern from case managers that if he continued to keep his prop the police officers would shoot him. I personally was actually terrified of such a thing happening. One of the times when the cops got called on us they bullied Vampire Girl. They called her a brat then threw her background check in her face saying, “Well obviously you’ve had a horrible life.” This led me to call the police department and file a complaint immediately.

Police frequently drive by shelter as we are waiting to get in. It’s crushing to watch them stop and search street kids just because they can. I’m stopped once a week just to have them run my name through the system, without ever committing a crime. I never even got detention in school but now I run into cops almost daily. All because of where I sleep. This bothers me. 

The purpose of any police force anywhere is to protect and serve the community. Portland Police forgot this a long time ago. They forgot who pays their salary with tax money. They continue to strip people of their rights, their dignity, even their lives.

This has to stop. And maybe Portland residents need to be standing up against this more and more often. Because what happens if the police decide they no longer want to just target the homeless and the mentally ill? What if they want to target you even though you are perfectly stable, living in a house? What if they decide they don’t like your political party or your voting record? Or maybe they just don’t like your eye color? The more people sit back and allow them to strip the rights of the homeless, mentally ill or marginilized community they are making it all the more easy for the police to continue moving on to the rights and safety of others.

That’s why I’m proud of our federal government for finally blowing a whistle to something that has gone on for much too long. The abuses of power must end now. An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

—mm

September142012

Day One Hundred and Four

    ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

It’s a really big day for me. It’s my first time returning to my beloved college campus. My first home in Oregon; my first family. I don’t know how the day will play out but I can’t help but get my hopes up. If I could just get back into school all of this would be over. I’d be put in housing. I could get my job back. I could get my life back. I’d be me again.

I straighten my hair before I leave shelter. As soon as I get to #1 I’m rushed to go back to Bernard’s office and we leave immediately. I do my makeup in the car and super glue on fake nails stolen from the dollar store. Bernard looks at me like I’m crazy and keeps telling me, “Oh don’t poke yourself in the eye. There’s bumps,” as I apply my eyeliner. He asks how much it costs to get your nails done in a salon on how long they last. When I answer him he’s bewildered by this knowledge. I don’t know what he’ll do if he ever has teenage daughters.

We go through drive through on the way and he gets me a diet coke. I’m not supposed to be drinking anything carbonated and definitely not out of a straw but I figure my tooth is so fucked up anyways why should it matter anymore?

I direct him to the campus without a problem. I can’t even get from shelter to the day program without getting lost half the time but I don’t even have to think about how to get to school. I could walk there in my sleep. I get the same feeling once we’re on the campus that I do when I go to my hometown. It’s home to me. I know everything and everyone on that campus. The president of the college knows my name. I know almost too much about the campus.

Staff in the program don’t understand why I want to return to a school where I have to pay $700 to get in when it’s so far out of my way but everything on the campus screams home to me. It’s a big part of my life, a part of my history of how Oregon became my home state. I’m not ready to leave it yet. Being back on campus just reassures this more. All I want to do is walk around and enjoy the places I know and love.

We have to wait thirty minutes for the student accounts people to come talk to us. When we do the guy is less than polite and helpful. When I try to explain the situation he keeps cutting me off until I finally cut him off from cutting me off and snap, “Listen to me.” This makes Bernard laugh. The guy refuses to offer any assistance and says I must resubmit a form that I’ve already submitted and been rejected from. He says my only option to get back in for fall term is to pay the $735 out right.

Obviously if I had $735 I wouldn’t be homeless right now. This rains on my parade. I want to be back in school more than anything. It would instantly drop me back into my old life that I miss so much. I could get my job back on the paper. I’d be okay. Okay isn’t going to happen today though. I am not going to get to register for my classes, no matter how badly I want to. No matter how badly I deserve to.

This makes me want to cry and have another melt down. I miss school so much. More than even realized before I stepped foot on this campus. We get back in the car and I stare at the window looking at the campus, blinking hard. This isn’t fair. It just isn’t fair. I was forced to drop out because I had surgery and my teacher wasn’t willing to allow me to make up the work. It’s not my fault my ovary flipped out on me. I never asked for that to happen.

