UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS
A Weekly Cyberlog

I have been on the road for two weeks now, traveling slowly at about 50 miles a day
so that I can remain close to major highways where there are full-scale Rest Areas and
Truck Stops as well as “pull-offs” where one can read, walk around, eat, wash, and nap.
They all offer free parking–often for as long as one wants--and that is called boondocking.
Self-sufficient and unremarkable as any other traveler, homeless women make use of
every possible perk...(No one who appears in any photo is homeless; some people are just “in the way”!)

dd

I “skip-off” the highways at towns/cities where I think an enclosed mall, large library, or
chain grocery store will further the opportunities for undetectable “living.”


“...it’s the places I can go to, not on the same days or even within a week, that make this an
OK thing to do.  It’s sort of like women I see whose kids are gone and they have nothing else
to do but wander around.  No one really notices me, and I make sure I look just as good as
everyone else.  I don’t know what I’d do without the cosmetic counters and the freebies I can
try out.  I love to use different color lipsticks and eye shadows....I’ve tried different hair styles,
but the easiest is just to pull mine back into a neat roll sort of thing and use two really nice
pearl clips; they look expensive, but I got them at Wal*Mart....I like to walk, and the mall is
always climate-controlled, so no matter what the weather, I’ve got a place to go and spend
the day....Some of them are really beautiful, with fountains, flowers, and benches everywhere
so that you don’t have to stay in one spot over and over again.  Most have several levels,
and no one is really noticeable.  I see constant shoppers myself, so even if anyone saw me
around a lot, it wouldn’t matter.  I’d just be called a “shopaholic.”  I always carry a good-looking
bag from one of their better department stores, so it looks like I’ve been shopping and not just
hanging around....The food courts are just wonderful...with good tables and chairs where I can
sit for an hour or more with just coffee and a donut...and go back again later for a piece of fruit
and tea....And the Ladies’ Lounge!  Comfortable sofas and they look like a real living room.  I
do my washing there, too; I wait until there is no one around for a bit and then do my undies
and drip dry blouses.  The air dryer works quickly....The library is just great.  I can spend an
afternoon in a very large chair with a pillow at my back, reading all of the newspapers and
magazines--and so do lots of women who are probably waiting to pick up their kids....You won’t
think this very nice, but I can go to a huge grocery store and just sample my way through and
make a meal out of fruit, pieces of raw veggies like broccoli and lettuce rubbed–you know, sort
of washed--in the crushed ice that holds larger fruit or bottled juices, and a muffin or a bagel, a
piece of chicken that’s in the hot tray...and stuff like that.  Kids do it all the time.  I take a grocery
cart at the door and put things in it that I’m not gonna buy, but it looks like I’m a real shopper.
When I’m through, I just leave the basket where some others are and go out through the line with
an item that I pay for.  Like a couple of apples or a box of crackers that are on sale.  There’s
always something....”  (Anna, age 57, 2003 in NY)
 
 

I tell you this up-front: all of the stories you read here are excerpts from much longer conver-
sations that I either tape or write down as the woman talks.  I continuously thank my mother for
forcing me to take shorthand and typing during one teen summer–when I wanted to be on the
beach with my friends.  The entire stories are in my newest book:  PUBLIC CANVAS,
PRIVATE PORTRAITS: UNDETECTABLE HOMELESS WOMEN AMONG US.  It is an
update of SHADOW WOMEN: HOMELESS WOMEN’S SURVIVAL STORIES (Sheed &
Ward, 1990); so many new situations have caused unemployment and homelessness among
very functional people and new strategies have been invented.  My two usual publishers have
disappeared (Garland was subsumed by another large publishing company and no longer
exists--and all contracts/authors were “orphaned.”  Sheed & Ward is now completely
theologically-oriented).  Consequently, I am searching for a publisher or even an agent.  I also
have a long book and documentary film pertaining to solutions, but so far no one is interested
in even viewing!  The “old days” are gone when one could just send in a query letter and
sample chapters and expect a publisher to read same.  Now it’s “no unsolicited manuscripts.”
I’m working with raw footage that I want to edit on my rotten new Apple...which no technician
could repair.  (So glad I have a sense of humor left!)

