Akron Snow Angels PO Box 107 Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44222
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Time for another interview! I’ve met quite a few homeless people who have dogs lately. I love dogs, so I decided I wanted to find someone who is facing homelessness with their dog. I found a couple who lives in a tent with their 11-year-old dog, Ripple. They rescued him from a shelter over a decade ago. Ripple was happy and adorable, but after talking with them for a little while I was so moved by their story that I stopped focusing on the “dog story.” It’s a story that has sad parts, but all the stories I hear do. Their story is also a love story. Even in the freezing cold they warmed my heart.
Meet Trae, Aimee and Ripple
Name: Trae, Aimee and Ripple
Ages: 41, 39 and 11, respectively
Hometown: Middleburg Heights
What brought you to Akron?
We came to Akron six years ago to find cheaper housing, and we did. We lived in the same house for five years in the Ellet area.
Occupation/Previous Occupation/Source of income?
Trae: I was a Union roofer. I’m currently unemployed, looking for work.
Aimee: I worked in healthcare for 16 years. I also had my own dog grooming and rescue business for five years.
Why don’t you have a job?
Trae: About a year and a half ago I had a mental breakdown. August of last year. I’m trying to recover from that and get my life back in order.
How long have you been homeless?
Aimee and Trae: (They finish each other’s sentences and say the exact same thing at the exact same time a lot. It’s cute. – Lisa) Actually on the street, since August.
What lead you to homelessness?
Trae: I had a really bad trauma at work and wasn’t able to work for a while after that.
Aimee: We lived off our savings as long as we could, then the money just ran out.
Trae: They say everyone is just a paycheck away. It’s true.
Do you have family?
Aimee: We have three kids. Our families still live in Cuyahoga County, where we’re from. We have been together since high school. We grew up in the same area. (We don’t talk about the kids. – Lisa)
Where did you sleep last night?
Aimee: In our tent. We have been staying in the Second Chance Village for the past two months.
How many hours of sleep do you get a night?
Aimee: Usually we get eight hours.
Do you usually have three meals a day?
Aimee and Trae in unison: No
Do you feel safe?
Aimee: Here, yes.
Trae: We were in a tent in the woods for a month and a half before we came here (Second Chance Village). It doesn’t feel safe out there. You have to leave all of your belongings in your tent whenever you leave. You are always worried you will come back to nothing. At night you just never know who’s creeping around out there. It’s scary.
What is your biggest fear?
Aimee: The weather! I have asthma and the cold makes it worse. It’s so cold out. I never really get warm. Our goal is to not be outside all winter.
What can people find you doing during the day?
Trae: We both work here all day long doing whatever things need to get done.
What are some of your daily struggles being homeless?
Trae: Finding a meal, staying warm, having money for our basic needs. Making a little money to buy cigarettes. We smoke. We know people are immediately going to say, “Why are they buying cigarettes, if they are homeless?” It’s not like people just stop overnight. We’re under a lot of stress, so that makes it even harder. It’s not like we go out and buy $7 packs of cigarettes. We buy the tobacco and make them ourselves. It ends up being like 3 cents per cigarette.
What are some of the hardest things about being homeless?
Trae: Staying clean.
Aimee: Just doing what you would normally do in a day. Everything is harder to accomplish. If it’s freezing outside or raining. Not knowing if your things will be there when you get back. Fitting all of your belongings in the tent with you. Being organized. When you don’t have anywhere to keep all of your things, it’s really hard.
What three words would you use to describe being homeless?
Trae: Struggle, hardship
Aimee: FREEZING! We are never warm! Even when we come inside Second Chance or our tent. In the tent we have a little heater, but it costs too much to run it all day. It’s around $20 per day for the propane. We can only keep it on for a little while at a time.
What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
Trae: Loss of your savings, your job, running out of money.
Aimee: I think a lot of times drugs and/or alcohol abuse.
How do you feel people who have never faced homelessness view the homeless?
Trae: Stigmas and stereotypes!
Aimee: We’re all lazy, on drugs, not trying, not doing what we could to get out of this situation. Many people don’t realize that we work harder than a lot of people. We work every day just to survive. We do what we can to stay warm and to take care of each other.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about the homeless?
Trae: The stigma. That’s why I’m trying to implement the word “houseless” instead of “homeless.” If I can get one person at a time, every day to change that, maybe it will start to catch on. It’s still a word of “less,” because we are house-less. But “home” is where your heart is, and [he gets really choked up] you put your heart there. Wherever you may be. It doesn’t make us horrible people, it’s just a process that we’re trying to get out of.
Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
Trae: Rudely. The minute they hear “homeless,” or even “houseless” you see them step back. Immediately they want to distance themselves from us. Step back and put space between us because of all the stereotypes and stigmas that come along with that word “homeless.” Everything we’ve just said, “Oh, you’re lazy, you’re an alcoholic, you’re on drugs, you smell, you’re dirty, you don’t do anything to help yourself.” None of that is true.
What does the word “home” mean to you?
Aimee: I don’t even know anymore.
Trae: Family. It means what we had.
What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
Aimee: Nothing really good or bad has happened to us this week.
Trae: I get a chance to show some of my art at a silent auction. That’s what we use to like to do to supplement our income. We would find stuff people threw out and give it a second chance at life by making art out of it.
Is there anything that you really need right now, besides the obvious?
Aimee: A battery-operated, portable heater.
Trae: A solar panel. They make these flexible solar panels that are great. They give you heat and light. They use LEDs, so you can use it in your tent. I’ve seen them on Amazon. You can also run an adapter to it to charge your phone. That’s another huge struggle: Keeping your phone charged. When it’s this cold outside the batteries die really fast. I’ve missed several calls for work because my phone was dead. One time it froze for three days. The portable chargers won’t work either. The batteries have some water in them
Aimee: I’ve had a full charge on my phone and if it’s really cold out it dies in a matter of minutes.
What else would you like people to know?
Trae: We were an everyday functional, happy family. We went to work, paid our taxes, and did everything we were “supposed” to do.
Aimee: Two years ago, Trae was making $60,000. We had our car, plus a company car. I had my little dog business and was able to stay home with our kids. It just takes one problem that you can’t seem to surpass; it was that easy.
Trae: It was one major tragedy that happened at work. It took me this long to be comfortable in a group setting again, to trust people. We’re not different. We’re not bad people. It was so easy. It was just a snowball and we lost everything.