I push the injustices of it all down. I can’t let myself dwell on that sort of thing. Once you start thinking that life isn’t fair your whole world starts to fall apart. I can’t let myself think that way. I don’t want to live thinking the world is out to get me. I bite my lip and push it down.

"M," Bernard says, "We’ll get you back in school. Why don’t you just switch to PCC? Maybe you’ll like their journalism program better."

I almost want to laugh at the idea that their paper might be better. For one thing, we smash PCC in competitions. For another, it takes a lot of time and effort to build the rapport that I have with CCC’s community. I know everyone’s name, everyone’s story and I can get them all to tell me their secrets. Most of all though the newspaper on CCC is my family. It’s the first family I ever made when I moved to Portland and I’m sure as hell not cutting ties with it to go to another paper.

Bernard doesn’t understand this though and just says, “We’ll talk about this when you’re in a better space.” I just roll my eyes and go back to looking out the window. “M, I’m going to get you back into school. It’s going to happen. I promise. We’re not going to give this up we just have to work the process.”

I don’t have time for “working the process”; I need to re-enroll now. I need my life back. I want it so badly. Probably more than I have wanted anything through this entire homelessness. Maybe more than I’ve ever wanted anything.

Bernard had grabbed a class schedule when we were at the campus. When we get out of the car I dump it in the trash. I feel like it’s taunting me. I go to the library to get work accomplished, though that means I just end up watching one of my favorite comedies, Charlie Bartlette.

Savior Man texts me and says I can come over. I leave that second and get on the max. I steal two phone cards for my new pay as you go phone. Then I go to Winco to buy groceries but for the second time in a row I can’t find my ebt card when I was in the check out line. I’m pretty humiliated by this but I ditch the groceries. (again).

Savior Man picks me up and I try to use the phone codes but they don’t work since they were run through the scanner. I figure that’s an easy enough fix though. I can probably get someone to scan it for me by batting my eyes, saying I lost my receipt and pulling down my cleavage. Worst case scenario I can  buy a card and use the receipt from that one to get my card activated.

Savior Man and I talk about the frustrations about me not being let back into school. “It’s dysfunctional but it’s our dysfunctional family,” he says. Hearing exactly what I’m feeling in someone else’s mouth gives me all the more resolve. I will get in for fall term. I will find a way. I don’t know how yet but I will do it.

I snuggle with Spencer whenever he will let me even though he really is a little bastard now. We get him high with cat nip. I think the only way I might be able to get my cat to love me again is to bribe him with drugs. I leave when it’s close to eight. I decide to stop by the Fred Meyer at shelter to buy phone minutes. While I’m on my way I decide to do something I might regret later. I call my mother.

See, every now and then my mother will decide she wants to be a parent. I have a haunch that right now might be one of those times. It’s only ever happened once in my entire life but that one time she did send me money. Maybe it’s only happened once but that doesn’t mean it’s totally impossible for it to happen twice. I explain the situation with the school. She says she’ll see if she can come up with part of the money and maybe my uncle or other family will come up with the rest. All I need is $735 and I will never be homeless again.

I go to Fred Meyer and buy a phone card. I decide it’ll just be easier if I have a receipt to use to get the other cards activated. I put the minutes on my phone then go into shelter. Dinner tonight is beans with hot dogs cut up in it. At least it’s not lasagna. I get a bowl and sit down with some of the kids. One of them is a boy I’ve yet to have a conversation with yet. “What’s up? Never talked to you before. Tell me your story.” I demand.

"That’s not a way to ask for a story." he tells me.

"That’s M’s way two of the other guys say."

He moved here from Chicago. He kind of glosses over the details of how he became homeless but the rest of his family is Orthodox Jewish. He didn’t want to go the religious route though, “Jewish kids don’t really have a childhood. They spend so much time having to learn Hebrew and then they still have to learn Spanish and English in school.” I think he has a valid point.

