When I saw tents go up under the bridge near my home, I didn't have the same reaction that many of my peers did. Yes, I am currently living in a beautiful little one-bedroom apartment...but I moved in that apartment after no less than exactly seven and a half years without a home to call my own.
For seven and a half years, this grandma roamed from couch to couch, from parking lot to parking lot and even spent a large amount of time camping off-grid in Arizona, but it was all shades of homelessness.
It makes me wonder when people are no longer hiding their housing situation, where we, as a people, are in compassion. How did they get to the point where they were no longer ashamed?
I still hide from the huge amount of "survivor's guilt" that I feel about being housed. This guilt has become heavier over the last year inside.
One of the ways I express myself is in photos. I took a large number of pictures in the years I was homeless. Some of them survived thanks to the cloud and various storage methods that remain. This is the first in a series of eight photo essays about my time without a roof or a house key of my own.
Looking out to sea...
I can zoom out and see the ferry boats on the Puget Sound...
Every week or so, I head to Seattle for doctor appointments at Harborview Medical Center and the University of Washington. From the View Park at Harborview, I have been able to use my telephoto lense to see the gorgeous Puget Sound and it's boats sailing from place to place...
Zooming in close...
When you zoom in close, all you see is the beauty of nature
When I zoom in on the flowers and little spots of beauty in the park, it is easy for me to ignore the suffering just beyond the walls...When I zoomed out and observed the Sound, I took in the beauty also...but then I took a minute and looked around...without my camera first, then I picked it back up and recorded what I observed.
On the edge of I-5
The tents in the trees are almost camouflaged
As I looked over the edge of the concrete pad adjacent to the helicopter pad, I saw the freeway below. Next to the freeway, there was a line of tents on the meridian of the freeway entrance and I-5. I pondered how dangerous it would be to stay there.
I considered my own seven years of homelessness and the choices I made when I realized I could not afford a place of my own on my disability payments. I had a few tents during that time.
Thinking back to 2010...
Looking at the sunset through a purple lense at the Weed Rest Area in California...I miss those glasses
On March 20, 2010, I walked away from over 20 years of marriage with the clothes on my back. Yes, there were many factors involved in our divorce, but I left without knowing where I would go.
For the first six months, I stayed in the town I had been born in and was subjected to rumors and harassment by my soon-to-be ex-husband's biker group. I was done. I had no desire to play the rumor war, I just wanted to get away--away from all of the drama
Friends invited me in and for one month I chose to spend what would have been rent money on a rail pass to see the United States...then I left the Pacific Northwest and began to see what I had been missing.
After a trip down the Pacific Coast to visit a long-lost son in California for my 46th birthday, I bought a 30-day rail pass and headed out to the furthest distance from my home on the Amtrak map: Miami Beach. But it was a long way from the Pacific Northwest Washington where I had spent my entire 46 years.
I left at 10/10/10 at 10:10 It was a binary moment
Not exactly the way it works...I had to buy a ticket first
In 2010, after leaving my husband, I was unsure what to do next. I finally made the decision to put myself into God's hands. I would go, with no plan. I would get on whatever mode of transportation came my way and just follow His voice through the world for a while. After all, I wasn't trusting myself, so I had to give it to God.
I had overspent my welcome with an ex-boyfriend turned best friend. That happens quite a bit with people who have a low income or no income: We stay with romantic friends after the romance ends. These situations result in many uncounted homeless people.
Other uncounted people in the homeless population: Those who stay with friends or family on a couch. As long as homelessness is undercounted, there will be a lack of resources.
The first mode of transportation that came my way was a train. I got on that train going south shortly after 10:10 on 10/10/10. As a retired computer programmer, it felt appropriate. It was a binary decision for me to leave everything I had known behind and give my life into God's hands.
A house of lighthouses sparks a theme
This was just one wall...but lighthouses filled Brenda's home
My first stop was in Portland, Oregon. When I shouted out on social media asking if any friends would like to take me in for the night, a friend named Brenda offered her couch and a dip in her hot tub. Her house was filled with lighthouses. She offered me one, but I said I had no room in my baggage. She would eventually give that little lighthouse to me a few years later when I returned by van. I started calling my friends in different areas my "lightehouses" (spelled with an extra 'e' because of the spelling of my surname). They became my "Lightehouse Network."
A friend in Wisconsin showed me Lake Michigan and an iconic lighthouse
Patty and her husband at the Menominee Harbor Lighthouse
I absolutely adore my friend Patty. I met her and her husband when they came to fetch me off of a bus which had been my mode of transportation from the train I took to Wisconsin to meet her.
Patty and I had first met and corresponded through a game on a social network. When I met her in person, I had no idea she was in a power chair. Ironically, I would have no idea I would also be in a power chair before the decade was out. We could have races now.
Most of my friends on social networks share something in common with me. Many of them are also chronically ill or disabled. Many are or have been homeless. We keep one another looking towards the light. And the lightehouses.
Covered bridges in Indiana with Lisa, now a memory only for me
Me under a covered bridge...photo taken by my friend Lisa Eckard
Many of the friends I visited across the country have now moved across dimensions to heaven. Lisa Eckard was a photographer and paralegal who showed me Indiana's covered bridges and a concert at the Slippery Noodle with Tab Benoit. She was the first of my social media friends to pass on, adding perspective to my travels and my relationships. Most of my friends cope with chronic illnesses, but her's was a sudden and unexpected passing.
A sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean
It was almost if the cruise ships were lining up to get the best views as the sun crested the horizon in Miami Beach
Having lived in the Puget Sound region of Washington state, up in the upper left-hand corner of the United States for most of 46 years, I yearned to see the rest of the country. Having lived in an area where romantic dates always included a sunset at the Pacific Ocean, I yearned to watch the sun rise over the Atlantic Ocean. The ocean that so many of my ancestors crossed to meet and have families with my other ancestors (some of which were already here), has always fascinated me.
My train finally got to Miami Beach, and I took my things and walked to the beach where I spent the night talking to God, then was greeted by Him in a magnificent fashion with so many answers I am processing to this day.
A killer train ride from hell leads to unplanned hospitality in North Carolina
Here is a train at a station...when a train stops for a crime, the doors stay closed and everyone stays on
As I left Florida, we had loaded the train full of families with children straight out of Disney World when in In Winter Park I experienced my first "passenger strike."
Not being familiar with train lingo, I thought that meant people were striking or something...I was so wrong. The train had his a "transient man in his 40s" (a phrase I remember all too well from the news report the next day since if you substituted gender it could describe ME!) and the train would be delayed for three hours for a mandatory investigation.
The restrooms in most of the cars then ceased working. With a train full of small children.
Oh, how it smelled.
When we finally headed north to Georgia and beyond, some passengers had become unruly and started to participate in illegal behavior (smoking on the train out a window) and the train again stopped and they were removed.
At this point, the "killer train from hell" as I had dubbed it was over 12 hours behind. I frantically posted on Facebook, hoping I could get off of the train before my next planned stop in DC...too many hours away on this "train from hell."
My friend Jan said she would pick me up in North Carolina. Her hospitality saved me that day and on a few since.
Washington DC with a photographer friend
My friend Sonia and myself walking by The Wall, taken by her friend
After Jan and Bobby helped give me a respite off of the killer train, after a few days I was ready to continue my trip to Washington DC. The other Washington. The one that everyone confused my home with when I was talking to people on the East coast.
My friend Sonia gave me a place to stay for a couple of nights and was an excellent photographer when the spirit of my grandfather, injured in World War II in New Guinea overcame me near the memorial. Her friend was also a photographer and caught the photo above of Sonia and me walking next to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
Running away to Florida with a girlfriend born on my birthday to meet an angel
Me, Maria Mills Greenfield (with Falcor) and our friend Kiffany
I met Kiffany in Illinois. She was leaving her girlfriend and had a car. Together we devised a plan to find the sun in the middle of winter 2011. I wanted to find warmth and sun and many friends in Florida had invited me to revisit the state and spend some time in January and early February.
Maria had watched my train on her television news the previous November when it was stopped for the "transient in his 40s." We became fast friends. This meeting is a treasure in my memories, as Maria is no longer with us.
Attending a 24-hour race with a friend who disappeared as quickly as the cars
I posed in front of the paving line because I was entranced this was the first race since it was repaved
As with most of my friends that I was visiting across the country, I met Ray on Facebook. He had a ticket to the Rolex 24 race on the Daytona Speedway during the end of January. A young family member had been scheduled to take the trip with Ray, (who was a Corvette enthusiast) but had prematurely passed away.
Ray asked me to go with him and use the second ticket. I had watched many races on television with my family but had never attended anything more than a local sporting event, I was excited.
The tickets included a tour of the newly repaved racetrack before the cars started, as well as a midnight pit tour while the race was running.
All in all, I had a wonderful time. Ray and I are no longer connected (many men who I met were disappointed by the lack of interest I had in having a relationship with them, no matter what my housing status was. I still don't find homelessness a reason to begin a 'romance').
One of the parts about the race that was very personal was the team that won the race. You see, my youngest daughter was born as the first baby of the T-607 Target store and was working at Target when I went to that race. The winners of both spots one and two of the Rolex 24 in 2011 were Target and Chip Ganassi Racing. It was a wonderful finish to a fantastic race.
New Orleans with two friends
My best friend, Richard Larsen, in front of a muddy Mississippi River in New Orleans
Kiffany and I traveled through the panhandle of Florida and up through Alabama on our way to New Orleans...for my second time.
I had visited New Orleans on my train travels around the lower 48 in November, but I had only been able to stay less than a day before my train was heading north again, so I was anxious to return.
My return to the city full of spirits was with Kiffany in a car she would sell there, before we both flew to Washington state. I had given my best friend a train ticket for the Christmas before, and he used it to visit me in New Orleans.
It was a time I will never forget in a city that owns a chamber of my heart.
Going into a second year as a homeless woman
I guess I didn't actually acquire my first tent (while I was homeless) until my second year without a roof
My ex-boyfriend turned best friend has a large family and I am friends with some of them as well. His older sister offered me a place to stay for several weeks in March. I developed very close friendships with her children and dogs as well.
In the next installment of this series, the friends I am staying with have six additions to their family, and one finds their way to my side...but FIRST I headed back to Washington DC for a protest!