1 year ago today I was out begging for dollars to buy some toilet paper and other necessities. It was the most humiliating day I can remember. I cried before, during and after. I did that a couple times a week since I was only bringing in about $3 an hour and could only stand a few hours max.
I was also a full time student living in a TLP temporary Living Placement. It’s an apartment they put you in after a mental health hospitalization while you’re waiting for a spot in a less monitored program called Flexcare and when you graduate from there you go to permanent housing. These programs put you with a room mate and staff checking on you every hour for 16 then 8 hours a day down to 1 time per month down to 1time per year. They supply absolutely nothing other than a naked bed often many years old. No dish soap nor dishes, toilet paper, sheets, broom, light bulbs, laundry detergent or anything other than a room with a roof. Which I was supremely grateful for.
For someone waiting for their SSDI hearing with zero income, this can be a very uncomfortable way to live. This situation leads many to suffering even more from their symptoms of mental Illness. So, I had to panhandle to make what meager existence I could.
In March someone suggested that I sell something instead of begging because it hurt me so badly. That was the spark that has lead to this new passion, mission and purpose I now have.
So What Changed Since 2019?
#1 Thing that has changed since this time last year
….I now have my own permanent housing.
Since July I have been in my own studio apartment. I have slowly been furnishing it with free finds and donations from friends and neighbors.
#2 My symptoms are much more manageable…
… And I’ve steadily taken the right med’s daily, so I don’t need daily supervision. I am attending most of my appointments and focusing on my health much more. Even though I contracted Valley Fever this fall, I have never felt better than I did this summer being so physically active in the brutal Phoenix heat.
#3 I am no longer begging for money.
I now solicit donations for water and cookies that I give away to street people, homeless and poor. I started off selling the water for $.75 making $0.60 profit and most people gave more. Some didn’t even take a water so I would give away those waters to someone who needed it. This practice was ended when the cops informed me that I couldn’t sell because Circle K had complained I was stealing their business and not paying taxes. After a lengthy discussion with the cops we determined that there were no laws against giving away the water when someone made a donation and no law against asking for that donation.
#4 I now have a purpose.
I’m using my Certified Peer Support skills and really helping people on the streets. Most have no access to or knowledge of the many resources available to help them off the streets, recover from their addictions, manage their symptoms, find housing and more. I had learned about and utilized many of these resources since my time on the streets. I have phone numbers and contact names that I freely share with those who are interested and if I am familiar with the person I will allow them to use my phone since there aren’t any payphones anymore. If I have gotten to know the person over time, I will call on their behalf and become their advocate.
This type of support brings me great joy. In only a few months at this, two separate times have I assisted people with getting into permanent housing and off the streets for good and I have helped a couple get into detox and one even stayed through the rehab and hasn’t been seen since. Woo Hoo!
#5 I have expanded my offerings.
In the 114° summer, ice cold water was enough to help out a lot, but now it’s 50 to 60° in the daytime and down to the 30’s at night.
So, I’ve been giving away cookies since the weather changed. At first I was going to sell them, but no one seems to want anything homemade from a street person, and I understand. So, again I just gave them away to anyone that would take them.
I make oatmeal cookies with walnuts and cranberries and even dark chocolate for extra nutrients and much needed protein, even if it’s only a little at least it’s not filled with empty calories and preservatives. At Thanksgiving, I received a food box with a lot of canned food and bought a turkey that I made 40 full meals out of. I spent $5 on 20 Styrofoam to-go boxes and zip-lock baggies and passed out meals and sandwiches to those who were interested.
Doing anything for myself in my tiniest of tiny kitchens is ten times more difficult than it needs to be. The gratitude, hugs and smiles really blew me away and brought me great joy. It was all so very worth it to me to provide even a moment of Merry and Bright to their holidays.That Water Chick
#6 I have growing self-worth…
… And confidence in my ability to keep improving myself and my situation. Giving away the water and cookies and even the 40 turkey dinners I made makes me feel good about myself. I am worthy and occupy a valued role in society. This is something I certainly didn’t possess a year ago.
#7 I am utilizing my intellectual assets.
A year ago I didn’t have any access to the internet at home or my LifeLine phone, so building a website was totally out of the realm of possibilities. I also didn’t believe that I could do it anymore, that things had changed so much with technology since 2012 that it would take months if not a year to relearn those skills. Besides, how could I tell people that I could build them a website if I didn’t have one of my own, which costs money for a domain and hosting. Basically, I had a ton of excuses and no willingness to try.
After I was able to save $50 two months in a row, I decided I could handle the bill and get the low-income prepaid version of Cox Wi-Fi at home. In fact I’m paying 2 months in advance because I believed I could. With that internet access I am now building this website you are reading this essay on from scratch.
When I’ve refreshed my skills on this project I have another on order already. This can certainly lead to more opportunities if I do well and on time and I believe I can. I have also done some freelance work that so far has brought in about $100 a month for 3 months now.
The gratitude and sheer joy of the moment truly blew me away and brought me so much more joy than I imagined
#8 I am building a social network again.
I have made some friends in the last year and reconnected with family I had isolated myself from out of embarrassment. A year ago I only had my boyfriend and that relationship was highly toxic. Now my circle is bigger and I have a much easier time meeting new people.
Oh, it’s still very difficult for me to meet people or be in social situations but I’m getting better every day. Someday soon I’ll get my mojo back and my week will be full of chamber meetings and city councils and conferences.
#9 I accomplished a huge goal I had set for myself for the year.
Last year my only focus was to get housing. I would jump through almost any hoops, participate in any programs, talk to whoever I could about housing and I did it in 6 months. This was huge for me and obviously changed the way I viewed myself and the world around me. My path has been uphill and sometimes I felt I was sinking into a valley but forward progress has been consistent.
#10 I am an entrepreneur with a vision…
… For an organization committed to helping others achieve their own goals.
Last year I felt like a homeless beggar, bum who couldn’t manage life on a daily basis and had to beg for change from strangers. Now, I am the CEO and Founder of an aspiring social justice, community based magazine/newspaper that gives back to the very marginalized population of homeless and/or the poorest of the poor community I am fighting my way out of.
I have a plan to help the homeless, displaced, and destitute through micro-entrepreneurs that will exclusively distribute this StreetZine to the public for a profit they can keep to get them off the streets.
We call them “Vendors” and they are independent contractors, not employees, or street people, or any other label. This extremely low barrier “job” is completely in their hands as to how much they want to work, earn and participate. Through these efforts the vendors can build self-confidence which leads to self-worth and that was exactly what I needed to really turn things around.
This business model is currently working successfully in over 100 cities across the USA and in 40 different countries. I have business support through the INSP – International Network of Street Papers and role-models to follow. This isn’t just a pie in the sky dream, it’s a real viable business model that has 30 years of experience and success for me to draw from.
The most valuable thing that has changed is that I like myself and what I am doing enough to keep living every day again and for that I will be eternally grateful to the street people who helped Me Find My Voice.That Water Chick