He tells me TJ Max is having a job fair tomorrow and are looking to hire people from the day program. I decide that I will be checking them out tomorrow. They are looking to hire one hundred people to get a new store started. I go to bed after updating my resume thinking about how I can throw myself together for a job interview overnight.

—mm

12PM

Day One Hundred and Three

    ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

I have only one mission for the day: to get my medical records so Bernard and I can try and get back into school tomorrow. I call the women’s health department where I had my surgery but they transfer me to the medical records department where of course no one answers. This happens four times before I decide to give up and just go to the hospital.

Now for those of you who aren’t from the Portland areas OHSU hospital is broken up into two main buildings. The first building is on the top of a giant hill; the second is located at the  bottom. The two buildings are connected by a giant air tram that gives you a beautiful view of the city.

I hop on the street car to take me to the bottom building of the hospital. It’s not until the street car is making the second loop through downtown that I realize I got on the train going the wrong direction. I sigh and continue crocheting. Oh well, I’ll get there eventually.

A little girl gets on the bus and peers over at me. “What are you doing?” she asks.

"I’m crocheting."

"My friend Sophie crochets," she tells me, "Can you make me something?"

"I don’t think I’d have time to on the bus."

"Oh. Do you like Scooby Doo? I’m having a Scooby Doo birthday party maybe you could come."

This little girl makes the hour long bus ride totally worth it.

When I get to the OHSU building I ask how to find the medical records department. The receptionist tells me to go to the top of the hill and gives me a pass for the tram. On the tram there are three tourists with their Canon cameras. I roll my eyes. For me this hospital will always be associated with my exploding ovary of doom that led me down the path of homelessness. Having a tram full of tourists snapping pictures of it is a little weird to me.

When I get off I get lost in the insanity that is OHSU. The place is huge. It takes me asking three different people for directions before I end up in the x-ray lab. They then tell me I need to go back downtown to find my Oz in a completely different building, located back right where I started. You have got to be kidding me.

I take the tram back to the lower part of the hospital where I get back on the street car to get back downtown. I get to Fifth and Columbia where the building is supposed to be but I can’t find it. I ask directions from people in a different building. They look at me and just go, “Uh, try across the street.” I do and eventually find the right building but then I can’t find the right floor.

Almost three hours after I originally left downtown I find myself finally in the right spot to get my records. The lady asks me, “So at any point did anyone tell you that we charge to get medical records?”

OH MY FUCKING GOD! 

She gives them to me even though I can’t pay because I went through so much trouble to get them. I go back to #1 where I use the bathroom and catch my breath for a little bit. I cannot believe my luck the past few days. I go to the library where I hide until it closes at 8pm. I decide to head towards shelter early to hang out with everyone before it is time to go inside. I see Kitten Lady and Houdini at McDonalds so I decide to check in and see how they are doing.

Kitten Lady tells me that she got her health insurance back and she is now on medications so that she isn’t using heroin so much. She apologizes for flipping out on me a few nights ago when she overheard me talking to Flippy Hair Guy about her. She says, “I know you were saying the things a good friend would say. I was just having a bad day.” She says she and Houdini have been doing chores at #2 so that they can get clothes upstairs and then sell the clothes. They’ve been making good money doing so. She isn’t nearly as thin as she was a few weeks ago. Her face isn’t picked at. She looks good. I believe her when she says she’s doing better. I’m happy to be in her company again. When she goes into shelter I hug her and say, “You’re still my family.”

It’s house meeting tonight when we get upstairs. Yougio and I came up with an idea that we think is pretty marvelous to present tonight. We want for one night a week to not have a movie and instead use the television room as a place to hang out and talk away from staff. It passes with the warning that we can’t let it get out of control and we must self police. Yougio and I high five. We get to try it out tonight to see how it goes.

After the meeting Director Lady asks me if I will meet with her and the Ginger Clan. Even though I told Bernard I would I tell her, “Not tonight. I’m having a good night tonight. I want to hang out and just enjoy my night.” She says I’m being rude but I don’t see it that way. I’m not going to move something positive out of my agenda to make time for something negative. She says we’ll have to meet Monday then. I agree to meet Monday.