This year, more than previous ones, I have discovered (evidentially) more about our national
economy than I had guessed.  There is a substantial increase in the number of hardworking
Americans who have lost longtime, stable (they assumed!) jobs, and too many have been
middle and senior management level careers.  These newly nearly-indigent people are
confused!  They expected to retire with a healthy pension plan.  No one foreshadowed the
myriad of corporate and Wall St. scandals and “Enronesque Accounting Projects.”

“I thought I’d be a partner by now, but last year I got the ax and now I’m not even an employee.
 I figured my future was set after 24 years with [   ] company.  I could retire in a few years and
do the traveling I’ve put off so that I could accumulate more money and time off.  Well!  I sure
have the time off now!  I’m travelin’ all right.  I’m living in my minivan and moving around from
friend to friend in several states....First, the house had to go.  I had a $76,000 mortgage
which I couldn’t keep paying on. I came out about even–no profit but no loss.  I had enough
savings for several months to live in a room, and I figured with my background and education
I’d find another job rather quickly.  Horrors!  At every interview I saw a room full of “me.”  At
my age, I knew I wouldn’t win a job over a 25-year-old who’d work for peanuts.  My resume
worked against me....I started to creatively destroy my resume, taking off degrees and years
of employment.  Surely, I’d get something, right?  Wrong!  McDonald’s wouldn’t even hire
me....” (Millie, age 52, 2003, near D.C.)
 

Apparently, I’ve missed some important economics classes during my many years obtaining
university degrees.  I’d like to have Alan Greenspan explain to me why, with the small amount
of savings that one has, s/he should be gambling in the stock market as opposed to securing
the money in a CD–which is supposed to be protected by the FDIC–while corporate insiders
are selling their company shares as fast as they can.  If THEY are not sure of their company’s
future and need to have immediate raises and pre-planned million dollar pension plans, are
we supposed to be tempted to buy their company’s stock?  (Think U.S. Airways and Proctor
& Gamble.)  Is there some kind of promise/assurance that I’m not getting that all stocks will
rise and never become a loss?  In addition, Greenspan’s latest reduction of interest rates is
“advertised” as making minimum wage and those anxious-about-being-laid-off Americans
“better off” by investing the little savings they have to stimulate the economy.  Is this an
oxymoron??  If one has no interest/dividend to live on, how can s/he purchase more merch-
andise than ever before?  Health insurance policies have increased beyond reality and each
at least from Social Security!  If he had to rely on same (with a decrease in interest rates on
his savings), how would he suggest that we pay ever-increasing property and other taxes?
Is he LISTENING to the average American who just isn’t going to make it on his hypothesis
that we should be picking stocks like slightly green bananas, expecting them all to ripen and
make life healthier?  If he suggests that we choose a stockbroker, may he choose HIS for
ME, please?  He must be thinking only about his millionaire buddies who already are getting
the only tax cuts that are meaningful.  Certainly, none of the women I know who get Social
Security checks between $300 and $800 a month are getting any tax cuts.  But then, with a
lower interest rate on their tiny savings, they won’t have enough to live anywhere except in
their vehicles.  It reminds me of an old movie called Soylant Green (or something like that).
 

“I was on top of the world.  A terrific job doing exactly what I actually went to college for, a guy
I thought would be Mr. Right on the top floor, and a company savings plan that couldn’t go bad.
Gosh; who would have believed that it was all tied up in Lucent?  They laid off most of my
branch, Mr. Right married another top floor exec...and then left her for a guy he met in a bar.
Hah!  That  was the only good thing that came out of his dropping me....Anyway, I was so sure
that I’d find another job I just charged things.  A year went by and not a nibble.  There are so
many of us  out there with degrees and experience....So, after I cried another few lines around
my eyes, I moved to another city and took a job at a grocery store.  Whoever says that
cashiering all day is easy is nuts.  But, I could take home day-old bread and things with past
sell-by dates....It’s been so long since I felt like a human being.  This old RV is for fun, not
sleeping and living.  And I have to keep moving it so I won’t get tickets....But LUCENT?  It was
so high and then suddenly it just went blooey and we all lost our futures.  We were told that we
were fully-financed and our savings were safe.  That’s a lie!  We all sold what we could salvage
and  ended up with practically nothing.  We were all suspicious, and we blamed the company;
we just didn’t know what was happening.  You can be sure that the execs aren’t hurting.  They
all have limos and foreign sports cars and I know that some have huge homes.  They still have
jobs.  They just transferred their “headship” to another place.  Let me tell you: the Babe’s
Bathroom Brigade had a lot of plots to spoil THEIR wonderful lives, but it meant we’d all go
to prison.  Hey; our degrees didn’t prepare us for foul play.  Maybe if I have to go to prison I
can get a law degree and sue the bastards who are living on MY money.”
(Lee, age 51, 2002, in MD)
 

