My husband John and I have been married for over 17 years, and have been homeless - with or without a vehicle to sleep in - for nearly half our marriage.
We're not stupid. I got my B. A. in philosophy in 1973 and have also had 10 years of study in biology in junior high, high school and college. John was pre-med, and became a Med-Tech when he enlisted in the Air Force during the Viet Nam war.
And we're not lazy either.
We met at the Gospel Rescue Mission in Grants Pass, OR in Oct. 1994, when the Oregon economy was crashing due to the lumber industry crisis. I had lost the job I'd had for five years, and lost my home. John had recently come back from Florida to attend his mother's funeral. With no family to stay with and no job yet, he came to the Mission too.
We married and left the Mission in March '95.
John had gotten a daily-pay job with a landscape contractor, and we moved into a borrowed tent set up in an Oregon State Park on the Rogue River, for $10 a day. When we found out John's boss was dishonest - he'd even cheated the pastor who married us! - John quit, and I agreed with him. We took the wages owed to John in cash and in kind. We now owned all the camping equipment John's boss has loaned us.
Since we could no longer afford the $10/day and didn't own a car, it was "under the cover of dark and into the woods..." We collapsed the tent, piled all the camping gear on it, and carried it 100 yards out of the state park and into the blackberry wilderness lining the river. Using just machetes, and one vine at a time, we cleared an area of about one-eighth an acre and piled the vines high around the clearing as a screen. There we set up our camp. We even cleared a path down to the water's edge - and found the dock of an old homestead. The Rogue River at that
time was pure, clean, fast-running water safe for drinking and bathing.
There was we lived for forty says and forty nights. We subsisted on dumpster fare, duck eggs, and mushrooms. For cash money, we lived on the the nickel deposits for soda and beer containers. We walked an average of seven miles a day, picking up cans, etc., from the roads and from the dumpsters of the state park and three nearby apartment complexes.
Meanwhile, twice a week we walked seven miles to town to do job searches at DES. For a short time, we were on Food Stamps and Oregon Medicaid.
Then finally, in early May '95 we found a job opportunity on a cattle ranch - on Government Island, in the middle of the Columbia River, near Portland. We called the employer, and yes, we could have the job - but only if we could be at the boat dock at 5:30 the next morning!!!
Yeah, us with no car and Portland over 350 miles away.
So at 10:00 AM we got a ride to the on ramp of the I-5 freeway, stuck out our thumbs, and prayed.
Less than a half hour later, a wonderful trucker named Galen picked us up, fed us, paid John $40 to "lump" for him (which means help him unload his truck), let us sleep in his rig overnight in Portland, and delivered us to the boat dock a half-hour ahead of schedule.
Have you noticed that "Galen" and "angel" are anagrams? We did. We kept looking for his wings, but he's good - we couldn't spot them.
We got the job.
Thus began our married life.
Yes, before marriage I worked at a number of jobs. The three main reasons I changed jobs were 1) for higher pay; 2) because the company I worked for went under; or 3) because my job was outsourced by big corporations.
So I took whatever job was available.
I have been (starting in college in 1970), a logic tutor; school bus driver; instructional aide; Fire insurance clerk for BofA; several forms of manufacturing; an electrical assembly crimper, punch press operator (2.5 up to 40 tons),QC inspector, and electrical QC tester using Signature 2000 and 5000; a gas station/convenience store cashier for 5 years (and Assistant Store Manager for 4 of those 5 years). My last jib was as an overnight stocker for Wal Mart. John's last job was Yard Manager for a recycling yard.
My husband and I together have worked as a migrant workers; day laborers at a recycling yard; carnival rider operators; ranch caretakers; orchard caretakers; cement spreaders; ditch diggers; landscapers; worked grape harvest; and many more jobs I can't remember.
Yes, we've used government health when we needed it -- and were poor enough to qualify for it.
“At least once every human should have to run for his life, to teach him that milk does not come from supermarkets, that safety does not come from policemen, that 'news' is not something that happens to other people. He might learn how his ancestors lived and that he himself is no different--in the crunch his life depends on his agility, alertness, and personal resourcefulness.”
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Robert A. Heinlein
Now John has emphysema, diverticulitis, and service-connected Hepatitis C. No VA benefits yet, but he's applied. I'm disabled now too. It took over three years to get it, and now our only income is my SSD.