Our hanging out in the television room isn’t flawless. There are two guys pissed about the no movie policy who spend their time being rowdy in hopes of getting our plan shut down. When we try to self police them it doesn’t work so we go to staff. Staff get upset at first saying, “What about your self policing policy?”

"We tried," Yougio says, "The next step is if we can’t self police is to ask staff for help. We’re following what we said."

I back him up, “They’re doing this intentionally to get our thing shut down. If you close the whole thing you’ll only be reinforcing that behavior.”

Douche Guy looks down at me, rubs his face and says, “I know, we need to find a way around that.”

In the end Director Lady pulls each of the boys out separately to talk to them. We are told a few times after that that our volume is too high but we all hiss “shh” at each other when someone gets too loud. When I go to bed I’m proud of ourselves. Even though it had its hiccups our plan still worked and we were able to execute it and have a good time. I enjoy just talking with everyone and getting to know my forty something roommates a little bit better. I’m a happy camper when I go to bed.

—mm 

September132012

Day One Hundred And Two

  ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS**

In the morning I walk from shelter to breakfast alone. As I’m minding my own business the guy walking in front of me looks back. I think he kind of looks familiar. He keeps looking back and it’s the confused face he’s making that gives away who he is. Oh shit. It’s… I start to think and he yells, “hey!” I seriously regret not doing my make up this morning.


We originally met seven years ago when I was thirteen and he was sixteen. I was in a rough patch then with family problems way beyond a thirteen year old’s comprehension. He had come down to my town on a missions trip with his church. He and I happened to be at the same park at the same time and happened to form a really strange best friend relationshipHis father had abandoned him; he had thought he was dead until when he was ten his dad showed up trying to have a relationship with him. This didn’t go over well as I’m sure you can guess.

He called me his little sister. We talked weekly if not daily. He was the one I called when I got heart broken. He was the one I made boyfriends go through for approval. He was the one I went to for advice. Once when he was struggling with his girlfriend troubles (I was also dearly attached to her) I asked him, “Do you love her?” He told me something I’ll never forget, “Love is a choice, not an emotion. It’s your actions not your feelings.” I took those words to heart for a long time. I trusted him with everything. He was my only friend that ever met my father. He was a huge part of my life.

If I were being honest I’d say that he was more to me than that. But, I’m not feeling that honest today.

When I was sixteen I was in and out of the mental hospital, trying to get away from my abusive mother any way I could. He used to call me at two or three in the morning when he got off work and talk to me on his drive home. I’d be laying in bed, often talking in my sleep to him. Then as things got to get sticky with my first time being homeless and my mother and everything he started calling less and less. The last time we talked during that period I had called him from the hospital pay phone.

"Is this going to be your thing now?" he asked me, "This is what you’re going to do with your life?"

We didn’t speak again for almost two years. Another mutual friend forced me to reconnect with him. When we spoke after I moved to Oregon he said, “I’m sorry I ditched you like that. It was just too much to deal with when I was going through my break up.” (The break up was with a new girlfriend). His apology stung. I wish I could just decide that I didn’t want to deal with homelessness and walk away from it but I don’t have that luxury. Never have.

We stayed friends for about a year after this. I met his girlfriend who was ridiculously mean to me. I got stressed out when I talked to him; he was judgmental which was completely different from the Leo I used to know. The final straw was when I took a mental health day instead of looking for a job after a week of trying. He chewed me out for taking that one day break. I told him not to call me again. So he didn’t. We haven’t spoken since and that was three years ago. I think he may have been the first guy to ever crush me.

So I’m more than a little surprised to see him again. He hugs me and it’s awkward how un-awkward it is for us just to fall back into step, talking with each other as if we just saw one another yesterday. He’s married now but I already knew that. It was right before his wedding that I deleted him from Facebook. I couldn’t stomach the thought that he married that girl that came into the picture and destroyed our friendship. Destroyed who he used to be.

