I have been making an attempt to work my manner again into the center class for years
But I am also a woman who, after a brief episode of trauma, plunged from the sheltered middle class into two years of homelessness. My experience is surprisingly common. According to research from the University of Chicago and the University of Notre Dame, from June to November 2020, nearly 8 million people in the US fell into poverty amid the pandemic and limited government aid.
Poverty is a complicated thing. It can be generational or situational and temporary – or anything in between. For me, climbing out of poverty was as much about mindset as it was about the dollars in my bank account. “I’ll do that,” I keep telling myself. “I inherited the strength from my father to do this.”
In the spring of 2017 I finally left my last temporary “home” – a park bench made of slatted wood in the same park. My first job during my recovery was as a grocer for $ 11 an hour at a Whole Foods store, where my 20 bosses would give me preset timers when I took a toilet break. As a former journalist who rose through the ranks of the Miami Herald to write cover stories for the newspaper’s Sunday magazine, I stood at my register trying to hold back tears.
Nearly 8 million people fell into poverty in the United States from June to November 2020.
Well-intentioned people tried to encourage me by pointing out how far I had come. “You are working!” They said: “You are accommodated!” And the statement that I found most diminishing: “I’m so proud of you!”
I was 52 and I didn’t track my progress with these measurements. Rather, I marked my progress with how far I had fallen. What did it mean I made enough to rent a room in a house when I owned a three-acre horse ranch in Oregon a few years ago?
One of the weakest symptoms of post-traumatic stress is that people who suffer from it avoid the things that hurt them the most. For me, that meant avoiding myself.
I was full of shame and self-loathing. The hatred that I – someone who once had hundreds of thousands of dollars on the stock market – had collapsed. Hate that I became one of “them”.
In tears, I told my trauma therapist how I was regularly stalked and beaten by a man who worked at the reception of the homeless outreach center where I picked up my daily hygiene kits.
“If you don’t love that part of you that you’ve so successfully distanced yourself from, you can’t completely heal,” said my therapist.
After many sessions, I began to feel great compassion for the desperate woman I once was. I imagined myself sitting next to her on the street, holding her and telling her, “I’m so sorry. I will never part with you again. I’ll take care of you.”
My incremental but steady progress did not come from expected state or municipal resources. They came from a number of strangers who took care of my welfare. The systems our society has put in place to lift people out of poverty are fragile and full of holes, so I’ve learned to look elsewhere.