Different story, same story. They all have some things in common. They almost always have a hard childhood. Every person I sit and talk to. I met this sweet lady and her little dog over the winter. They shared a tent for seven months. The coldest months of the year, but they are in an apartment now. The only problem is that just getting the roof over your head doesn’t fix everything. It starts the hardest part. You have to get everything turned on, and first and last month’s rent, and furniture and food. It’s awesome to not be “homeless” anymore, but it takes so much to get back on your feet and make it a “home.” Brooke is trying very hard. Her apartment is adorable. She’s made it so cute with the little that she has.
Name: Brooke (and Molly)
Lisa Kane: What brought you to Akron?
Brooke: I moved here and lived in Cuyahoga Falls for six years. Basically, when my kids left I lost my Section 8 and lost my house in [Cuyahoga] Falls because I couldn’t afford it. I came to Akron, but it actually was more expensive here. I guess I didn’t really have to leave the other house. That’s where I started doing the “bad stuff,” so I feel like God didn’t want me to be there anymore.
LK: Occupation/Previous Occupation/Source of income?
Brooke: I’ve done different things. I do house cleaning a lot. That’s what I’ve been doing.
LK: How long have you been homeless?
Brooke: All together it was seven months. I just got into my new apartment.
LK: What lead you to homelessness?
Brooke: The truth is I lost my house because I couldn’t keep up on the rent. I told everyone it was the city, but it was because I couldn’t pay my rent. I did pay it. I gave the landlord $2800, but he was a new landlord. He saw that I was two months behind on the rent and I think it scared him. I finally got the money together and paid up, but I took too long, and he got weary. I told everyone the city bought my house. The city didn’t buy my house. I was just too embarrassed to tell people I lost it. You’re the only one that knows the truth. Well, I guess after this a lot of people will know!! I want to be honest though. It’s sad that people are so embarrassed about having a hard time that they feel like they have to lie and not ask for help until it’s too late.
LK: Do you have family?
Brooke: No, they’re all dead. I really didn’t have a relationship with my dad. I didn’t see him much. He died of cancer. I didn’t have any brothers or sisters. I didn’t really know what a “family” was. I was twelve when I first started using drugs. I left home young. When I was 23 I moved back in with my mom. I found out that she had Hepatitis C. She told me, then it was really never brought up again. Than all of a sudden she was in the hospital and told me she was dying. It actually explained so much about why I had such a crappy childhood. All of a sudden, I understood. She was an addict. That’s why my childhood sucked so bad. Then she died. Imagine never knowing why your mom treated you so bad until she was dead. I couldn’t even talk to her about any of it. Why didn’t she just tell me? She’s gone now and I’ll never get any answers. I can presume and guess.
I almost say, “thank God” I was an addict, because if I wasn’t I would never understand her. I know the reasons I was treated so bad. She was an addict. I could never figure it out. All the times she would freak out on me for no reason and wasn’t there for me. I remember doing that to my kids when I was using. I didn’t mean to do it. I didn’t want to. I never wanted to let them down. It’s sad. I see it all now. It all makes sense now, but it’s too late. She was a smart woman. She was in the top of her classes. It pisses me off that she became an addict and wasn’t the best mom and person she could have been. It makes me wonder, didn’t she care about me?
Then I ended up becoming the same thing. She didn’t even know I was using drugs for years. Life is just hard. It’s hard and it’s sad. I’m honest with my kids. I want them to understand.
LK: Where did you sleep last night?
Brooke: In my new apartment. In my “bed, if you can call it that. It’s a medical mattress that I used in my tent. I was in a tent for seven months. It’s like sleeping on springs. I put all my stuff in storage. I couldn’t pay it all and they just keep adding each month on to the total. I’ll never afford to get it out at this point!
LK: Do you usually have three meals a day?
Brooke: Not always. When you first get on your feet you have so much that you need. Money is really tight.
When I was homeless I was always offered three meals a day, but you have to have an iron stomach to eat a lot of it. People are kind and bring us food, but a lot of times it’s been sitting out all day. Sometimes it’s come from place to place and ended up with us. Everyone means well though. It just would make me sick sometimes.
LK: Do you feel safe?
Brooke: I felt pretty safe when I was in my tent.
LK: What is your biggest fear?
Brooke: The funny thing is the first thing that popped into my mind is the woods. I’m deathly afraid of the woods. It just freaks me out for some reason. The animals, all the trees. Even taking my kids for walks in the park I’d have to talk to myself in my head. Funny that I ended up having to live in a tent for a while.
LK: What are some of your daily struggles being homeless?
Brooke: Money. When I was houseless and now. Not having enough money to get by even when I’m working my ass off. I have a hard time sleeping too. I’m so worried about everything that I can’t sleep.
LK: What is the hardest thing about being homeless?
Brooke: Same thing, money. Knowing that the only thing keeping me from being normal is that I don’t have enough money. I mean, I don’t want to say “normal.” People say the world doesn’t revolve around money? Bullshit! Try not having any.
LK: What 3 words would you use to describe being homeless?
Brooke: Okay, you’re going to think I’m weird, but the first word that popped into my head was “fun.” I know it sounds weird, but I didn’t have to worry about losing everything. I already had. I was “free” for a minute. I didn’t have to worry each day about what bills were due that day and what I was going to lose if I didn’t make it. I had nothing more to lose.
LK: What do you think is the leading causes of homelessness?
Brooke: Again, I think it all just comes down to money. People being uneducated and can’t get jobs that they make enough to survive.
LK: What do you think is the biggest misconception about the homeless?
Brooke: That they are all dirty, lazy, drug addicts. I’ve been clean for five years now! I was an addict for 23 years. That whole time I always had a job. I had a house and a car. I didn’t become homeless until I was clean.
LK: Do most people show you kindness or treat you rudely?
Brooke: Mostly kind, but people also have no problem telling you how they feel.
LK: What does the word “home” mean to you?
Brooke: Just a place to live that has four walls.
LK: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
Brooke: Being able to have a special day with my daughter. I know I disappoint her a lot and I don’t mean to. I want to see her all the time and just give her everything. I tell her, “I’m sorry. I do want to be able to give you all the things you want. I just don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.” I start to think about all the times I was disappointed and let down as a kid. I’m trying really to only say yes to what I can actually do. I just want to be with her all the time and be a good mom. She’s with her dad. When I was getting sober off heroin I knew it was best for her to live with him. Somehow one month has turned into six years. I’m like, wow, I can’t believe it’s been six years. Everyone always says, “they grow up so fast”. It’s unbelievable how fast it goes.
LK: Is there anything that you really need right now?
Brooke: I would love to be able to get all my stuff out of storage.
LK: Is there anything else you want people to know about you, or about being homeless?
Brooke: Just to be kind. People need to follow the golden rule of ‘treat others like you want to be treated.’ Think about how you treat people and what you say to them.
Between doing this interview a week ago and today Brooke has gotten custody of her daughter. She saw a judge. Case workers came out to her new apartment to make sure everything looked good. Brooke is doing great and is thrilled to have her daughter back. If anyone would like to help to get Brooke’s stuff out of storage email the Akron Snow Angels at www.akronsnowangels.com and let them know.