Jul 23, 2019
By Mary Frances Ruffatto
Where did you lie down to sleep last night? I am guessing it was not in a tent with a broken zipper along the banks of the Russian River, or on a bench in the square, behind a cardboard box on the railroad tracks, or wherever you are when you fall asleep from walking all day. If you are unsheltered or marginally sheltered in Healdsburg, these are a few of the options available to you. There is no emergency shelter, no safe or sanctioned encampment, no option that provides safety, security, or a sense of belonging to those of us who have lost our affordable housing, whatever the reason.
Let me introduce myself. I am a vibrant, active and passionate woman who will be 62 years old in September. This is supposed to be the time for me to relax and enjoy the fruits of my labor, the achievements of my two incredible children, and the good life that surrounds us in this beautiful community. Instead, I am fighting for my life after becoming ill on a trip to Chicago and being unlawfully evicted from my rental during a recommended evacuation during the devastating fires of October 2017. I am what is now called a complex fire survivor. Prior to becoming unsheltered, I lived in a beautiful rented room and considered my landlady my friend. At one point, she considered putting me on her mortgage so that I would have some security as I aged. This all changed seemingly overnight. When I returned home from Chicago 3 days later than scheduled, because I was too ill to travel, she questioned my mental stability and forbade me to be at the house unless she was there and unless I agreed to have my mental and emotional capacity professionally evaluated. I had paid her 3 month’s rent in advance and was critically ill. I just wanted to lie down in my own bed, in my own room, in my own home. Instead, I ended up packing whatever I could take when she angrily demanded I leave at 6 a.m. because I had asked a male friend to drive home with me so that I did not fall asleep at the wheel, and I had not cleared his overnight visit with her. In my pajamas, shaking with anger, frustration and illness, I packed as much as I could as fast as possible, while she was on the phone threatening to call the police on me. For what, I am still not completely clear, but that moment created a nearly two year, and still ongoing, circle of homelessness, illness, assaults, victimization, and despair.
I spent a good part of one of those years in hospitals and in a convalescent hospital, after I was diagnosed with a rare condition, Cerebral Sinus Venous Thrombosis (CVST). Basically, an MRI showed a very large blood clot was blocking the oxygen flowing out of my brain through my left internal jugular. I walked into a hospital in early December and after a week, was transported to a rehabilitation facility for 6 weeks so that I could learn how to walk, care for myself and use my hands and legs again. It has been a struggle, but I am happy to report that on most days I can walk, albeit like a toddler. Unfortunately, after multiple assessments, intakes, shelters, floods, emergency room visits and countless hours relying on the kindness and generosity of churches, organizations, and kind strangers, there is still NO PLACE FOR ME TO LIVE in the town I have called home for over 10 years.
I am actively working with a committee that meets regularly with Stephen Sotomayer, who was hired by the City of Healdsburg, to help resolve this lack of affordable housing crisis. In addition, I put my heart and soul into any project that helps make life a little easier and more ”normal” for our outside community. We have great support services through Shared Ministries, the Food Pantry and our outreach workers, Rick and Jim, from Reach for Home, and all the volunteers and programs that come together to meet our daily physical, spiritual and emotional needs. However, we still need homes. There is a well-known saying, “Home is where the heart is.” Well like Dorothy, in “The Wizard of Oz,” my heart is fairly breaking, because there does not seem to be a home for me in Healdsburg any longer.
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