I’m still appalled by the subject line of the e-mail I received a month ago. "Great news: we are homeless!" I didn’t know the address on the e-mail. Based on the subject line, I figured it was probably from a Democratic candidate informing me about a Bushite atrocity.
open the e-mail to find a blithe announcement to a long list of
recipients. Dave, we’ll call him Happy Dave, wrote that he
and "the wife" have just returned from a GREEEEAAAAATT trip to Rome
and Paris, to find that their Scottsdale, Ariz., realtor had showed
their house twice and left a purchase offer on the hall desk.
"Yahoodee," he exulted. "We are heading toward our dream
in Santa Barbara!" (I have changed the names and places to protect
not the innocent, but myself -- from a lawsuit.)
stunned. Furious. I closed the e-mail, deleted it, undeleted it,
read it again and decided I had to respond. I had no idea how Dave
got my e-mail address, but it’s a good bet he didn’t
know I spent weeks on the street in my twenties; and three years
later, my kids and I moved 11 times in 11 months -- because my
husband had taken off. I was near helpless with panic, and broke.
Had it not been for Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society
Program, my family and I would have ended up sleeping in a
Instead, we lived on welfare for a year.
The kids went to Head Start. I found a neighborhood health clinic
with free psych therapy. I baked oatmeal bread from the surplus
food Welfare handed out. We survived until I found a job as
secretary to the sales manager of a commercial laundry.
few years later, I went to college under the same far-sighted,
compassionate Democratic policies that had saved my butt -- and the
emotional and physical integrity of my kids.
Happy Dave’s e-mail and I remembered a few weeks I spent in
the Philippines, how huge mansions and wallboard shacks existed
almost next door to each other. I thought of Scottsdale chictiques,
filled with plastic Kokopellis and thousand-dollar "ca-girl"
outfits, and of the homeless folks that camp along the
drought-leeched Salt River bed not 10 miles away. I thought of
Flagstaff, of the exhausted woman I once saw sitting on the steps
of a mansion in what was once -- and sadly is no longer -- our sole
gated development. Her mop bucket and broom rested next to
I pulled over. We talked. She told me no one lived in
the house and that she was hired to clean it once a month.
"At least," she said, "it beats how me and my kids had to
live. On welfare. Four of us in one motel room. And before that, on
I looked over at my truck. There is a camper
shell on the back. Whenever I see it, I feel safe. No matter what,
I have a place to sleep -- because I will never forget the week my
kids and I had to gypsy from friend to shelter to friend, crashing
on a kitchen floor, packed into a narrow hallway.
"That’s my security," I said.
"Yeah," she laughed,
"at least if it breaks down, you’ve got a place to sleep."
Her face went serious. "Listen," she said, "not one of these houses
on this block has people living in it. Ever."
recently, I learned of a different homelessness. A local charity
that provides "gently used" dress-for-success clothes for homeless
people looking for jobs was about to lose its 1,000 square-foot
space. No malice, just a building purchased for new development.
The organizers were hunting for space, praying somebody would
donate one room.
I remembered the woman sitting in front
of the empty mansion. And, the hundreds of empty houses in the same
development. And there is this recent fact that Phoenix shelters
for abused women and their children have 3,000 beds, and a total
waiting list of 17,000.
So I wrote to Happy Dave: "I am
stunned by your e-mail. Have you ever been homeless? There is
nothing funny about it, nothing to use as a joke. Being homeless is
terrifying and humiliating; and it is a product of a culture of
haves and have nots."
I told Dave I hoped my words might
be educational. And, I wondered what his response would be. And I
am not surprised four weeks later, that there has been