Imagine this, you put yourself through university working 5 nights a week, worked full time employment for over 30 years, raised three responsible adults, saved for their post-secondary education since they were born, enjoyed a very successful career in business – and you are downsized the same time two of your children are accepted into college and university.
Your income drops over 90%, because E.I. benefits are not a reflection of what you put into the work force. They are a snap shot of the past 52 weeks. Given the economy, the time allotment for benefits runs out way too soon. Yet you contributed over 30 years. Imagine this – you can’t pay your mortgage, your car, your cell phone or the utilities. Your savings are at risk because you are falling behind. Despite full time employment search the jobs are inadequate, underpaying and insufferable. You are overqualified, or under qualified. You are willing to take any work to keep afloat, yet constantly hear the same message – thank you for your interest yet we went with another candidate. Or, you get and accept work for an unlivable hourly rate.
Better yet – imagine looking for work without an address, a phone or money for gas to get to the interview. Can you imagine yourself in this situation? We ALL could get there, and a lot of us have. Imagine that you come from a large family, and look to them for assistance at the start of this crazy situation and no one offers support. Racks my brain, that they waited to help until I was at the end of my rope.
Sad truth is that our society has become narcissistic. People ignore or turn from those in trouble. Part due to fear that they may be two pay days away from risk of homelessness. Mostly due to a sad realization that family isn’t as important. We say it is. Some celebrate the holidays, yet for the most part meals are not shared, children go without attention or time due to heavy work demands, rising basic living costs and corporate slavery.
Imagine that due to the lack of support when you first needed it you are spiraling into a dark hole. On your own. You don’t fit into the categories of support (abuse, addiction, mental illness), so you are on your own. What income you earn, a low ceiling level disqualifies you for government assistance, and most food banks. Wow. Let us go back in time, the time where I was broken and virtually homeless.
Through my journey I managed to keep a roof over my head, and earn enough income to live peacefully. I was out in Halifax at the time to pursue a lucrative career opportunity in the not-for-profit sector. Basically put all my eggs in one basket, moved my stuff, rented a great flat – even changed my cell over to the 902 area code. I had no idea what would happen next, yet was banking on a job offer. Seems the interview process went askew at the ninth hour, and I saw myself in a position of no income, no opportunity and far away from the GTA which I had called home most of my life. Things got bad, really bad. I ended up working as a personal trainer. The benefit was I could work it into my hours as I built Work MY Mojo. My take home was pathetic, and the hours long.
Imagine being without a home. Without a home is a bad situation. It is overwhelmingly stressful. Your ‘stuff’ is in storage, and your memories. You have to rely on the kindness of others. When you are vulnerable bad people find you, and you also find out that the people that you always thought would be there for you in bad times are not there unless you are thriving, not an inconvenience. People take advantage of you being down. They talk about you, they stigmatize and judge you. The most unbearable treatment is your loss of independence and the ability to make your own decisions. Because they want to help. Nope! You are invisible, basically.
Through my journey I ended up in a deplorable housing situation that devastated me spiritually, physically and mentally. When I finally crashed from the abuse, I was categorized by those I hoped would lift me up as mentally ill, broken. When I returned with renewed strength, the people I thought would always support me did everything to beat me down. They told me that this was it – the rest of my life was to look like this and I had to resolve myself to give up dreams for the company, a new more exciting career, a forever home like I had owned for over 25 years. I wasn’t the person I once was, with a home and a successful career. Resign yourself to what is to be. That was the message.
This support was given begrudgingly, and on their terms. They took my passport, debit card and all I.D. from me. And, my cash at hand. Mojo, my pup, was taken to another home without my knowledge. It took me close to a year to get her back, although I am very thankful for the care she received. I was basically shut down. I was judged, not loved. I was monitored, not supported. The breakdown of the family I have experienced personally.
Call this forcible confinement or whatever yet it was done by people who I should have been able to rely on, not fear. Like the homeless youth, I so chose to leave a bad situation and couch surf was actually the best decision I have made in my adult life. My personal experience resonates so well with the crisis we have of youth homelessness, and many recognize themselves as LBGT.
What happened to me, my friend, is happening daily to our youth – our next generation. I have met youths on the street, in outreach, food banks and shelters that are trying desperately to be adult without the skills they need. No one should be without a home, particularly our youth. They end up on the streets for many reasons, each as individual as they are. There was abuse at home, addiction or simply not enough money for their parent to support them. Some leave to find a better place in the world, while others are forced to leave.
You gather up an image of a “homeless person,” as the folks on the street corner asking for food or change who are mostly male. A great many youth are homeless, leaving bad home situations. Many women are homeless, sometimes living in situations of abuse to keep a roof over their head. Survival sex is a real, terrible thing that a lot of women subject themselves to just to have a roof.
Homelessness can be couch surfing, renting a room month to month or living in a shelter or temporarily housed by a social agency. Jobless, or working poor at an unlivable wage, there is no room for the funds for first and last. A common stereotype of homeless people is that they must have done something to cause it. Fact is that a great majority of homeless people are working full time, attend church and volunteer significantly in local communities. They need a hand up, not a hand out.
Society has to rethink homelessness, and how easy it is to not have an address. Causes for homelessness is many, and we as society are not helping by offering sporadic solutions or ignoring it. Building strong families is important. Forgiveness that we all at some point in our life are handing a deck of cards that literally crashes us, our lives.
From my own history, I can tell you that there has to be a huge rethink about homelessness, poverty and how we end up there. Families and communities are causing the problem of stigmatization, causing youths to hit the streets, and keeping people from getting back up. It is my theory that if we don’t do something to address the breakdown of the family unit and build stronger community support those who are at risk and those that have the hiccups of critical illness, divorce and other tragedies will fall in one of the traditional supports of addiction, mental illness or abuse. It is a slippery slope people. Anyone can end up there, especially without organic support.
When I hear the term ‘invisible people’ it resonates with me, and the experience of homeless. There are many helping out the homeless and working poor in our communities. Yet there is that stigma of what did they do to get there. Regardless of where someone is at in their own personal journey, if you help out someone in need treat them with respect and encouragement, not suspicion.
Good for you if you give panhandlers on the streets money, yet if you do without making eye contact, you are being part of the problem. If you are working in the community with improvised groups, don’t be condescending. Make eye contact. Smile. Say hi. Treat homeless people as people. Be a human being, with them. That is what a hand up is.
Today I have a life that is filled with love, support and encouragement. Yes, Mojo & I have a wonderful home and life with my husband, Doug. The company is making a mark in poverty elimination, the drive to eliminate stigmatization of the homeless and working poor and making social impact in local communities. How did I do this? With faith. By avoiding toxic people and situations. I reinvented myself from the strengths that I was born with, not what I was told who or what I was. I fought back. I learned from my mistakes, and looked to the future.
Work MY Mojo exists because of my story. There is no shame. We are proud of what we have experienced, and where we have grown to. We are here for others as a hand up.
Remember the dealer always deals a different hand.
Michele D. CEO Work MY Mojo Corp.
P.S. – this is a great read on the root cause of youth homelessness - http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/family-breakdown-to-blame-for-youth-homel...