From Local Author to Homelessness and Back Again

I never thought I would end up a homeless veteran. By society’s standards, I did all the right things; I joined the Army, graduated college, and published my first children’s book, The Pet Mouse, on Amazon.com. But time and circumstance can change anyone’s life. In 2009, my life began its unraveling descent into homelessness.

Earlier in October 2006, I worked for a computer software company as a representative where I did the overflow work. Months later, my title and job changed to account manager where I did the billing.

I had had pelvic pain for some time, but in August 2007, the pain was so intense that I needed surgery. My doctor suspected a certain reproductive disorder, and put me on some medicine. It worked, and with renewed energy, I went back to work. It was over a year later when the pain came back.

In May 2009, my world as I knew it had changed forever! The pain crippled me. I would ball up into a fetal position from it. I had to leave my job. During this time, I lived off my savings. As those rapidly depleted, I went into survival mode. Instead of toothpaste, I used baking soda or salt to brush my teeth. For days at a time, my only meal was macaroni and cheese. I went to food banks. For money, I sold jewelry, clothes, anything.

In March 2010, a different doctor did surgery and gave me the diagnosis of endometriosis, a debilitating reproductive disorder. I was disheartened because there is no cure. No job equals no money and no way to pay for rent, so I was given an eviction notice. At the courthouse, the eviction was changed to a displacement,
but I still had to vacate the premises within thirty days. In May 2010, I became HOMELESS.

Later, I was awarded Social Security Disability, but I still did not have a place of my own. For almost two years, I mostly stayed with family, but there were times when I had to go to shelters. One had a terrible epidemic of mice scurrying across the floor day and night. The food they served was mostly the same every day. The beds were like sleeping on stone. This shelter also had sex offenders that stayed there. Once I was told, “Don’t worry, they’re not interested in women.” That meant that they were interested in children. Every time one of them looked at me, I felt sick.

Individually, the nurse said that my medical condition wasn’t recognized there. She didn’t even look at my doctor’s letters. She said that I had to follow the same rules as everybody else; volunteer hours in the kitchen, clean the bathrooms, and so on.
I went above the nurse and spoke to the directors of the medical clinic and to the case managers, and explained that this condition was why I was homeless, and I could not do the physical requirements. I was told that I couldn’t have become homeless because of it.

The only light in the darkness of this shelter was a small group of people that I’ll never forget. A nice woman took me under her wing and introduced me to her friends. This group became my lifeline in a place that had no promise; no promise of safety, no promise of getting any sleep and no promise of getting any yogurt for
breakfast. With them, I was able to forget about things. We played cards, laughed together and understood each other. Since my disability wasn’t recognized, I couldn’t stay there.

I went to an all-women’s shelter. The food was not the same every night, and my bed was comfortable, as long as I put my sweater over the spring that popped up in the middle of the mattress. But some of the women had serious medical conditions, so it was hard to make friends. Some talked to themselves or their imaginary
friends, and one had scars from biting her own hand. I felt so alone! Lying in bed at night was the hardest part of being there, because of the sounds and smells coming from the room. Showers were not mandatory, so the smell of body odor, combined with the rumbling of a hungry stomach, the creaking of the floor and the occasional screaming from a nightmare, made it very hard to sleep.

A new medicine provided some pain relief. After a year, from September to December 2010, I went back to work part-time. My co-workers didn’t know that I was homeless. Again, the pain returned, and I had to leave. This time it was permanent, so I lost my health insurance. The day I left, I cried because it was then that I realized my life was NOT going to be easy to get back.

Along my journey, I developed a deeper understanding about why people end up homeless. Some have health issues, or lost their homes due to foreclosure or fire. Some made bad choices or left a bad home situation. The reasons are not always known.

During this time, my life was like a bad dream where everything was frozen. I couldn’t move forward. But life moves on even when we are unable to, and because of this, I have also lost friendships.

Since my displacement, I worked with the Veteran’s Administration’s HUD VASH program on getting permanent housing. In April 2011, I received a housing voucher, and after months of searching, I found an apartment.

Thankfully, there were many community resources I could turn to. The Community Action Agency of Somerville, the Somerville Community Corporation, and the Women’s Veterans Network were just a few places that helped me.

Some provided information and others provided monetary help with things like security deposits. But it was the caseworkers who really made a difference. If it hadn’t been for them treating me with compassion and respect, I may not have been able to get through it, because starting over is not easy, it takes courage.

The road to stability didn’t end when I moved into my apartment. For months, I dealt with my electric company about arrears on a heating bill from my previous residence. I called many agencies and housing organizations, and City Hall. With my very earned red badge of courage, it worked out in a large part with the help of the St. Agnes Conference of St. Vincent De Paul church.

I believe everything happens for a reason, so if my story helps even one homeless person to say, “Hey, I can get through this,” I take it to heart. And stay tuned, I am writing a book about my experience being homeless.

–Crystal Dawn

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