Photo: Alena Kuzub
I met Dawn on her first day back at Spare Change News after a six-year absence. Based on the big smile on her face and her camaraderie with the paper’s staff, it was obvious she was glad to be back. One thing about this newspaper is that even when Dawn was away, she continued to feel part of the family. “When I come back, I always get support here and I’m heard,” she said.
Dawn can be counted among the few people still associated with the paper who were here in the early days—1992, to be precise. “I had no kids [back then],” she recalled. “I was probably 20. Now I have three boys, four girls, and two granddaughters!”
She remembers those early days as exciting—not that they didn’t require patience, but she always believed the paper would work out. Now she’s back and is learning about all the “new stuff” that’s come around since she volunteered six years ago.
In 1992, Dawn’s life was very different from the life she has today. Back then, she suffered from an untreated mental illness, which caused her to live chaotically and unmanageably. In fact, before the doctors were able to give her the correct diagnosis and the help she needed, she suffered from mental health and behavioral problems for many years.
Always one to help people ever since she was a kid, back in the 90s she’d sometimes invite many needy people back to her home to stay with her. “I would feed people, hold Bible studies,” she said. “I’d have a lot of people in my home if they couldn’t get into a shelter. I’ve always been someone who wants to advocate for others, but it used to get me in trouble.”
Sometimes, all this proved so stressful, she’d leave everyone at home and go to a shelter just to get away from it all. “I see now that it was insanity,” she said.
One of the most difficult consequences of Dawn’s mental illness was that it led the Department of Children and Families to take her kids away. “I lost all of my kids to protective services,” she said. “It was because of the people, homeless people, I would have over.”
Today, Dawn is on medication and sees a psychiatrist, which means she gets to see her children more. “I’m in a lot of their lives, but they’re still angry,” she said. “But I’m finally fitting into the box of normal that society has. I want to continue to learn about my mental illness so I can continue to make good decisions and be able to see my children and be there for my grandchildren.”
Obviously someone with a big heart, Dawn hopefully won’t stay too “boxed in” and “normal,” but stability is obviously important. Unfortunately, she’s currently homeless. “I’m homeless now due to a sale of a building. My landlord sold the building so I’m in a shelter,” she said.
The last thing she wanted to point out to readers of Spare Change News is that selling papers is just like any other job, requiring work and dedication. “There’s only a handful of people who’ve given the wrong impression,” she said. “The vendors are hard working. It’s a job.”