Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Mindy’s Story: A Journey of Homelessness

November 04, 2012

My name is Melinda Woods, and I'm a single mother of Darrien, my 15 year old son. Today, I have a home for my son and myself.

But it’s a constant struggle to avoid homelessness. Our challenges began in 2010, when we lived in an apartment in Lynwood in Washington State. I have health challenges that prevent me from working a traditional job, so I work from home as well as have a small business doing house and pet sitting. That year was tough because most of my regular clients were feeling the downfall of the economy and weren't traveling, which meant my income was suffering.

I was spending more time at home, and so was my son. He kept getting sick, which meant he was staying home in bed. The more we were at home, the sicker we got. We started noticing little spots of mold on our walls in corners, or behind furniture. Long story short, we had a black mold problem that took over our apartment and forced us out.

We ended up evacuating our home and moving in with a friend. We lost all our belongings, including furniture, to the mold, so we only had our clothes and small appliances left. My friend was also self-employed and was struggling to stay afloat. After eight months, he lost the battle and was forced to leave his home. We had no place to go. I don't have any family in the area and was not going to impose on my friends who were also financially hurting.

My son has Type 1 diabetes, which means he's insulin dependent, and insulin needs to be refrigerated. It also means that he has to eat at regular intervals and a nutritious diet to feel his best. Staying in a car does not allow for this. I would take my son to school in the morning, and then park in the far lot so as to not be seen and would then spend hours on the phone trying to find a shelter or some type of emergency housing where we could stay.

I had compiled a list of nearly 25 numbers that I called daily, or sometimes twice daily to see if a bed had become available. My list covered both King and Snohomish counties. I could not believe that living in the United States of America, there wasn't a place to accommodate the two of us. I was working hard, being a decent citizen, had served my country and always tried to help out those less fortunate than myself – but here I was, homeless!

I was able to get on a couple of waiting lists for emergency housing, but not for several months. We ended up bouncing from couch to couch between a few of my friends. After four months of calling the numbers on my list, I got an appointment with a YWCA, and started my intake process for their program called Pathways for Women.

One month later we were finally able to get a spot in their program, which started with us being put up in a local motel and then into their shelter. That was the one and only place that could accommodate us – a family.

Being homeless left me feeling humiliated and ashamed. How could this have happened? I didn't want anyone to know, except for the few people that were allowing us to sleep on their couches. I tried to hold my head up high and be strong in front of my son, but it wasn't easy. When we were staying in the motel, my son ran into a friend from school. His family was going through the same thing we were! The longer we were homeless, the more we people we found who were also homeless. Those people ended up being our support system.

It is very humbling to admit that you need help, and there is no room for pride when you have nothing left. I learned to be accepting of the kindness of strangers, but deep down I felt an anger starting to burn. How could so many intelligent, hard-working people be out on the streets in this country? How could we spend so much money on political agendas, but leave our own cititzens out in the dark? It just didn't make sense to me, and although I am truly grateful for the YWCA program, I feel angry at our policy makers who could allow this to happen.

When you are homeless and trying to get back on your feet, having a few basic things are necessary for your success. You need to be clean, so having a place to bathe is high on the list. You also need a way to be contacted, so access to a phone is critical. Having clean clothes is essential as well, so you need a place to do your laundry. The most obvious need is to have a safe, decent place to sleep. When you are lacking access to any of these things, it is not only difficult to gain employment to survive on, but it is easy to feel an attack on your personal sense of worth.   

It's an awful place to be in, but the reality is that this could happen to absolutely anyone, and no one is immune. One health crisis, one job loss, one divorce – is all it takes. 

To find out more about the approach to solving the challenge of family homelessness being taken by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and its partners click here.

 
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