Aug 2, 2017
By Kerry Fowler
Nearly three weeks has elapsed since, one by one, Administration Drive Safe Parking participants were approached by the program manager and a monitor and handed sheets of paper on the evening of June 20. “Good!”, I thought, from the front seat of my car, several rows away, “They’re finally enforcing the designated smoking area and dog leashing rules.”
They were taking far too long to get to my car. I didn’t want to wait forever so I ventured out and joked with the monitor about him running for mayor. His sober expression and somber response of “No” intimated that whatever they were handing out was private and didn’t apply to me so I went back to my car. Soon, a poker-faced fellow Safe Parker approached me and told me that we were being evicted. I knew that couldn’t be true. He and the rest of them must’ve done something wrong and it certainly wouldn’t apply to me.
I still wasn’t believing him but began to feel increasingly uncomfortable as I watched my Safe Parking friends walking from car to car, sharing this paper. Finally, my turn came, I was handed the ominous white sheet of paper and my name was swiftly checked off the monitor’s list and they moved on down my row. It was indeed true. It was over. No more relatively safe, legal place to sleep in my car.
The lot was soon filled with shell-shocked expressions, wailing and soft sobbing as people climbed into their vehicles and closed the doors for the night. I took my beloved old dog Senon for a final evening walk, prayed for God’s guidance and direction. I tried to sleep but it was interrupted by periods of wakefulness with thoughts that this eviction notice was only one of many frightening dreams but realized at each waking that it was not a dream. I tried not to cry. I needed to be rested tomorrow because I would need fully engage on the strength and courage I had prayed for and forced myself back to sleep each time.
Tomorrow came. I re-read the notice and the inescapable feeling of being sucker-punched in the gut by Catholic Charities, the most trusted name of Christian goodness and mercy toward all, stayed with me as I tried to digest the options presented. After 9 months of homelessness, I was being thrown from the frying pan into the fire. I wasn’t going to choose to be assigned to the Family Support Center parking area to be immersed by the unsavory activities of the street homeless population and I was not going to subject myself to the unhealthy conditions that reportedly exist at the shelters. I’d been told that I could receive help through Rapid Rehousing Program but I first needed to find a place that I could afford. I was stuck in the same cycle of trying to market my valuable administrative skills but being so sleep-deprived that I could hardly search for housing and work daily. I suddenly envisioned myself seeking remote parking places but being scared out of my wits with a tap on my window and a flashlight in my face telling me, “Ma’am, you can’t sleep here, please move along.”
Swirling questions began to flood my mind that exacerbated already plaguing anxiety and depression. How would I get enough sleep to function well at my good-paying, part-time job as a Personal Assistant and caregiver? Would I be able to continue my job search to find more work that would enable me to afford the exorbitant rent in Sonoma County—with my devoted friend Senon, my rock through nine months of homelessness thus far?
Would I develop bronchitis for the fourth time since becoming homeless and be forced to rent a motel room with the small amount of money I’ve saved toward housing? Would my pristine background be negatively affected if I was cited? Will the public perceive the Working Homeless of Safe Parking in the same way it does the people on Homeless Hill and under the overpasses, as drug and alcohol addicts and could I count on its understanding and support? I finally cried when I considered the impending worry and stress to my already concerned elderly father when he received my latest news.
Attempts to figure out how Catholic Charities could justify unceremoniously throwing the underemployed Working Homeless to the wolves with no time to investigate options and unite with others to figure out alternatives became a fruitless obsession. We were told it was a funding decision but why were we the last to know about it at the eleventh hour? It was an insensitive, heartless, and cruel action to say the least.
I reminded myself that I had prayed for strength and courage and I would need to engage it NOW, for my beloved dog and me, and for others. It was just wrong. I decided that I could either roll over on my back and pee on myself or get up and unite with others who were recovering from their own shock and reach out to advocates who knew more about politics—I’d decided that was likely what the action stemmed from—and figure a way to turn this around and unite we did.
Our self-advocacy paid off. Our plight and the impact it had on us was heard by local politicians, the press, homeless advocates and members of successful homeless communities, women’s advocates, churches, and most importantly by Catholic Charities. After countless emails and phone calls by many, Catholic Charities graciously agreed to offer Safe Parking participants a three-week reprieve until July 17. We all slept little better with a little gift of time that would be put to good use.
During the last fleeting three weeks we have held informal meetings amongst peers and advocates and formal meetings with Catholic Charities staff to ask questions and explore our options. The majority of us feel that even though we don’t have answers to 100% of our questions about how an organization that has been a champion for the homeless could—by all appearances—suddenly kick the Working Homeless population to the curb, we have improved communication with Catholic Charities, which is key to our collaborative efforts to find housing.
Perhaps the best news near our last days a Safe Parking is that Catholic Charities has recently expanded its Rapid Rehousing Program to assist the Working Homeless with a case manager who will regularly meet with each one of us, return phone calls and texts, and who appears to be sincerely and passionately dedicated to executing that role. This is a far cry from June 20, when I felt like I didn’t matter. Because of asking for strength and courage to persevere, I now have renewed hope and look forward to peace in my life with my faithful old dog and a prosperous future once more.
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