He asks me what I’m doing in downtown. I decide not to lie. I tell the truth. I lost him a long time ago; there is nothing left to lose now. With so much time passed I’m indifferent to him now. I don’t feel the need to impress him. Seeing as the first time I was homeless he went running away I’m not expecting this to be a reunion that rebirths an old friendship. I deserve better friends in my life than ones who run away the moment things get tough. I may have my faults but I know I’m a better friend than that and I deserve the same.

"What are you doing in downtown?" I ask him.

"I got a job in downtown. I work for a nonprofit. I help adults who…" Either he trails off or I stop listening because I could not for the life of me tell you what he does with adults. I’m actually really proud of him though. In all the years I’ve known him he’s always said he wanted to work for nonprofits. Him accomplishing this means that he still kept a little piece of the version of him that I knew alive.

I walk him to work. He asks for my phone number and says that it’s been “too long” and we should talk more. I don’t expect him to call me or see me again when I walk away. I don’t think a homeless “little sister” fits quite into his plan of a pretty little life with his pretty little wife. Maybe if I was still religious and housed we’d be friends still but I don’t fit his ideal of me anymore just like he doesn’t fit my ideal version of him for me anymore. The last thing I need is one more person in my life that is just going to walk away when I need them.

I shake off this unusual encounter to go to breakfast and get bus passes. I head to the dentist to get my tooth packed again. When I get there they make me wait for two hours even though there’s no one in front of me and my tooth only takes ten seconds. I ask the lady at the front desk what’s going on and she refuses to give me a general time frame of how long this is going to take. I ask if I can be scheduled to come in later and she refuses to do so. She talks down to me as if I’m a little kid. I hate when people do this to me. Just because I look young doesn’t mean I’m going to let you patronize me.

The staff behind the desk start calling me a brat telling me I just don’t want to wait my turn. I say I’d be okay with waiting if I got a general time frame but I can’t be held hostage for hours over something that takes two seconds. They threaten to call the police on me after I say I’m leaving. I walk out without getting my tooth fixed. No amount of pain is going to justify this kind of treatment. I’m so sick of the way people treat me because of their own ageism.

Today it’s a little too much to handle. When I get to the bus stop and sit down  I can’t help it I start crying. I can’t help myself for about thirty seconds then I force myself to stop. There is no reason to act like a baby just because my tooth helps and no one will help me.

I go back to the day program #1 and rant about the tooth fiasco. Mother Goose asks me if I want to sleep. I do just want to sleep off the oddness of the day. She puts me in an office where I lay down and watch The Little Mermaid until I pass out. I get up before lunch to heat up some soup which I eat hiding in the office. Shortly before dinner I leave and go to the library but I feel claustrophobic. With my morning company I’m feeling trapped in this small city. I call up Savior Man. He’s about to go grocery shopping so I ask to join him.

At the grocery store I ask if I could grab a pizza to cook Savior Man and his roommates. I would really like fresh pizza. “I totally would,” he tells me, “But, my roommate has a problem with you.”

This is news to me, “What did I do to him?”

"Nothing. He just hates homeless people. I had to convince him that you didn’t steal his cigarettes because he lost them like a week after you came over one time."

I try not to show it but I’m stung. In the big picture it doesn’t matter what his roommate thinks of me but right now it matters. His opinion of me means I can’t see my cat anytime he’s home. It means I can’t just come over and see Savior Man. It means that people truly have the idea that because I’m homeless I’m less of a person.

I head back to downtown. On my way into shelter I pass some guys standing outside of a hole in the wall pizza shop. They ask me how I’m doing so I say I’m okay. As I’m walking away I turn around and say, “Tell you a joke for a slice of pizza?” I’m surprised when the guy obliges and for the first time in 102 days I eat a fresh, hot slice of not cardboard pizza. It’s like Heaven.

Maybe in normal circumstances a slice of pizza wouldn’t be enough to unravel the heart ache that comes from a close friend’s rejection, a bad tooth and a mean roommate but for me right now it’s enough. I still got the pizza I wanted. I feel remarkably better when I arrive at shelter. I sign up for dishes and burn a cd until it’s time to go downstairs.

