Nowhere to go: first-person stories of life without home

The breadgirl: buying interdependence loaf by loaf

By Stephanie Olsen

Before I was homeless, I thought homeless people became that way by some fault of their own, and that they were self-reliant – having to find their own way around. I found through my own experience that neither was necessarily true.
I was eighteen, and in the neighborhood of Ballard. I had my empty pink backpack on, it was time to pick up bread. It was around sunset and the bakery was closed, but the bars were alive and open. I quietly opened the dumpster lid that the bakery kept unlocked for me and my best friend Kitty. I stuffed olive bread, French baguettes, and whole wheat loaves into my backpack, grabbed a wet cinnamon roll, and closed the lid. I bopped down the street, happy to have something sweet to eat.
I went down to Seattle on the 15 bus, which is now the D Line. I went to the “free zone” which used to exist in downtown Seattle. I took the ten loaves I could fit in my backpack and began my trading hunt.
‘Homeless people only look out for themselves’ is what I used to think, but the truth is that there is a complex social network within different homeless communities, and most people look out for each other.
Depending on where you were in the social hierarchy of course. The more important you were in the social network, the more others watched your back. I was never very high in the chain, but being the “bread girl” had some major benefits.
Sometimes I could have someone’s place to sleep in exchange for a few loaves, but sometimes even ten wouldn’t be enough (especially on cold or rainy nights).
I spent a lot of time at the Orion Youth Center in Seattle with other homeless youth. I spent the night there countless times, and they provided for me in unforgettable ways; food, shelter, resources, friends, and like-minded people. It was there that my assumptions about homelessness began to break down.
I heard countless stories from people who were ‘victims of circumstance’ as they’d call it. I guess I was too.
I became homeless when my partner at the time broke up with me. I was reliant on them for housing and didn’t have a good relationship with my family. When they kicked me out, I packed up what mattered and left. That’s how my journey as a homeless youth began.
The most invaluable lesson I learned while I was homeless was how to be interdependent, because being self-reliant wasn’t realistic. Being interdependent meant asking others for help and also giving help. In exchange for a 2 hour nap under the viaduct, the person watching me and my things got to eat a large loaf of bread.
The hardest part for me (and most people) was plucking up the nerve to ask.
I was a couch surfer when I was homeless, I had friends who I’d call and they’d let me stay over at their homes for a night or two. They’d let me use their showers and eat some food. In exchange I would help them to cook or clean, something.
This skill of relying on others and being interdependent is something I feel is missing largely from our society, but not that of the homeless. We don’t ask others for help when we need it. It’s not the American way. But it’s a skill we could all benefit from, our lives would run easier if we were all in one conga line scratching each others backs.

Couchsurfing, depression and the realest struggle

By Stacey Jurss

Depression is a hell of a thing. The details that that lead up to the 2014 Summer where I found myself sleeping on a friends couch with my 5 year old, taking the bus and collecting welfare don’t seem familiar to me anymore and my perspective of those events changes with my mood. To summarize, an overall feeling of failure and despair after returning from a year in Honduras pursuing a career teaching English that I’d determined I wasn’t suited for coupled with a failed marriage engagement depleted my finances and my spirit.

I was tapped out. Physically, emotionally and financially. A strained relationship with my brother who lived in my parents house kept me from being able to find haven there and forced me to scramble for places for my daughter and I to sleep. I grew up in Lacey, and many of my friends from childhood had long pursued careers and moved to cities with names that people from other states actually recognize.

I have never wanted to die. A healthy sized ego has always kept me from thinking suicidal thoughts. For the first time in my life, when I wasn’t managing the chaos of life as I knew it I was fantasizing putting an end to it. I had always had a plan. Not only had I always had a plan, I typically found it rather easy to follow through. Being a single mother to my daughter while earning a degree and working full time had always been challenging, but rewarding. Compound those factors with homelessness and a complete lack of resources and the harsh reality of having no direction, I had reached my breaking point. I was in a black hole with no clear exit plan.

A friend and her husband offered their couch. They lived in a 1930’s single family home in Northgate, which is to say there was barely enough room for the 2 of them and their 2 cats. Jillian is a hoarder, her husband is a giant and their cats are treated like children. Long story short, space was limited. Finding a place of our own wasn’t only necessary but urgent. I had no funds. Teaching in Central America didn’t provide me with the financial opportunity to save money. When I had moved to Honduras with the intention of being married I sold my car, purged my belongings and planned on not looking back. I was broke. How was I going to be able to get my ass off these people’s couch?

Depression set in and led to alcohol dependance. It wasn’t a good look. I literally had nothing to lose. I was so ashamed and scared that couldn’t go in public without having intense panic. Change after change, huge transition to huge transition over the previous couple years and the current absence of security had me experiencing emotion and stress I was unable to handle.

Not knowing where home was, for me or especially my daughter was the most uncomfortable and scariest sensation I’ve ever experienced. I previously mentioned that despite all odds, being a working and studying single mother had always come with ease, in retrospect I’d always had the security provided by having a place to call home. I see now how the concept of home is something easily taken for granted. There are a lot of stressors I have been able to cope with throughout my life, including sexual assault, the disintegration of my family, failed careers and potential marriage, nothing affected me the way not having a place to call home did.