We always worked when we could. We've earned the benefits we get.
We may not be rich, but we've SURVIVED.
We've been in Prescott, AZ since 1997. We've been homeless here at least six times since then -- including a year spent travelling in Quartzsite, Parker, Lake Havasu, Bullhead City, and Laughlin NV looking for work.
The only vehicle we have is the motor home I bought for us to live in when I got my SSD settlement.
We're set up in a small, cozy, friendly trailer park. Have to unhook from electric and septic just to go to the store for groceries, propane, doctor etc.
Now we're doing okay. All we have to worry about now is the GOP taking it away from us.
Thanks for letting me share.
Below the itzl, a true story, as my husband tells it.
The Hitchhikers (c) 1999 by John and Midge Baker
"A thumb goes up, a car goes by, it's nearly 1:00 am and here am I, hitchin' a
ride, hitchin' a ride,,,,"
This song is going through my head over and over as we're walking down the I-5
on ramp with our thumbs stuck out. Get out of my head I scream silently. It's
something I learned while working for the carnival. You know how sometimes a song
will stick in your head? Sometimes all day? Well usually those four words will break the spell, but not this time. DARN IT!
We're just coming off the on ramp in Grants Pass Oregon, my new bride and I, off to
a new job in Portland. We have just 24 hours to meet our new employer, some 350
miles away at an obscure boat dock on the Columbia river. We're not sure where it
is exactly, or even how we're going to get there by tomorrow morning so that we
don't lose the job. But hunger and homelessness are great faith builders...so here
we are, nothing to lose so to speak.
One thing we DO have, my wife and I and that's faith. So having asked Papa -- as we
like to refer to Him -- to once again, if it be His will, to please help us out here.
Five minutes later a big beautiful black semi truck and trailer stops and away we
go...off on another adventure! "
"Where you goin' ?" the big, friendly, smiling truck driver asks us as we climb into his rig.
We tell him and he smiles and says we'll be in Portland tonight! "Do you want
something to eat?" he asks.."I'm stopping in Roseburg at McDonalds and I know you
probably don't have any money, so I'm buying."
After the best meal we've had in several weeks, we are leaving Roseburg and on the
road again with our new friend, Galen (we didn't realize until much later that "Galen" and "Angel" have the same letters).
We keep pinching each other and trying to see where he keeps his wings...but he's
good! No sign of 'em!
Hours later as we're coming into Salem, Galen looks at me and asks if I'd like to make some money. Being broke, I naturally said sure!
"Well I've got to pick up a load here and my company lets me use lumpers to help me
out..they reimburse me."
Pretty soon, here we are at this HUGE warehouse, with about forty trucks ahead of
us. I'm thinking, man, we're going to be here all night! Not so, though, our angel,
Galen calmly gets out and walks right past all those other impatient, pissed off,
been-waiting-for-hours drivers and into the warehouse. Ten minutes later, grinning
and waving to his fellow drivers, he pulls our 18 wheeler around the warehouse to
the only open slip and backs in.
He lets me help him with the doors....and half my "job" is done.
For the next 45 minutes he lets me watch him load his truck with a stand up type
forklift. He then pulls the truck away from the loading slip and I help him close the doors....and that completes the second half of my "job"!
Thanking me for the help, he has me sign my name on a form so he can get his money
back. Then he hands me 40 dollars(!) and we climb back into the truck.
I sit down next to my wife and hand her the money.
Thank you, Papa, bless him Papa..my wife and I quietly pray. "What's that?" asks
Galen with a grin.
"Nothing!" we answer as we try to hide our tears of gratitude.
As we arrive in Portland, it's not even dark yet, Galen pulls into a Burns Brothers truck stop and parks his truck. Galen leads us to a combination office, store and lounge and waits while we call our new boss. I get him on the line and guess what?...The dock is only 5 miles down the very road we are on!
We tell our friendly truck driver the news and he smiles again and says "You two can stay in my sleeper tonight then and I'll take you over there in the morning."
Well, what could we say?
Next morning saw us sitting on a river barge headed upstream toward Government
Island -- in the middle of the Columbia River, by Portland -- and our new job.
You can't tell US our God don't care!