As I’m getting ready for dishes Nazi Man and Blue Eyes from downstairs staff are in my kitchen causing trouble. Blue Eyes splashes Nazi Man with water and runs past me, out of the kitchen. Nazi Man takes the  hose out of the sink and tries to spray Blue Eyes but sprays me instead.

"You asshole!" I scream but I’m laughing.

"I’m so, so sorry. You can spray me if you want."

"That’s water abuse. That’s a BLA!"

"I’m so sorry," he keeps saying but neither of us can keep a straight face.

Blue Eyes comes in later to bring in more dishes. I already have my dishes organized so I yell at him when he almost puts a bowl with my plates. He apologizes and puts the bowl where it belongs. I give him shit for “starting trouble in my kitchen”. Fuck You by Lily Allen starts playing on my cd. “This song is how I feel about you right now.” I tell him.

"If I responded to that I’d be fired," he says.

I can always count on downstairs staff to leave me laughing before bed on a bad day. I think I might actually kind of miss them when I’m gone.

—mm

September122012

Day One Hundred And One

  ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

I get up in the morning to shower. I need to leave early so that I can find a dentist to fix the dry socket and I need to talk to Bernard about all the drama the ginger kids are creating for me.  He says that he wants to just rush me into transitional housing to get me out of the shelter. Clearly, I’m not cut out for this stuff.

The clinic finds me a dentist. I go as soon as I finish off a bowl of oatmeal. The dentist lady cleans out the hole with water then fills it with gauze and medicine. It takes two seconds. When she’s done I go back to #1 and Mother Goose lets me up to sleep in an office until lunch. They let me hide upstairs all day even though the day program is closed.

Beard Man and I hang out and bullshit. He complains that I didn’t give him gummies so I throw Gushers at him. He tells me that he’s glad I’ve been taking care of myself lately instead of trying to help everyone else. We bullshit and Beard man is highly unprofessional as we’re joking around. A new volunteer walks in. We aren’t sure if she’s a girl or a boy so Beard Man sort of mumbles, “sir…ma’am…I’m not sure.” I start to giggle. Once her back is turned I whisper, “So I totally thought she was Nerdboy.”

"God, she does kind of look like him. That’s why I wasn’t sure."

We both start laughing.

"M, if I leave you alone in here will you steal stuff?" He asks me so he can go takes a dump.

"I will steal everything." I say.

"Okay," he says and heads off to the bathroom. When he comes back he starts giggling. "Did you just send a picture of your crap to Gauges Guy?" I ask him.

"How’d you know?" he asks me.

"You’re giggling like a high school girl."

"Oh yeah. Guess that’s a good give away. I wanted to show him what I created."

I roll my eyes. The scary thing is I find nothing unusual about this conversation.

Mother Goose gives me gift cards for Safeway so I can buy soft foods. I hide out until shelter where the ginger clan creates all kinds of trouble for me. I go to bed just to escape them. I sneak on the internet and play Spider Solitaire until I pass out.

—mm

1PM

Day One Hundred

   ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

My tooth is what wakes me up in the morning. It hurts a lot. I roll out of bed and realize I need to pay my phone bill today or it will be shut off tonight. I hate to wake up and leave but that’s what I have to do today. I go to the library to try and send a few emails but the pain in my tooth overwhelms me and I end up leaving after just a few minutes to go to #1.

I’m crying by the time I get to the day program and ask Beard Man for a way to find an emergency dentist. Because it’s Sunday there’s nowhere I can go. The best I can do is wait for the youth clinic to open and see if she can do anything. I sit holding an ice pack to my face until the clinic opens.

When Lazy-Eye-Doctor-Lady sees me sitting in the waiting room of the clinic, holding an ice pack to my face, rocking back and forth crying she says, “This does not look good.” Her murse assistant takes me to the doctor’s office to do my vitals. I scream he can’t take my vitals I just want to doctor. I don’t know what it is about being in the doctor’s office but I decide now is a good time to have a complete and total melt down. God knows I’m overdo.