I’m used to assisting longtime homemakers and businesswomen who could see poverty
forthcoming.  They had led comfortable, uncomplicated lives and felt “safe”–until a serious
illness, widowhood, unequal divorce, company failure, or scam/swindle squeezed their
savings from lemonade to lemons and the lemons were not enough to sustain “normal”
lifestyles.  Homes were sold (usually with little or no profit), apartments were too expensive;
utility, car insurance, and other bills piled up and collection agency notices arrived.  Finally,
these very functional over-50 women who could not find employment were forced to move
in with friends or children.  Friends do not expect you to remain forever, and children (usually
in their 20s or 30s) struggle to establish a private homelife.  So, most of the ladies whom I
have assisted for 25 years were vaguely prepared for a future that includes a vehicle for
sleeping and their collection of living necessities.  There is shock, but not confusion....

My doctoral dissertation and two following books describe the root causes of homelessness
and why some women avoid identification by any of our systems which take away anything
worth over $1000 (like a musical instrument or good car) and choose dignity, anonymity,
and self-sufficiency over the tiny amount that “Welfare” provides while offering life-in-squalor.
While strategizing an alternative lifestyle is not easy, one is in charge of one’s own existence.
When it is a choice, as in a wealthy retired couple taking off in their motor home for parts
unknown, it is admired; they are “adventurers.”  But when there is no choice, that person is
immediately labeled a vagrant or transient.  It isn’t just a matter of considering “ethics.”  The
stigma of being identified as homeless gives a false impression of background, present,
and future.  And, it follows you forever unless one can use it as a “hook” to become an
activist politician...

AND SPEAKING OF ETHICS: This stigma became “alive” when I was asked to appear on
“60 Minutes” in 1991–with four women who agreed to give up their anonymity for the promise
(by the producers) of homes and jobs in exchange for an up-close view of how they were
living.  Lesley Stahl and her crew interviewed and taped for four days...and all I really cared
about were the promises to the homeless women and the information about my nonprofit
organization, Women Organized Against Homelessness (WOAH)–and the assistance that
we could provide.  I had solutions to offer and expected that “60 Minutes” was synonymous
with ethics.  No one ever got to hear about solutions since the producers deleted all inform-
ation about the nonprofit organization and focused solely on exploiting the women.  All Don
Hewitt cared about was ratings...and Leslie told how he fought against this segment being
aired at all on a retrospective about 3 years ago.  Hewitt said that no one could possibly
care about middle- and upper-class women who had had everything and were now indigent.
The women who never again heard from “60 Minutes” were stunned; three “disappeared”
and one became completely “unhinged” and drifted into the “street person” syndrome.  A
beautiful woman who had been a real estate agent was fired from her commission-job
because she was now labeled “homeless.”  We did hear from CBS, though.  They forwarded
17 letters to me from men around the country who asked that I send “pictures of the beautiful
ones” so they could “take care of them in a motel room.”  I turned down every other offer for
TV shows.  Oprah’s show insisted that it was “my duty” to bring these undetectable homeless
women onto her show to tell their stories.  I asked what would happen to them the next day–
after they had given up their anonymity.  “That isn’t our business!” was the response.....What
did she do about this “high ratings” show?  Oprah contacted the producer of the documentary
film which was made from my book (SHADOW WOMEN:)–and only possible because of my
help with finding some hidden homeless women for them and being interviewed myself in the
film... and Oprah gave the producer all of the credit for my research–and everyone seemed to
be able to quote straight from my book without mentioning me.  I had been offered many
pricey contracts for the movie/TV rights to my book, but the new group of women (Cinewomen)
trying to play in “men’s world” in Hollywood begged me to give them their first project re the
rights for nothing in exchange for continuing fund-raising benefits for my nonprofit and the
women it helps. She lied, of course, and Jodie Foster, who narrated the film (“It Was a
Wonderful Life”), never responded to my letter requesting some attention to Cinewomen’s
lack of ethics.  Is that still an operative word?

MEETING THE INVISIBLE VICTIMS OF 9/11
AND HOW THEY ARE LIVING....


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dd