My husband and I have been homeless since January 2020.
I remember the feeling of being up for almost 24 hours, packing a moving van with only a few of my many possessions, and having to leave behind furniture we couldn’t pack. I’ll never forget the tears falling in the passenger seat as we drove to a storage locker. The further away from the apartment we got, the heavier my heart felt.
“We’ll be OK,” my husband “Steve” (not his real name) tried to assure me, but I ignored him. The combination of the lack of sleep and the growing worry forming in my chest silenced anything he said.
After unpacking the van at the storage unit, we went to a hotel and tried to figure out where we would live. With an eviction record (Steve and I both lost our jobs and I’d been out of work for three months at that point, so we were unable to pay the rent), we knew finding a new place would be difficult.
The hotel was supposed to be a temporary home, but with Steve being between jobs, my low credit score, and no idea where we were going to live, we just kept paying for another week. And then another. We were lucky to find a room with a kitchen, so I could cook, which saved us money and gave me some sense of a “normal” routine.
In the meantime, we applied for every apartment we could find and afford. However, this was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, which made the already difficult process of scheduling appointments to see potential apartments even more difficult. Then, the buildings where we could get an appointment wouldn’t accept our application because of our low credit rating and, of course, our eviction.
Steve and I saw nearly 30 apartments, both in the city and the suburbs, but nothing was available to us. And even if our application had been accepted, we would have needed to pay our first month’s rent and a security deposit or two months rent in advance, which was way beyond what we could afford.
“Steve and I saw nearly 30 apartments, both in the city and the suburbs, but nothing was available to us.”
We were trying to save whatever money we could for an apartment but the funds just weren’t there. The money we wanted to put aside for our deposit went to paying the weekly rent on our hotel room and without being able to find any help from social services, we were stuck.
A handful of people we’re close to have helped us when they can, but we know money is tough for everyone right now and there’s only so much they can do and for only so long. In addition, the few friends who offered to let us stay with them quickly changed their minds when more news about the pandemic appeared. Steve and I are both vaccinated, but because I work in a store and come in contact with lots of people every day, they didn’t want to take the risk, and I understand and respect that.
Steve thought shelters could be an option. Years before he met me, Steve had been homeless for a period of time and stayed in a shelter. When he contacted them for help after we were evicted, he was told we couldn’t stay together (which we expected), and because I have sleep apnea and need a CPAP machine, I wasn’t permitted to stay there. They also told us there was never a guarantee they would have room for us, as they only have so many beds, so this wouldn’t be a long-term (or as it turned out, even short-term) option for us.
This was the same message we heard from many shelters we called. Some would take only me, leaving Steve with no place to go. We knew that was out of the question. We applied for public housing last year but were told we would be low on the waiting list. We received that notice a month ago and have heard nothing since.
So here we are, in our second year of living in a hotel with no good options available to us. We’ve exhausted every possibility we could think of. Steve can’t find a job ― he’s applied to dozens at this point ― and my hours at the store where I eventually found work have been cut to part time, with biweekly pay, making it even more difficult to pay the rent for our hotel room.
Prices are going up, squeezing any scrap of cash we can get into just keeping the room. Steve receives a Supplemental Security Income, or SSI, check, but the money’s gone within a week or so, after we’ve used most of it to pay for the room and our cellphone bill, the only “luxury” we can afford. The same thing happens to my paycheck ― it’s gone before we can even blink. Without a car, we’ve had to rely on public transportation, but even that can be difficult. There have been days I’ve had to walk to work because I had no bus fare. Steve had joked “it’s cardio and we can lose weight.” Between that and sometimes not having enough money for food, I knew, in a way, he was right. I smiled, but, in the back of my mind, I live with the constant worry of what will happen every day.
Not a day goes by when I’m not constantly asking myself, “How much longer will we be here in this hotel? Why can’t Steve find a job? Why can’t we find a permanent home? Why am I resorting to selling plasma for extra cash?” Most importantly, I ask myself, “Why?”
“I am tired of having crying fits of worry. I am tired of worrying about where we will be next. I am tired of saying, 'I’m fine,' to Steve or my friends when, in reality, I am far from fine.”
Steve tries not to let it get to him, and I can tell he’s working hard to keep up appearances in front of me and the few friends who still speak to us. Both of our families have excluded us from gatherings and neither has offered to take us in, even after things started reopening. We constantly call shelters and community services, but are met with the same response: “Sorry, we can’t help you.”
I am tired of having crying fits of worry. I am tired of worrying about where we will be next. I am tired of saying, “I’m fine,” to Steve or my friends when, in reality, I am far from fine. I want to wake up in a real apartment instead of a hotel room. I want Steve to find a job and bring in more income so we can put away for a place, rather than get a new hotel key every week after we pay.
I have taken steps to try to alleviate the situation. I took a homeowners course, but they kept repeating how a “good credit score is necessary” for even being considered. As hopeful as we try to remain, we know it’s going to be a long time until we can find a real home.
We know we’re not the only ones who are experiencing this. “Homeless” is a word that we hear a lot in this country. “Poor” is too. But we rarely talk about what those words mean or the people that call them their own. How can this be reality, I wonder? How can there be so many people with so much in this world while so many other people are barely able to survive. Or don’t survive. The dirty secret is that you can try and try and try to “make it” in America, but for too many people, no matter what they do, it won’t be enough.
There has to be a better way. There need to be more resources. There have to be more options for people to get back on their feet. I know there are too many others like us who are in the same situation or could be if just one thing goes wrong.
How are we going to make it? What happens if we don’t?
I can’t think about that. Right now I have to concentrate on finding more money to pay for our room. We have until Sunday to find it. Otherwise, on Monday we’ll be sleeping by the river near the hotel. I just hope it doesn’t rain.
Gladys Stevens is a happily married woman, currently living in a hotel and trying to find a permanent home. She has been with “Steve” for 10 years.