I’m crying like a pathetic little kid when she comes in. She has to check my mouth to see if there’s a dry socket but I can’t even open my mouth wide enough. It takes a few tries and much pain that makes me all the more hysterical, but she’s able to see that there’s a dry socket where my tooth was pulled. She can see the bone.  She gives me a prescription for oxy. My next challenge is to find a pharmacy that will be open at 7pm on a Sunday night. To make it even more challenging I can’t find my id. The lady at the front desk gets Rite Aid to agree to give me my prescription without my ID as long as I get there in fifteen minutes.

"Sister, what’s wrong?" Houdini asks me when he sees me there crying.

I’m on my knees digging through my backpack on the floor. He hugs me to him though sitting on the floor I’m shorter than his knee cap. I tell him to watch my stuff and run to Rite Aid with the ice pack pressed to my face.  I get the oxy and take one right away, hoping it’ll get the edge off the pain enough to function.

I go back up to the day clinic and they say that Houdini left with my bags. Now I have to track him down to get them. I’m worried I won’t be able to find him; not that he would do anything with them. I wouldn’t trust Houdini with my medications or my money but otherwise I’d trust that kid with my life. I think that I’m lucky he’s an addict. That means there’s only a handful of places he could be. There is also only two black guys with dreadlocks in downtown Portland. Houdini and Dreadlocks. And there’s probably only one of them that’s carrying a blue floral backpack. Houdini shouldn’t be hard to find. Pioneer Square has an event going on so it’s all gated off. My next guess is Voodoo Doughnuts. I find him and Kitten Lady there. He says he left the backpack at the clinic.

I start to cry. I’m light headed from not being able to eat but taking medications anyways. I honestly don’t know if I can make it back up to the clinic and back again. I’m tired. No free rail zone means I have to walk the whole way. Kitten Lady just walks away and leaves me there. I look at Houdini. “I was going to keep it on me,” he says, “But she made me leave it there. I’m sorry.”

"This is why I’m not around anymore," I say, "I never left her side when she was sick. She doesn’t care about anyone but herself."

I get myself back up to the clinic where I find the bags left behind a different desk with a different staff person. They begrudgingly give it back to me. The doctor calls shelter to see if they’ll let me up early. They say I can go up at 8:30 but I have to sit on the chairs until 9pm. I do that until a little before nine when I ask the guy in charge of the downstairs shelter if I can just go in and go to bed. He says he’ll check with staff and see if they’re okay with that. When he doesn’t come back after ten minutes I ask the staff if he talked to them.

"We’ll never let you in early again if you keep creating problems," the new staff person tells me. I think this is cruel. All I asked for was to go to bed. How does that effect them any? Why does that mean they need to be mean to me? I start to cry again. They let me in right before the clock changes to 9pm and I go straight to bed, sleeping on frozen peas.

—mm

1PM

Day Ninety-Nine

   ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

My day is pretty uneventful. My tooth hurts so I try to take it easy and relax as much as possible. I spend most of the day at the library watching Netflix. While I’m there Baby Mama texts me saying she wants to meet up there. Shortly after I receive another text from her phone but it’s her boyfriend, sending me a message telling me that there will be a surprise baby shower for her tomorrow.  He tells me not to text back and he doesn’t come with her to the library so I can’t ask for details. I just have to try and wing it to get over there before they leave for Vancouver.

I text my case manager to ask if I can get an approved night out for tomorrow since it’s Saturday. He says he’ll email shelter. I am a horrible liar so I don’t want to talk to Baby Mama now that I know about her surprise baby shower but I do go over and talk to her anyways. She starts saying things like, “I love when people try to surprise me…” I choose not to say a word but I’m scared I’m going to crack under pressure.

We go down to #2 so she can talk to staff about services for herself and her boyfriend. I go to the bathroom and when I come out she’s gone. Staff tells me she said bye. I’m glad she left; I can’t keep secrets like that. I kill time at Whole Foods until I go into shelter early to serve food. It’s lasagna again tonight so I pretty much just sit there and crochet. Homeless kids aren’t hungry enough to keep eating that stuff.

