Today I’m at the Homeless Charity on Broad Street. I’m meeting a friend to talk about an amazing project he has going. (More to come on that next month!) We are talking about gardens and gardening when a woman comes over to talk to him. My friend tells me that she’s been putting plants all over the building, how she is planning to landscape the front of 15 Broad Street in the spring and make it pretty. Of course, my next question to her is, “Can I interview you for The Devil Strip?”
Lisa: So, you’re from Akron?
Kimberly: Yes, but I moved to North Carolina a long time ago. I had drug problems then and wanted to get away from it and find something better. To me, Akron didn’t have the resources I needed then. The cost of living is a lot less in NC. Ohio is more “up your butt” about everything! All the codes and rules and fines for everything.
Lisa: What do you mean by codes and rules?
Kimberly: Like, I have a camper, but (in Ohio) they won’t let me have it anywhere. Campgrounds are just astronomical! I’m trying to be smart. I’m trying to help myself. The city just makes everything so hard. I’ve already tried doing the “renting a room” thing. To rent just a room somewhere, it’s usually off some alcoholic, drug addict, or psycho. I have PTSD and it’s already through the roof dealing with all these things. I can’t do the room thing anymore. I want to live alone. I want to be able to just live in my camper.
Lisa: Did you live in your camper in NC?
Kimberly: Yes. It was so much easier there. It’s just simpler. They allow you to set it up in a lot more places. In NC I lived in my camper in the woods. I loved it. I had ducks, goats, and chickens. I could garden. It was good.
Lisa: What brought you back to Akron?
Kimberly: My mom was in an accident. I came back to help her. My stepdad died, so I’m the only person to help. I gave up everything to come back here and help her. She’s let the house go since my stepdad died. I’ve fixed her toilets, refinished her floor, painted, I’m doing everything.
Lisa: How long have you been homeless?
Kimberly: Well, I’m half homeless. I have my RV that I could live in, if I could just find a place I’m allowed to put it.
Lisa: What is your occupation or source of income?
Kimberly: I get Medicaid and SSI, that’s it. No food stamps or anything like that. It’s only $770 a month.
Lisa: Did you have a previous occupation?
Kimberly: Yes, I was a landscaper. I love nature and gardening. I even had my own business. I was the groundskeeper for the Akron Art Museum when the building was at the other location. I took a 3-month training course out of high school to be a certified tree climber. I went to college for horticulture.
Lisa: Why don’t you have “a job” now?
Kimberly: I can’t do it anymore. All the years of hard physical labor took a toll on my body. I did hard work my entire life. I outworked all the men! I beat my body up, along with the help of my ex. Everything is too painful now. I could never work a normal nine-to-five day now.
Lisa: Where did you sleep last night?
Kimberly: At my mom’s house.
Lisa: What is your biggest fear?
Kimberly: My greatest fears have already come true. Everyone is ruining the world. They’re spraying pesticides all over us, chemicals and pollution… I’m also really scared that I’m going to end up so crippled that I won’t be able to do my greatest love at all, gardening.
Lisa: What can people find you doing during the day?
Kimberly: All kinds of stuff. Helping people. I’m always helping someone. I feel like when I need a little help, then no one is there for me. I’m always doing everything for everyone, but God forbid I need a little help from them.
Lisa: Do you have struggles with your mom?
Kimberly: Yes. I don’t want to live there. I want to live in my camper. There is always so much drama there, with my mom, with my daughter. The two of them are always fighting. My mom and I are nothing alike… She didn’t raise me, my grandmother did. I’m more like my grandma.
Lisa: What does the word “home” mean to you?
Kimberly: I don’t even know anymore. When my dog was alive, it was anywhere he was, that was my home. I don’t have a home anymore. My mom’s place isn’t home. That house belonged to my stepdad, who I couldn’t stand. The only time I felt like I had a real home is when I lived out on a farm with my grandma.
Lisa: What’s the best thing that’s happened to you this week?
Kimberly: I’m trying to think because I try to be a positive person. I survived 55 years on this Earth this week. My birthday was two days ago.
Lisa Kane has been on the board of the Akron Snow Angels for several years and frequently meets and talks to the homeless community in Akron.
Akron Snow Angels are a volunteer-run charity whose mission is to “Spread the Warmth.” Volunteers help the most vulnerable in the Akron area by providing basic essentials like hats and coats, along with fostering compassionate friendships. Learn more at akronsnowangels.com.