“I had twenty thousand dollars in savings. The funeral was twenty-two thousand.”
Melinda was a self-proclaimed superwoman: A single mother of Catholic private school kids, she worked two jobs to care for her boys and had single-handedly ran her home of twenty years.
Until her mother died. She used her savings of eighteen years to pay for the funeral. And then she got evicted.
“Everybody’s one life event away from being like us. It doesn’t matter where you are on the pay scale, how much money you make, we’re all one life event away from being here,” she said.
Melinda showed me Facebook pictures of her boys growing up: Tackling each other bare chested, sleeping on the couch with their dog, her home buoyant, average, even, like any other family. Tears streamed down her face as she scrolled.
“You become numb… If you look at what you lost, you’re not gonna keep going. Cause I tried that route. But you also become very detached, like, the fear of getting another house again and doing all that is hard too, once you’ve lost it. We were just—we’re normal people. Normal people. We had a house, we were just a normal family.”
“What’s your opinion when people say ‘just work hard’ to get out of homelessness?” I asked.
“I was that person that thought that. I was that person that said to someone, ‘Just get a job.’ I had never been on welfare a day of my life. My kids went to Catholic school, I figured out how to work three homes with a graveyard shift so my kids could have a bed at night… I did it. I’ve learned more about people because I’ve learned to listen. Before I wasn’t listening even though I thought I was. It’s a whole different world. There’s a lot of ways to help people. It’s not just handouts. We forget to be human to people. It becomes all about who has this, who has that, who has the most money. But we forget to treat each other as humans.”
It’s not always the usual stories you hear of homelessness. It can be women who were the picture of average American motherhood.
“Ninety percent of the people I’ve met along the way have stories like ours,” Melinda said. “That’s not what we’re told. Stories like ours.”
Written by: Grace Wahlman