When I’m done I burn a cd for dish washing. I will get four nonuses for serving food and doing dishes. That means no more chores for the week pretty much. As I’m burning my cd and talking to Houdini the ginger clan starts their nightly drama. This carries on much too long and goes much too far. I try to ignore them and ask staff to intervene like I agreed to with my case manager but they make it impossible. They start screaming that I’m being mean to their fetus so the only thing I end up saying to them personally is, “No one cares about your baby,” because no one does. Homeless kids have so many other things to worry about than what’s going on in her uterus.

It gets to the point where the angry black lady that bitched me out for the streaky mirror calls me over. She tells me she doesn’t want what’s going on to continue and apologizes for the mirror fiasco, asking to turn over a new leaf. I appreciate her in this and she says to tell her every time the ginger clan create problems and she’ll do her best to stomp it out. The boy who gave me the laptop charger says, “M, why do you let them get to you like that? You’re better than them. It’s just playing on your insecurities. Ignore them.”

"Why do you care so much?" I ask him, genuinely curious.

"I have wisdom and I just like to share it," he smiles.

"Too bad wisdom doesn’t wash dishes."

I hide in my kitchen sanctuary with angry feminist music blasting. When I’m done I take a shower and go to bed, thinking about the baby that’s coming in only 20 something days.

—mm

1PM

Day Ninety-Eight

   ****NAMES CHANGED TO PROTECT PORTLAND’S STREET KIDS****

My day is pretty uneventful. My tooth hurts so I try to take it easy and relax as much as possible. I spend most of the day at the library watching Netflix. While I’m there Baby Mama texts me saying she wants to meet up there. Shortly after I receive another text from her phone but it’s her boyfriend, sending me a message telling me that there will be a surprise baby shower for her tomorrow.  He tells me not to text back and he doesn’t come with her to the library so I can’t ask for details. I just have to try and wing it to get over there before they leave for Vancouver.

I text my case manager to ask if I can get an approved night out for tomorrow since it’s Saturday. He says he’ll email shelter. I am a horrible liar so I don’t want to talk to Baby Mama now that I know about her surprise baby shower but I do go over and talk to her anyways. She starts saying things like, “I love when people try to surprise me…” I choose not to say a word but I’m scared I’m going to crack under pressure.

We go down to #2 so she can talk to staff about services for herself and her boyfriend. I go to the bathroom and when I come out she’s gone. Staff tells me she said bye. I’m glad she left; I can’t keep secrets like that. I kill time at Whole Foods until I go into shelter early to serve food. It’s lasagna again tonight so I pretty much just sit there and crochet. Homeless kids aren’t hungry enough to keep eating that stuff.

When I’m done I burn a cd for dish washing. I will get four nonuses for serving food and doing dishes. That means no more chores for the week pretty much. As I’m burning my cd and talking to Houdini the ginger clan starts their nightly drama. This carries on much too long and goes much too far. I try to ignore them and ask staff to intervene like I agreed to with my case manager but they make it impossible. They start screaming that I’m being mean to their fetus so the only thing I end up saying to them personally is, “No one cares about your baby,” because no one does. Homeless kids have so many other things to worry about than what’s going on in her uterus.

It gets to the point where the angry black lady that bitched me out for the streaky mirror calls me over. She tells me she doesn’t want what’s going on to continue and apologizes for the mirror fiasco, asking to turn over a new leaf. I appreciate her in this and she says to tell her every time the ginger clan create problems and she’ll do her best to stomp it out. The boy who gave me the laptop charger says, “M, why do you let them get to you like that? You’re better than them. It’s just playing on your insecurities. Ignore them.”

"Why do you care so much?" I ask him, genuinely curious.

"I have wisdom and I just like to share it," he smiles.

"Too bad wisdom doesn’t wash dishes."

I hide in my kitchen sanctuary with angry feminist music blasting. When I’m done I take a shower and go to bed, thinking about the baby that’s coming in only 20 something days.

—mm

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